In the research phase during my exhibit development-and-building days, I was fortunate to be in the capital city with the State Library, county historical society, and main city library all within a few blocks. But with a limited amount of time per visit, I can't say I learned where things were or found what I wanted in most cases (except for a book on the delicious Romanoff version of the periodic table, which I used in the graphics for an interactive exhibit on the noble gases -- that was a complete success).
With the Internet, hallelujah! you can find what you want without going out, putting shoes on, or risking a mold infection in the stacks of the State Library (just kidding). So, like a lot of people, I indulge myself and investigate all sorts of things that tickle my wide-ranging and slightly peculiar fancy, just for the heck of it.
For a couple of decades now, Nancy and I have been the caretakers of family gravesites at Rolling Green and Mechanicsburg cemeteries -- there's no one else anywhere nearby and we enjoy doing it. Cemeteries were used as public parks before those were widely developed, and they still serve the purpose well. Walking around among the trees and flower memorials, with little threat from automobiles, you can read the markers, speculate on them, and learn something about the people in the community who came before you. (A legend I'll never forget on a really old one in Abbotstown: As you are, I once was/As I am, you will be. Shivers.)
Over those years, I've noticed which markers were maintained by the living, and which looked abandoned and friendless. Last year, I cleared a few off with the clippers and broom I'd brought along, and noticed one (a Private Garcia from the WWI era) had flowers placed on it after it was visible again. This summer, I saw a depression in the ground a few yards away from my grandparents' resting place, and removed the leaves to reveal the letters ERLO. I thought that even if no one was left who cared anything about this person or persons, at least their names should be in the sun. So next time I brought the garden spade and dug out years of turf that had grown over the bronze tablet in the ground, cleaned it up, and read:
MYRTLE I. LAURIE C.
Now my curiosity was stirring. Fifteen years' age difference -- were they spinster sisters, or possibly a mother and daughter? The name looked like it was Dutch. And why did they die in the same year -- or was it the same day?
I went to work, but since I only use free web sites it took a good deal of time; if I could pay per use at www.ancestry.com I would, but they want an ongoing paid subscription. Most of the genealogy sites using the word "free," by the way, are not and most are affiliates which lead you back to Ancestry, the WalMart of dead-people-finding. One such, www.familysearch.org, is also part of the LDS Church/Ancestry enterprise, but is very useful. The federal grave sites registry, www.usgwarchives.org, is also essential, but not infallible: the name is misspelled Merloo, which cost me a wasted day. What I found out about our mystery guests:
The name is indeed Dutch and is also expressed as Van Meerloo, with first names such as Joost, Hendrick and Tryntje showing up, as early as passenger lists in the early 1700s to the Dutch East Indies. The big surprise was that the name Laurie M. was associated with both WWI and WWII draft registrations! It wasn't an error -- Laurie was a male, and had to register (in Richmond, Virginia) in 1942 for the Fourth Draft at age 54. It was called the "old man's draft" because it targeted people born from 1877 to 1897. He was born to a Dutch-born father and a mother of German descent in Brooklyn on August 24, 1888. His social security number was issued in the District of Columbia, and on the 1920 census he is listed still in Brooklyn with his (surprise) first wife, Selma (born 1896). And the name, for both, was spelled Marlow. By the 1930 census, the name was again misspelled as Meerlos, and Laurie was residing in Dauphin, Pennsylvania, listed as a 41-year-old widower. Also in his home was a "housekeeper," age 27, named Murtal Fehl (born 1903). She changed roles at some point, became the second Mrs. M., and Anglicized her name to Myrtle. I came to dead ends trying to find out anything more about Selma or Myrtle, though, except that the latter was born in Missouri and her father was from PA. Laurie's two younger sisters also left no record I could find.
As of today, Pennsylvania death records are only available without charge online up to 1961. I have to remember to look in a few years to find out how L. and M. died in 1964 (probably around February 15 since they were buried on February 18, a Tuesday), to keep on unravelling the mystery. There were no disasters that I could find in PA in the first half of that month; my guess is that they died in an auto accident.
What took Laurie from Brooklyn to D.C. to Richmond, then to Dauphin and wherever else? Both Richmond and Mechanicsburg have large military depots (Bellwood in south Richmond and Navy Supply here), so he may have been a Federal employee.
Most of us won't leave a mark on history, but we all have our story.