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Exploring Graveyards

By Staff | Feb 24, 2021

My Dad always had an interest in the genealogy of his family and friends “out Proctor.” In my childhood, just about every house in West Virginia had a nice “settin’ porch,” where in the summer folks could get out of the hot house, tip green beans, listen to hound dogs, play banjo, talk, or just “set.” Our house was situated next to Route 89 and people often would stop and “set a while” on our porch and gab with my Mom (Gramma Ginny) and Dad (Pap), both very personable people. There I heard lots of discussion of who was a third cousin from somebody else, twice removed.

I tried to take our young daughters Audrey and Rachel back from New Mexico to visit Gramma Ginny and Pap for a week about every summer when the kids were growing up. My parents almost never had any plans for us – they just wanted us to hang around with them at their place. One morning to our utter amazement, when we got up one day, Pap announced we would be visiting cemeteries and have lunch in one of them. Teri and the girls (who were maybe ten and twelve at the time) just stared at each other, thinking “Okay…what’s this about….” They were stunned because 1) the announcement was so out of character for my Dad and 2) what exactly are we going to do for a day in cemeteries?

The six of us piled into one car and we headed out narrow, twisty, steep, pothole ridden Route 89. We went left at the fork at Antioch and continued another ten miles to the St. Joseph’s settlement in adjacent Marshall County. St. Joe is the area where all of my mother’s German ancestors first homesteaded and where many of them were buried in St. Joe’s Catholic church cemetery. The panorama from the beautiful church and graveyard, atop a big knob, is a spectacular, with verdant, steep, heavily wooded hills in every direction. On the ground we saw grave markers of my grandpa and grandma Frohnapfel (my mother’s parents) and their predecessors, all the way back to when they arrived from Germany in the 1850s. The familiar names on the grave markers drew me back to my Dad’s porch conversations when I was a kid.

After an hour or so at St. Joe, we drove back towards home and stopped at Antioch Church, where many of my father’s ancestors were buried. Pap’s family line also originally came from Germany to the U. S. but they were Dunkards in religion and arrived in Revolutionary War times. Eller descendants homesteaded in Wetzel and Marshall Counties in the late 1700s and early 1800s. When I was a kid, the location of Antioch Christian Church still represented a clear geographical demarcation between conservative Catholics (my mother’s heritage) and conservative Protestants (my father’s heritage). That demarcation has broken down substantially over the years due to the effects of intermarriage, breaking up of family farms, and newcomers. My parents were among those who broke the religious barrier.

As at St. Joe, the church and graveyard at Antioch were beautifully maintained and commanded a beautiful vista of the ridiculously green West Virginia hills rolling out in every direction as far as the eye could see. We entered the Antioch graveyard and had dinner (lunch) on the ground. Then Pap guided us around the cemetery. He proudly saved his best for last, wanting to leave a lasting impression. He proudly pointed out that he (we) had multiple ancestors along different branches of his family tree with the same last name of Yoho. Teri and the kids stared at each other, speechless but thinking “My God! It’s true about these hillbillies inbreeding!” My Dad certainly left a lasting expression, but it was not the one he intended.

I had a hard time explaining to the kids that, in fact, this is what you see in any long-standing, rural cemetery serving a lightly populated area. In that situation, the options are always limited when pairing up in marriage.

Ironically, despite the great religious differences between my maternal and paternal lineages, they both came from the same part of Europe and somehow, someway, found rural West Virginia. Even more ironic, they both came for the same three basic reasons: 1) Availability of cheap land, 2) escape religious persecution, and 3) avoid being conscripted into the German army.