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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Headstone Photos from Oakwoods

Ancestors on both sides of my family are buried at Oakwoods Cemetery on Chicago's south side. It's one of the oldest cemeteries in the city, established in 1854 before Graceland, Rosehill and Calvary.

The architecture and landscaping alone make this cemetery a historic treasure. There are some truly breathtaking monuments in Oakwoods, among them the Confederate Mound. A number of Chicago's elite are buried here along with politicians and ministers, athletes and gangsters.

The Confederate Mound
I have wanted to visit my ancestors' graves at this cemetery for as long as I can remember. It's hundreds of miles from me however and I may never have the chance. So I asked for help at Find A Grave and at RAOGK. No luck.

Then one day it occurred to me there might be a local teenager or senior citizen who could take pictures of the headstones I wanted so much to see. So I wrote a letter and sent it to Oakwoods...

"May 23, 2011
Dear Ms. Nowak,
This morning I had an idea I hope you can help develop.
I am a genealogist and several of my family members are buried at Oakwoods. Since I am unable to visit the cemetery in person, I would like to get photos of their headstones. 
Are you familiar with As of this morning, there were 8286 interments listed on the web site for Oakwoods. Specific to my idea, there are 326 photo requests.
I’m wondering if there is a local teenager or perhaps a retiree who might be willing to take headstone photos at Oakwoods. A volunteer would be the most popular choice, but I don’t think it would be unreasonable to ask for financial contributions for the photographer’s time and trouble. I would be willing to pay someone out of state to take pictures and clean up a gravesite for ancestors I can’t visit in person.
This is important enough to me that I would be willing to help in whatever way I can. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.
Warmest regards,"
After a few weeks and no response, I called. Talked with a lovely woman there who said the General Manager position had recently undergone a transition. She suggested I call the former GM. I did. Another lovely woman who offered some wonderful suggestions. Unfortunately none of them worked. So I called the cemetery again. This time I talked with a gentleman who offered to take the pictures himself. I followed up with a letter, a list, some charts, and $50.
"July 6, 2011
Dear Mr. Davis,

Thank you for talking with me yesterday about my desire for photos of my ancestors’ headstones.

Your willingness to help me obtain these photos is very much appreciated. Toward that end I have included a list of names and dates specific to Oakwoods.

I was a little taken aback by the $10 per headstone charge, but relieved when you asked that the check be made out to the American Diabetes Association. Both Jacob and Elizabeth (Schmitt) Mueller died of diabetes, and their son Alfred died of diabetic complications. Unfortunately, my budget won’t allow me to pursue all ten photos this week. I would be most grateful for the five I numbered on my list and for those I have enclosed a check in the amount of $50.

If possible, I would prefer to receive the headstone pictures via email as jpg files. My email address (on my calling card enclosed) is

You mentioned privacy concerns related to the plat cards for these individuals. I have also enclosed relationship charts so you can see I am a direct descendant of Jacob and Elizabeth. Their son Alfred (my great-grandfather) and Otto were brothers. I have received copies of many plat cards or plot maps from other cemeteries during my 30 year genealogical quest. I have never posted them online or shared the contents with anyone. The information they contain is about my family and I protect it accordingly.

In my first letter dated May 23 (copy enclosed), I mentioned the web site If Ms. Comer hasn’t yet seen this web site, would you please make her aware of it? The number of photo requests fluctuates (currently at 271), but the oldest request is from 2006. I’m sure there are many others who would appreciate the prospect of obtaining photos of their loved ones’ graves as well. If this is a service the cemetery might consider offering in the future, I would be happy to share that news.

Thank you again for all your help. It’s unlikely I will be able to see these graves in person, so your help, and that of Oakwoods in general, means a great deal to me.

Warmest regards,"
Within days, Mr Davis sent the following email with two pictures attached:
"Hi Ms. Aanenson
Thank you for your contribution to the ADA, here are the findings for the 5 inquiries you made to Oak Woods cemetery. Next of kin is in parenthesis.

1. Jacob J. Mueller, Age 66  (son Otto) buried in section F5  lot 227  (see photo) his wife Elise is buried to his left also listed with headstone. (see photo).
2.  Otto V. Mueller, Age 44 (sister Alma) is buried in F5 -227 next to Jacob's right side, there is no headstone for him.
3.  Alfred Jacob Mueller, Age 62 (son Harold) is buried next to Otto, there is no headstone for him also.
4. Elizabeth Mueller, Age 76 (William) is buried in section R1 lot 571  Dec. 25, 1901.  (see photo).
5. Frida Youngberg, Age 74 (daughter Myrtle) is buried in section F7 lot 593 Oct. 12, 1937. There is no headstone for her.

Planning Advisor
Oak Woods Cemetery
1035 E. 67th Street
Chicago, IL 60637"
Charles J Youngberg and his wife Freda (nee Tolf)
Jacob K Mueller and his wife Elisabeth (nee Schmitt)

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