Family history in Buffalo cemeteries

Something I am certain you know about me is that I love cemeteries.  Even when I don’t have any sort of connection or personal interest in a cemetery, I love to wander around and explore cemeteries and graveyards.  I enjoy the restful tranquility and appreciate the memorial symbolism and funerary sculpture.  Something you may know about me is that I am a total family history nerd and, therefore, when a cemetery has personal significance to my genealogy then it is all the better.  When we were visiting family in update New York, therefore, it was the perfect opportunity to have some family history fun while exploring cemeteries.  I do not have to have a DNA connection in order to be absorbed in a family’s history.  I have researched the genealogy of my step-grandfather, for instance, and when Mr Pict and I became parents, I decided to take on his family history as the custodian of that information for our children – whether they like it or not.  The dead folks I was pursuing in Buffalo, therefore, were not my own but were indeed the ancestors of Mr Pict, specifically his Strickler ancestors.

The Stricklers had arrived in America from Germany at the turn of the 18th Century, fleeing persecution and discrimination for their Mennonite beliefs.  They settled in Pennsylvania (so I have lots of Strickler adventuring to do in future) but, two generations later, Mr Pict’s 4x great-grandfather, Ulrich Strickler, set out with his family north, first to the Niagara River area before settling in Clarence, in New York’s Erie County.  It was in Clarence that we found Ulrich.  Finding the cemetery was a challenge.  It doesn’t appear in GPS listings because it is disused, was never a public cemetery, and now sits on private land.  My research had narrowed the search area and happily my 12 year old caught a glimpse of a distant sign flashing white in the sunlight as we drove a circuit of the relevant streets for the second time.  We disembarked from our cars – as there were 10 of us on this mission – and in no time at all we were in the shady spot where Ulrich Strickler (1767-1838), his wife Magdalena, and various of their relatives are interred.  We had three generations of Stricklers gathered at the grave of their direct ancestor.  That was pretty cool for me as a family history nerd.  The name of the cemetery incidentally is the Strickler Pioneer Cemetery and we also stopped off on Strickler Street for a quick photo of my husband, his mother, and her cousin.

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Next up was Forest Lawn Cemetery.  When I got the other family members on board with the idea of my cemetery trip, my mother-in-law and her cousin had thought they were signing up to visit two cemeteries.  Forest Lawn was the one they had not anticipated and they seemed stricken at the thought of a visit there.  That is because Forest Lawn is a vast city cemetery, covering almost 270 acres and containing over 150,000 graves.  It is where many of Buffalo’s wealthy, successful, and famous residents ended up and is, therefore, home to some spectacular mausoleums and statuary.  I agreed, however, to focus my attention on finding the Strickler graves and I, by and large, kept my promise.  I think the relatives anticipated we would be in the cemetery until dark trying to locate the graves but – thanks to the wonderful volunteers of Find A Grave – I was prepared with the two lots where the most direct ancestors were buried.  It was my father-in-law who found the graves of Daniel Strickler, his second wife and children from both marriages.  Daniel (1809-1901) was the son of Ulrich so these were the 3x Great-Grandparents of Mr Pict – or a full six generations above our kids if that makes more sense.  My mother-in-law has just entrusted me with caring for a blanket made by Daniel’s wife, Eliza Faust, so it was great to see her grave too.  In a nearby lot, it was my mother-in-law’s cousin who almost literally stumbled upon the grave of another of Mr Pict’s 3x Great-Grandparents, this one being Sarah Augusta Tyler, nee Clapp (1831-1920).  It is she who is the connection to John Alden and Priscilla Mullins who came to America on board the Mayflower.

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Despite my commitment to stick to the clusters of Strickler graves in Forest Lawn, I am afraid I did break my promise.  Since we have found ourselves visiting a number of Presidential graves, it did not seem right that I should be in Forest Lawn and not stop off to see Millard Fillmore.  The 13th President is certainly one of the more obscure ones, and perhaps would be even more so if not for his memorable name, and he frequently appears in lists of the nation’s worst presidents.  He is also controversial for a number of reasons but especially his enactment of the Fugitive Slave Act.  Still, I thought I would pop by to have a gander.  In contrast to the more elaborate presidential graves we have seen, Fillmore’s was a simple obelisk.  Nevertheless, it was easy to find thanks to the flag flying above it.

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I also visited the grave of Red Jacket.  I had, however, successfully convinced everyone of a family history connection so they were agreeable to seeing his grand statue, which is sited near one of the cemetery entrances.  Red Jacket (Sagoyewatha) was a Chief of the Seneca and is, of course, famous in his own right.  However, his connection to Mr Pict’s family history involve his remains.  Red Jacket – and many other Native Americans – were originally buried in an Indian Burial Ground that was on land opposite the Stricklers’ houses.  Not being keen on this, the Stricklers successfully petitioned for legislation that led to the closure of the burial ground and the removal of all of the remains, most of which ended up in Forest Lawn, including those of Red Jacket.  Therefore, Red Jacket is only commemorated in Forest Lawn because of the prejudices and insensitivity of Mr Pict’s ancestors.

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All of which is a neat segue into the next location of the family history trip which was to Buffum Street, where generations of Stricklers had owned property and lived and where the original Indian Burial Ground was located.  One of these, at number 49, is currently the focus of a restoration project given its significance as the oldest extant house in South Buffalo.  My mother-in-law and her cousin explained some of the history of the house and then we all wandered along the street to see two other houses that had once been Strickler residencies.  While the older family members chatted with the current occupants, I took the kids across the street to the Indian Burial Ground.  I felt it was important to impress on them the connection between their family history and local history.

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The final cemetery of the day was Woodlawn, where the more recent generations of Stricklers are buried.  Among others, we visited the graves of Allen Darius (1845-1938) and Emma Augusta Strickler (nee Tyler, 1851-1946) who are Mr Pict’s 2x Great-Grandparents (five generations above my boys), and their son, Herbert Arthur Stickler (1881-1951) and his wife Lily, nee Styles (1886-1962).  When figuring all the graves we had visited, not just the direct ancestors but also the collateral ones, we had visited the graves of Stricklers from seven generations.  Now I really must visit the graves of the even earlier Stricklers in Pennsylvania!

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Road Trip 2018 #5 – North Dakota

Having spent the night in Fargo, that was where our day of exploring Dakota while driving across it began.  North Dakota is my 33rd state and Mr Pict’s 48th.  Mr Pict has not “collected” a new state in decades so this represented a significant leap forward in his tally.

We popped along to the Fargo-Moorhead Visitor Center.  There was stuff to see before we even set foot inside.  There was a vibrant bison statue and a large lump of petrified wood.  There was also a Walk of Fame.  This had been relocated from central Fargo to the tourist information site and was a collection of cement slabs signed by various celebrities who had passed through Fargo, the whole thing the brainchild of a local businessman named Mike Stevens.  Possibly most significant for movie nerds, there was a replica of the woodchipper from the Coen brothers’ 1996 movie ‘Fargo’.  My kids have obviously never seen the movie but somehow they still had the idea to pretend to be disposing of the youngest sibling in the woodchipper.

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There is no word of exaggeration when I state that this was the best tourist information centre I have ever been to.  It was warm and welcoming, with free popcorn and coffee, a free colouring book and crayons for our youngest, and all very spick and span.  Best of all (again, for movie nerds) the centre housed the actual woodchipper from the movie.  There were other props and memorabilia showcased too but obviously the Eager Beaver woodchipper was the star.  The lady staffing the centre was very friendly and not only agreed to take a photo of us all with the woodchipper but even provided us with hats to wear as props.  That was fun.  Less fun was the fact that my 9 year old decided to embark on a wooden map puzzle that had no picture for guidance.  I thought we would get it done quickly when I believed it to be a map of the united states.  What it turned out to be, however, was a map of North Dakota’s counties.  Completing the puzzle was arduous and I learned more than I ever intended or needed to know about the geographical boundaries of North Dakota.

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The next stop was at the National Buffalo Museum.  It was a neat little museum, informative but very focused, not outstaying its welcome, and with plenty to engage the kids, including a whole room full of toys and books.  We saw the skeleton of an ancient bison and the more modern skull of Leo, a bison who was shoved off a cliff by a rival during a breeding battle at the age of just 24.  We learned more about the importance of the bison herds to the indigenous populations’ way of life, about the devastating over-hunting of the bison by white people, and about the efforts that brought the bison back from the verge of extinction and which now protect and conserve them as a species.  We also saw the stuffed body of White Cloud, a white bison who had been a celebrated member of the museum’s herd.  They have a new white bison in the herd, named Miracle, but unfortunately the herd was too far away for us to see them.  We had spotted them when driving to the museum but we could not even catch a glimpse of them when we were on site.

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By now, long time readers will have recognised that I can never resist a claim of World’s Largest Whatnot.  I will take detours just to see some random thing that is on a colossal scale.  Adjacent to the Buffalo Museum was the World’s Largest Buffalo.  At 26 feet tall and 46 feet long, it is indeed pretty vast.  A display inside the Museum had informed us that Dakota Thunder, as the giant beast is now known, was constructed out of a scaffolding of steel beams and mesh which were then coated with cement and stucco.

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It transpired that Jamestown – where the Buffalo Museum is sited – is a fascinating little place.  It turns out that Jamestown is the birthplace of Peggy Lee and of Louis L’Amour, one of my Granddad’s favourite authors.  L’Amour had a very colourful life which led him to meet many interesting folks who inspired his characters.  One building in Jamestown, therefore, represented L’Amour’s studio and was filled with memorabilia and information about his life.  The author had had an idea to create a faux frontier town which had never come to pass.  In many ways, however, that was precisely what this particular little corner of Jamestown had become.  Various authentic period buildings had been relocated to the town in order to create the impression of what a 19th Century pioneer town would have looked like.

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As such, the place turned out to be a massive hit with the Pictlings.  They thoroughly enjoyed wandering from building to building, trying on costumes, acting out various old timey western scenarios, and hopefully learning something about frontier life by accident.  For instance, in the print shop, I was able to teach them about typesetting.  The whole place is a bit cheesy and shabby but that is just the quirky sort of place we love to stumble upon when travelling.

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Our route took us past Bismarck, the state capital, and over the Missouri.  There was not, however, much to see on this route which might then explain why I went nuts when I spotted a gigantic cow on the horizon, sitting atop a hill.  Obviously we had to make a detour!  The cow turned out to be Salem Sue.  A sign at the beginning of the steep dirt track road urged us to “Enjoy the view from Salem Sue!”  She is the World’s Largest Holstein Cow and was apparently built as a celebration of New Salem’s dairy industry.  At 38 feet tall and 50 feet long, she made the World’s Largest Bison look like a shrimp.

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We stopped for a late lunch in Medora at a hipster, farm-to-fork place called the Farmhouse Cafe.  We all ordered random things – I had a delicious veggie burger – but Mr Pict decided to try something different, a dish called fleischkukele.  It is apparently quite a North Dakotan dish, having been imported by German immigrants.  Mr Pict found it to be tasty enough for a decent lunch but not interesting enough that he would bothering ordering it again.  We all enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere of the cafe, however, and the deliciously refreshing lemonade.  It fortified us for the next leg of our journey.

Theodore Roosevelt was our first National Park of the vacation.  Roosevelt was very fond of the area and took solace in a cabin there when his wife and mother died on the same day.  His cabin is still within the park boundaries.  We didn’t get as far as that site but instead took a driving loop tour through the park hoping to spot some of its wildlife.  We were not disappointed.  Within minutes we had reached a bustling prairie dog town.  I can appreciate that prairie dogs can be the bane of farmers but oh my goodness they are adorable.  We loved watching them scuttering around, popping in and out of holes, and standing to attention.  The kids loved it when we reached another prairie dog town where we could pull of the road and actually walk among the prairie dogs.  We also encountered a couple of herds of wild horses, which was pretty cool.

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I also spotted my first ever wild bison.  I have encountered captive and domesticated bison many times over the years but had never before encountered a wild one.  It was standing on the horizon line as a perfect silhouette.  I was ecstatic.  You can, therefore, imagine how thrilled and excited I was to encounter, later in the park, an entire herd of bison.  They were near the roadside so we were able to pull over, clamber out of the car, and observe them to our heart’s content.  It was pretty exhilarating to see these hulking beasts in the wild, interacting with each other, lazing in the sun, shaking the dust and dirt from their coats, looking after their calves.  It was very cool indeed to fulfill a long held travel bucket list item.

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After a very long day of trekking across North Dakota, we crossed into Montana at 6pm – and that was with having gone back another hour.  Montana was almost instantly more undulating and tree covered than North Dakota had been.  I had hoped to cram in a visit to Pompey’s Pillar.  This is a rock covered in Native American petroglyphs and the carved signature of William Clark.  The pillar was named for Sacagawea’s son and is the only physical evidence along the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition.  Alas, the National Historic Landmark had closed its gates three hours earlier.  I could see it from the entry station and could easily have slipped through the gate and tried to get a squizz in the dark but a) I am too law-abiding a person and b) we were bone tired and just needed to get to Billings and our hotel beds.  We arrived at the hotel at 10pm, the kids swam for an hour, and then we all collapsed into our fatigue.