Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Some Headstone Adventures

I was poking around an online newspaper archive and found this interesting article about Ms. Jane Oliver (headstone photo below), a resident of the Rose Hill Cemetery, and the adventures of her headstone. What's great is the article includes information on the publication of her death notice in The Oakland Daily Evening Tribune (I have not verified that text personally).

From: The Van Nuys News, 08 November 1973, Page 73, Column 1


NORTONVILLE, Cal. (UPI)- The headstone that marked the grave of Jane Oliver, wife of a Welshman who worked California coal mines 100 years ago, was missing mysteriously for some time, but has been found and will be returned.

Officials said Mrs. Oliver's headstone will be placed where it belongs, and this ghost town's churchyard will be restored to its appearance in 1880 when Mrs. Oliver died at age 39.

Last week a California Highway Patrolman found the old headstone in a roadway near Concord, miles from Nortonville.

The inscription said it belonged to Jane Oliver and that she died March 17, 1880, at the age of 39 years and 6 months.

Local historians, trying to return the stone to its proper place, found the following death notice in the Oakland Tribune for March 25, 1880:

'Oliver- in Nortonville, Contra Costa County, March 17, Jane, wife of Thomas J. Oliver, a native of Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, South Wales, aged 39 years and 6 months.'

Nortonville and several other ghost towns on the slopes of Mount Diablo, are included in an area recently acquired for a regional park.

At one time Nortonville had a population of more than 1500, mostly Welshmen who came to work the coal mine that flourished in the area before 1890."

Monday, January 5, 2009


I'll be on a little bit of a hiatus over the next few weeks as I pack up our house due to our impending move! We're staying in the same city, but moving about five miles from our current home, so it's all the work without all of the sense of dislocation.

Rest assured that once we get settled we'll be doing more on-location visits, and I'll be hitting up the Pleasant Hill library for some digging into Rose Hill and other cemeteries!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

The Families of Rose Hill: Walter Holt

[Note: This article was originally published on the blog Rainy Day Genealogy Readings. I have decided to expand the premise of this research into a series on the inhabitants of Rose Hill Cemetery, and therefore feel it is appropriate to post this information on this blog as well. Look for more research on the families of Rose Hill coming in the New Year.- Jennifer]

I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment and just have fun researching some of the inhabitants of the lovely Rose Hill Cemetery which I posted about on my Graveyard Rabbit blog last week. I wanted to see how much I could dig up on these individuals just using the resources available to me online.

Since I can't afford to order any records right now, and since holidays have me too busy to get out to the library, these research results should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, I am amazed at what I was able to dig up with some good online resources and a few hours.

My first subject was little Walter Holt:

I was unable to find out anything directly about Walter (I need to run to the California Genealogical Society or the Pleasant Hill Library Genealogy Section to see if there is information on his death and burial). But I was able to find out A LOT about his family, and how the course of their lives played out.

The Holt Family

I began by locating the family in the 1900-1920 census enumerations in Woodland, Yolo, California, using the names of the parents from Walter's grave marker. The 1900 census shows three Isaac Holts residing in California, and only one with a wife named Julia, to whom he had been married 27 years. In 1900, the couple is enumerated with daughter Grace, born February 1880 in California.

In both the 1900 and 1910 censuses, Julia states that she has two children alive out of four children birthed. Research in Woodland newspapers (detailed below) indicates that along with Grace, Isaac and Julia's other surviving child was Arthur Edward Holt. Thus the family structure (including information detailed below) is something like this:

Isaac Henry Holt (b. Abt. 1852) m. Julia Canify(1) (b. Abt. 1854)
I. Walter L. Holt b. Abt. April 1873, probably California
II. Arthur Edward Holt b. Abt. 1875, California
III. Grace Mays Holt b. Abt. 1880, California
IV. UKNOWN Holt b. UNK, UNKNOWN location

East Coasters Gone West

According to her obituary(1), Walter's mother Julia (Canify) Holt married Isaac Henry Holt in New Haven, Connecticut in 1872. The couple (she from New York, he from Massachusetts) moved out west to Martinez, Contra Costa, California in 1874. (This information ties the couple back to Contra Costa county where Walter was buried.)

I am still unable to locate the family anywhere in California for the 1880 Census, despite the fact that the couple and at least two of their children should be present at least somewhere in California at the time. Searches in Arizona, Nevada, Oregon and Washington also came up empty.

We know that Walter was buried in 1882 in Rose Hill, but that area is located outside of Antioch, which is about 20 miles east of Martinez (the community Julia's obituary mentions as their residence from 1874 until 1886). The father, Isaac, is registered to vote in Contra Costa in 1884(2), but it is unclear where exactly in the county they were residing at that time. Therefore, we can tie the family to California at the time of Walter's death, and we can even point to their residence in Contra Costa, but I cannot confirm the family's residence via the 1880 census, nor can I currently find any direct information on Walter himself (at least online).

Moving On Up

Again according to her obituary(1), Julia Holt and her family moved north to Woodland, Yolo, California in 1886. We find them there, residents of #306 Cross Street, Woodland, California in the 1900-1920 censuses.

At this point information on the family is interestingly easy to find thanks to the small town paper The Woodland Daily Democrat. One of the highlights includes an article I had actually indexed on my website, which concerned the son Arthur shooting his sister Grace in the foot(3):


Last night about twilight, Arthur Holt, who lives with his parents on Cross street, near Cleveland, shot his sister in the right ankle with a No. 22 Ballard rifle. Both claim that the shooting was accidental. The little girl suffered very much from the hurt. Dr. Beebe was called, but did not remove the ball, as it had entered near the ankle joint, and he thought it best to allow it to remain a day or two.

Arthur Holt is about sixteen years of age, and enjoys a very unenviable reputation. The neighbors describe him as being the worst boy that Woodland has ever had the pleasure of raising. The shooting occurred in this way, according to the statement of one of the neighbors, who seems to think it was not altogether accidental:

Mrs. Holt had sent the boy on an errand, and he took the gun with him. As he remained away much longer than was necessary, the mother sent her little girl to find him. She is about ten years old. She met him on Cleveland street near Clanton's corner, and asked him why he had been gone so long. He commenced cursing and said it was none of her business. They walked along together, she expostulating with him and he abusing her, when the gun was suddenly discharged. The little girl screamed, and Mr. and Mrs. Clanton ran out to see what had happened. The little girl was lying in the street, and said she was shot. The boy said, "Oh, for God's sake shut up your crying. You are not hurt. It would not go through your shoe." Nevertheless, she was hurt and the blood was flowing freely from the wound. The little girl was taken to their home, and Dr. Beebe called. Both claim the shooting to be accidental.

Arthur and Grace

Apparently Arthur eventually grew out of his more malicious phases, as by 1895 he was being commended for his work as a driver with the local volunteer fire department(4). He moved from Woodland about 1898(5), and eventually settled in Oakland, California. He married first Elizabeth Dowell (date unknown) from whom he was divorced in 1904(6). He eventually married Margurite UNKNOWN about 1906(7), with whom he resided in Oakland, Alameda, California. Arthur has not been identified in the SSDI, nor in the California Death Index (this index does not begin listing deaths until 1940). Arthur was mentioned as alive at the time of his father's death in 1932(8). No descendants have been identified from either of Arthur's marriages.

Grace married Johann Christian "Joe" Hedeman in 1907(9). Her husband was the son of C. J. Hedemann, a notable immigrant from Denmark who, among other things, served as Danish consul in Hawaii. Grace is found in the 1910 and
1930 US Federal Census in Honolulu, Hawaii(10). The couple had at least one child, Mildred(11). Grace's date of death has not been identified.

Julia and Isaac

Julia Holt died 03 June 1929 and had an extensive write-up in the Woodland paper(1). According to her obituary, she was buried in the Woodland cemetery.

Isaac Henry Holt died on 29 June 1932 in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he was residing with his daughter, Grace(8). There was no mention about his place of burial in the obituary:

Isaac H. Holt, retired brick mason, who was one of the pioneer residents of Woodland, died in Honolulu June 29th at the home of his daughter, Mrs. Grace Holt Hedeman.

News of his death came in a brief message from Mrs. Hedeman. No particulars were given in the letter.

During his residence in Woodland, Holt lived at 320 Cross Street. His wife died years ago and three years ago he left for Honolulu, where he has since resided with his daughter, Mrs. Hedeman.

Fireplaces and chimneys in many of the older residences in Woodland were constructed by Mr. Holt, who was regarded as an expert in his line.

He was a member of Woodland lodge No. 156, F. and A. M.

The only survivors are his daughter, Mrs. Hedeman, and a son, Arthur E. Holt of Oakland.

Final Notes on Walter

There remains some investigative work to be done regarding Walter himself and establishing the residence of the Holt family at the time of his death and burial. There are a few publications of Contra Costa death notices and burial records which need to be checked for information on Walter. I am hopeful that the identity of the other unknown Holt child may also be obtained by this library research, assuming the child (or young adult) died in this area.

Until then, I am pretty amazed at what great information was found on the family thanks to coverage of their lives through their local paper. I am a HUGE proponent of newspaper research, and I think this research experience is indicative of how newspapers can fill in so much in a research history.


(1). "Mrs. Holt, 75, Resident of Woodland for 41 Years, Dies", Woodland Daily Democrat, 03 June 1929, Page 1, Column 3. Accessed via Some supplemental research was run on the surname Canify, but no results turned up. This may be a mis-spelling of another surname, but I'm at a loss as to what!

(2). See "1884 Voters of Contra Costa County" from the Contra Costa County Genealogical/Historical Societies.

(3). "Accidental Shooting", The Woodland Daily Democrat, 28 April 1891, page 3, column 4. Accessed via

(4). "Hook and Ladder Company", The Woodland Daily Democrat, 11 December 1895, page 3, column 4. Accessed via

(5). "On the Eligible List", The Woodland Daily Democrat, 27 July 1903, page 1, column 4. Accessed via

(6). "Events of Interest in Woodland", The Woodland Daily Democrat, 09 June 1904, page 1, column 1. Accessed via

(7). See 1900 US Federal Census, ED 106, Oakland, Alameda, California, Sheet 5A, lines 35-36, #612 Eighteenth Street; 1920 US Federal Census, ED 90, Oakland, Alameda, California, Sheet 14A, lines 4-5, #746 19th Street; 1930 US Federal Census, ED 14, Oakland, Alameda, California, Sheet 5B, lines 82-83, #746 19th Street.

(8). "Pioneer of Woodland Dies in Honolulu", The Woodland Daily Democrat, 07 July 1932, page 1, column 4. Accessed via

(9). "A Marriage of Interest", The Woodland Daily Democrat, 04 March 1907, page 1, column 3. Accessed via

(10). See 1910 US Federal Census, ED 30, Honolulu, Honolulu, Hawaii Territory, Sheet 10B, lines 44-46, #1269 Matlock Avenue; 1930 US Federal Census, ED 75, Honolulu, Honolulu, Hawaii Territory, Sheet 1B , lines 72-82, #601 Judd Street.

(11). See 1930 USFC for Grace Hedemann, no. 10 above. Grace is widowed in the 1930 census and enumerated in the household of her mother and father in law, along with her own daughter Mildred.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rose Hill Cemetery Visit November 2008

I recently made it out to Rose Hill Cemetery, and the family and I were blessed to enjoy a beautiful day of it. I've actually been to Rose Hill cemetery once before, about 7 years ago, before my interest in genealogy really got going. It's a beautiful spot in what is now the Black Diamond Mines Regional Park. Located on the outskirts of the Bay Area, and set back in a cove of hills, Rose Hill is located in what used to constitute a booming mining area in the nineteenth and early-twentieth century. After the mines closed, the area was vacated and the towns that the cemetery once served (Somersville and Nortonville) were abandoned. Here's a view of one of the former townsites today (to prove that when I say abandoned, I really mean "not a trace left"):

After dealing with the consequences of a cemetery on lockdown, it was interesting to visit a relatively rural cemetery that suffered egregiously from years of being unguarded. According to literature from the park service that now owns the land on which the cemetery is located (East Bay Regional Park District) the cemetery was decimated by vandalism from the 1950's through the 1970's. Trucks were driven around the cemetery and smashed into gravestones, and headstones were even stolen. As a result, only about 64 headstones remain in the cemetery, out of hundreds of burials. The cemetery now looks in better shape, as it is under the care of the EBRPD, but there are still aching reminders of what is missing in the many, many jagged headstone fragments left on their bases:

To make matters more complicated, The Black Diamond Mining Company kept their records, which included burial records for the cemetery, at their offices in San Francisco, and those records were apparently destroyed in the fires after the Great Earthquake. I ran across some great articles (like this one and this one) detailing the work of one woman who is working to restore the cemetery and re-establish a listing of all burials within it. I hope to track her down and talk to her about the cemetery more in-depth.

The area in which the cemetery is located is beautiful, and typical of the landscape around here. The hills are a lovely dry golden color throughout most of the year. They take on a greenish hue towards late spring, at least in years when we've had enough rain (which hasn't been any year of late!).

Here's a shot of the cemetery from the trail. As you can see, the cypress trees make it stand out, otherwise it is a lonely little perch on the side of the hill:

For more perspective, here's a longer shot:

From within the cemetery, here are some shots looking back to where the above photos were taken:

I spent about an hour or so photographing all of the remaining headstones, and placed those photos online here.

Some of my favorite headstones:

All in all, a small cemetery, but an historic one. Again, to see photos of all of the surviving headstones, visit the Rose Hill Cemetery page on my website.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Alhambra Cemetery FAIL

Oh no!

I was successful in getting out to Alhambra and St. Catharine's Cemeteries over the weekend, but to my dismay, the cemeteries were shuttered to visitors. Apparently one typically has to go to the Martinez police department to obtain access, but, as it was Sunday, the police department in this sleepy little town was closed.

The two cemeteries are separated by a two-lane road, St. Catharine's on the higher ground above the road, Alhambra sloping down and away from the road.

The view from the cemetery, as we read about in the 1882 description last week, looks indeed to be beautiful, as you can see from this shot we took through the fence:

From the gates we could read one of the many historical markers that surround the opening into the cemetery:

We also could see some interesting burial markers, including, to my surprise, some wooden ones, one of which you can make out in the lower-left of this photo:

Overall it was a tranquil, beautiful spot perched high above the lovely Carquinez straits. I plan to go back again and try to tour the cemetery itself, instead of just peeking in over the barbed wire. In the meantime, you can virtually visit the cemetery courtesy of the Martinez Historical Society.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Martinez Cemeteries, ca. 1882

I found a beautiful description, circa 1882, of the view and surroundings of Alhambra Cemetery in Martinez. I plan to take the family to the Alhambra and Catholic cemeteries this weekend and take some pictures, hopefully a 360 degree shot to show the view described below as it is today. Knowing Martinez and that area, it should look rather similar, with the exception of the bridges spanning the Carquinez, and some of the recent construction. Martinez and Benicia retain alot of old town character, despite being within the greater circle of the SF Bay Area.

The Solano, of course, now rests in ignominy in the waters off Antioch. The CPRR museum has a great page all about the Solano with many photos, illustrations, etc..

From: HISTORY OF CONTRA COSTA COUNTY,CALIFORNIA, 1882, page 414-415. Online at Google Books.

CEMETERIES-The "God's Acre" in Martinez is one of the most beautifully situated "Resting Places" in the State. Commanding a prominent position on a considerable elevation, here lie in peace many of the county's dead, whose headstones tell their tale, and whose well-kept graves attest the love which binds those remaining on earth to those who have journeyed to that "undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveler returns."

ALHAMBRA CEMETERY.-The Alhambra Cemetery was originally a portion of the town of Martinez, surveyed into town lots, and formed a part of the Pinole Grant of the Martinez heirs. Here, as early as 1854, was buried A. M. Holliday, and here, too rests that venerable pioneer Captain Joseph R. Walker. Born, says his epitaph, December 13, 1798, he emigrated from Tennessee to Missouri in 1819; to New Mexico, 1820; to the Rocky Mountains, 1832; to California, 1833; camped at Yosemite, November 13, 1833; died October 27, 1876. In the year 1862 the open ground was enclosed by the people of Martinez and its vicinity, by subscription, and in March, 1869, the Alhambra Cemetery Association was incorporated with the following Trustees: O. C. Coffin, E. W. Hiller, Thomas A. Brown, L. I. Fish, Mark Shepard, C. C. Swain. Those at present serving (1882) are: W. M. Hale, President; G. A. Sherman, Vice President; L. C. Wittenmyer, Secretary; E. W. Hiller, Treasurer and Superintendant; M. H. Bailache, and Dr. J. H. Carothers. The ground, which is five acres in extent, is supplied with water by windmill power and retained in a large reservoir for facility of distribution. The property is now owned by the Association, they having acquired it by purchase.

ROMAN CATHOLIC CEMETERY.- Contiguous to the Alhambra, and on still higher ground, is the cemetery of the Roman Catholics. At one time the resting place for their dead was on the same hill as that of the protestants, but a fire having destroyed many of the monuments, they moved to higher ground. Here lie many of the early Spanish settlers and their descendants; underneath the high wooden-cross, which is to be distinguished from far and near, is buried one of the Briones family, while in close proximity to it is the chaste and beautiful tomb of the late respected and much regretted Supervisor John Tormey. This point commands and extensive view; below--at one's feet--lies the little town, nestling in its frame of hills, and sheltered by umbrageous trees; to the north we trace the bays and creeks of the [Page 415] opposite shore of Solano, and its thriving town of Benicia. To the right rises Mount Diablo in all its beauty of shape and color; to the left in the blue distance we gain a peep of Mount St. Helena, at the head of Napa valley. Anon the shrill shriek of the locomotive is heard as it rounds the military lines on the opposite side of the Carquinez straits, its journey may be traced until it is swallowed by the capacious maw of the Solano, the leviathan ferry-boat which transports it to the shores of Contra Costa; we see the giant slowly leave her berth, and quickly traverse the intervening space of water, and safely glide into the slips at Port Costa, and off the cars rush for their destination. Again, as the sun sinks, the lengthening shadows of the trees warn us of approaching night. The air becomes chill, we leave the hallowed spot, having communed with nature and her "departed spirits."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Full List of Contra Costa Cemeteries

A full listing of all known Contra Costa Cemeteries, along with their dates of operation. I have linked transcriptions and records of the cemeteries online where available.

Alamo Cemetery (Danville) 1858-1943

Alhambra Cemetery (Martinez) 1853-1964

Byron-Brentwood-Knightsen Union Cemetery (Brentwood) 1850's-present

Carmelite Monastery Cemetery 1950-present

Fales Cemetery 1850's-1947

Hampton Burial (one grave)

Holy Cross Cemetery (Antioch) 1860's-present

Lafayette Cemetery (Lafayette) 1854-1948

Little Chapel of Flowers Cemetery (Crematory) Current

Live Oak Cemetery
(Warning: pop-up ads) (Clayton) 1858-1932

Live Oak Cemetery (Concord) 1858-present

Memory Gardens Memorial Park Cemetery (Concord) 1952-present

Muir-Strenzel-Hanna (Martinez) 1851-1947

Oakmont Memorial Park (Lafayette) 1960-present

Oakview Memorial Park (Antioch) 1884-present

Queen of Heaven (Lafayette) 1956-present

Rolling Hills Memorial Park
(El Sobrante) 1960-present

Rose Hill (Nortonville, now Antioch, in the Black Diamond Mines Regional Park) 1863-1924

Salesian Private Cemetery 1936-present

Seasons Cemetery (Pacheco IOOF; also Hidden Valley Cemetery) 1868-1973

St. Catherine's Cemetery (Martinez) 1850's-present

St. Joseph's Cemetery (San Pablo) 1914-present

St. Paul's Cemetery (San Pablo) 1868-1928

St. Stephen's Cemetery (Concord) 1904-present

Sunset Cemetery (El Cerrito) 1908-present

[This listing founded on the publication California Cemetery Records in Contra Costa County, published by the Contra Costa Genealogical Society, 1990. See Volume III front matter. I have made some alterations and changes.]