When Carol Bares began researching a book about her mother’s family in 2019, she was soon faced with a mystery: where was her great-great-aunt Susanna Thull?
The mystery led her to a long-abandoned cemetery in the town of Grafton, a cemetery founded before Wisconsin became a state. The oldest of those buried in the cemetery were born in the late 1700s, shortly after the end of the Revolutionary War.
Little did Bares know, however, that when she began her quest and eventually found her great-great-aunt’s final resting place, it was a broken-down burial site, St. Francis Cemetery. Xavier in the town of Grafton.
“It was a mess,” Bares said, noting that the Pleasant Valley Road cemetery near Maple Road was overgrown, Susanna’s headstone was broken and a “huge branch” of a tree had fallen over it.
The Belgian resident said she and her family cleaned up the grave as best they could, but then things started to look up.
Debbie Krueger of the St. Joseph Parish Cemetery Committee contacted Bares, asking him to help the parish take ownership of the cemetery. The parish needed five descendants of people buried in the cemetery to take possession of it and then transfer that to the parish.
They succeeded, and in late May, St. Joseph Parish became the official owner of St. Francis Xavier Cemetery. The parish is planning a rededication and blessing of the cemetery at 2 p.m. on Sunday, July 31.
“I’m so happy,” Bares said, noting that the people at the cemetery need to be taken care of. “They deserve to be remembered and cared for. We have to honor them because we wouldn’t be here without them.
Allen Buchholz, whose great-great-grandparents Veit and Anna Beschta and their daughter Katherine are buried at the cemetery, also rejoiced that St. Francis Xavier was cared for again.
“It’s a piece of history,” he said. “These tombstones are extremely historic. They can tell extremely interesting stories.
He hopes more people whose ancestors are buried in the cemetery will also visit and discover pieces of their past.
“What they (the cemetery committee) are doing is part of an effort to make sure my children and grandchildren know about these people and the sacrifices they made,” Buchholz said, noting the courage of the people who left behind everything they owned and everyone they owned. knew how to travel to a new country and carve out a life.
“It amazes me to think about it,” he said.
St. Francis Xavier Cemetery, which was established in 1846, was largely forgotten for generations.
It has only about 100 graves, with the earliest date of birth for someone buried being 1792 or 1799, Krueger said.
“For Grafton, it’s old,” she said. “If you were on the East Coast, it wouldn’t be.”
The earliest date of death found was around 1844 – before the cemetery was founded.
“We don’t know if he was moved there later or what,” Krueger said.
Krueger said it was established on land donated by Johann and Anna Elter to the German Catholic Union Society and served members of St Francis Xavier Church – popularly called Town Ten Church because it was 10 townships north of the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
The original log structure built in 1848 was replaced in 1867 with a stone church with an onion-shaped spire, something rarely found in churches in the United States. There were four chapels, one at each corner of the 40-acre church property, used for the annual assembly. Corpus Christi feast celebration.
By the late 1800s, St. Francis Xavier and St. Joseph parishes were well established, but over the years membership at St. Francis Xavier dwindled. Eventually it became a missionary church affiliated with St. Joseph’s Church.
In 1943, as maintenance costs rose, the church was sold, but the cemetery was still owned by the German Catholic Society. But eventually society itself faded away.
Then, in 2012, the city of Cedarburg sent information to St Joseph indicating that it owned the cemetery. It didn’t, but it inspired the parish to see what it could do to take back the cemetery, a task taken on by parish director Brenda Klein. But first, Krueger said, the cemetery committee had to be reconstituted — and that took time.
Parish attorney Jon Herreman told the committee he needed to find five descendants of people buried at the cemetery – a daunting task given the age of the cemetery, but a certain Krueger and others got together. eagerly harnessed.
“It was a little detective project,” Krueger said. “People were more willing to help. It took a bit of work, but you just had to stick with it.
With the help of the Grafton Historical Society and online databases, they found the descendants who live between California and Grafton.
Descendants had to sign affidavits confirming their relationships and take the matter to court so they could form a cemetery group that could transfer ownership to the parish.
The process took less than a year, Krueger said.
“There was always this desire to take care of it (the cemetery) even though we didn’t own it,” she added, noting that some parish members had taken it upon themselves to mow and clean. try to maintain the cemetery and an eagle. Scout erected a sign there.
Now, she says, the cemetery committee will have to decide how to improve the property. Many tombstones need cleaning, some need straightening. Some are so worn that the lettering is hard to read.
Buchholz said he plans to place a plaque on his great-great-grandparents’ headstone that will include the information engraved on the headstone, which is made of limestone.
“Words are disappearing,” he said, adding that he could include information such as when the family arrived in the United States from Czechoslovakia.
The cemetery, Buchholz said, has always been part of his family — something he knew because his family had always been interested in genealogy.
Buchholz, who is a member of the Ozaukee County Historical Society, noted that his father helped move one of the chapels from St. Francis Xavier Church to Pioneer Village, where it stands today.
His father also took the keystone from the dilapidated church as payment for some work for the owners after the church was sold.
“My dad took that rock out of there and brought it home,” Buchholz said. “It sat in our garage for years.”
The family eventually donated it to the Ozaukee County Historical Society, and today it sits next to the Pioneer Village Chapel.
While Buchholz knew her family was buried at the cemetery, Bares only recently discovered that her great-great-aunt was buried there.
She discovered this while researching a book for her mother about her family in 2019. She knew that her mother’s great-great-grandfather, Wilhelm Zirbes, had come from Germany to the United States with his brothers Hubert and Heinrich, his sister Susanna, and his mother Anna in 1846. and they settled in the Dacada area, and she had found the graves of everyone except Wilhelm’s sister Susanna, who remained a mystery.
Someone eventually suggested she check the records of St. Francis Xavier Church, and she found Susanna and her husband Nicholas Thull listed as members.
She had never heard of the church before, Bares said, and she still didn’t know where Susanna’s grave was. Frustrated, Bares once confided in her daughter about her search for St. Francis Xavier Cemetery.
“She said, ‘Mom, that’s downstairs from my house,'” Bares recalled. “I just looked at her like you were kidding me?”
Buchholz said he hopes the news about St. Francis Xavier Cemetery inspires people to learn more about the many small cemeteries in Ozaukee County, estimating there are about 10 the size of St. Frances.
“The larger cemeteries tend to be taken care of,” he said. “But these little ones tend to get lost. They must be taken care of and these people must not be forgotten.