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improbable-looking limestone karsts in Guilin

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Here Lies Somebody

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Not long after moving here, I was looking at a cemetery about a mile from our house, and found the grave of a likely relative. Likely, because (according to The Babbitt Family History), almost all Babbitts in the US were related, and traced back to Edward Bobet — with the exception of a few who had come into this country as immigrants with names the officials couldn't or wouldn't write, and who found themselves and their descendants dubbed with the surname.

Anna Babbitt 2009

It was possible to read the name on the stone: "Nathaniel Babbitt." The soft sandstone held other faint lines, but between their weak grip on the stone and the encroaching lichens, I couldn't make out any dates. I guessed that it was one of the oldest stones in the Pioneer Burying Ground, which began use just before 1800. I pored over a copy of the family history. Not the copy my grandmother had, but a scan of a library copy that I found online. Archive.org was probably the source of it. First, I tried to read the text conversion of the book, which as full of errors due to unchecked mechanical character recognition and problems with columns and footnotes. It turns out, though, that the scanned PDF version is fully searchable and looks great.

I soon found out that the family history is chock full of Nathaniels, and not knowing exactly when to look was also a handicap. I searched on Pittsford, and found references to other Babbitts, as well as to Pittsford, Vermont, which I've found is the town that the one here in New York was named after. Since this town was called Northfield at the time the cemetery was begun, I searched that as well. Guess which other state has a Northfield where Babbitts lived. Yes. Vermont. Curse you, Vermont!

Anna Babbitt 2011

By 2011, the growth across the face of the stone had expanded. I wondered if taking a brush to it would do more harm than good. I wondered if there were any descendants still in town — or in other nearby towns. The history mentioned Babbitts in other towns in the state, ranging from a few miles away on the shore of Lake Ontario to the other side of Syracuse. I tried calling a Babbitt in the phone book, leaving a voice message that hasn't been returned yet. I stopped by the Town Hall and learned that the town historian comes in for a few hours a week on Thursday afternoons, and took down her information. Months later, I remembered in time to give her a call.

She had some interesting information for me. Going to her records, she told me that the stone is not marking the resting place of Nathaniel Babbitt, but that of his wife, Anna, born 1782, died 1806 (June 1806, though the stone apparently once claimed 1804 in error). She was aware of the condition of the grave, and didn't think there was anything that could be done about it by this time.

Anna Babbitt 2013

Looking at my earliest photos, I could now trace some of the letter shapes in 'ANNA' in the gray-green overgrowth. I could even discern in the gentle curves beneath Nathaniel's name the likely location of "1782" and perhaps "June." She mentioned a Babbitt family that she used to know in town, on Clover Street. The father's name was Arlo or Arliss, the daughters were Donna and "Betty" (short for Elizabeth). Donna moved to Iowa, Betty passed on.

Time has been hard on the graves, particularly those carved in soft sandstone. The oldest is unreadable now, and is part of a row of undecipherable white slabs. I thanked her for the information, which was more than I expected, even though I had been fairly sure she'd have access to records. With or without records, she knew the graveyard, and its stones, very well. I felt like I'd been taking up a lot of her time, so I didn't ask about the small stones piled up at the back of the yard. They are probably footstones that became separated from their original graves.

I still don't know how I may be related to these people. Mom died in 2008, and wouldn't have been able to tell me anything anyway for at least a decade before then. Her last surviving sister, the oldest of her generation, died last year, and her widower wouldn't be much interested in that side of the family (he apparently has Grandma's copy of the family history, which may have notes written in it that I'd like to see). My sisters and I are interested in seeing what we can figure out, but it may be too late to do a lot of that by now. Too bad. The internet makes parts of it very easy to do.
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3 comments:

Karen said...

This is the marker for my 6 x
great grandmother, Anna, wife of Nathaniel Babbit. She died in 1806. When I was there several years ago you could still read the names and dates on the stone. It has really gotten bad.

Kip W [Muffaroo] said...

Karen, I'd love to know more. Do you have any photos of the stone when more could be read? I did find a photo of it, years ago, using something with a name like "Find A Grave," but I can't seem to duplicate that search now.


Karen said...

I think I have several pictures. I will look this weekend and let you know. I really don't know that much about Anna other than she died young (age 24). She had two sons. Nathaniel remarried after her death to Olive Savage, widow of Roger Savage. By 1810 or 11 had moved to Pultneyville. I have been searching for her maiden name for a while and haven't been able to find it.