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Brandon Township cemetery may be gone but not forgotten



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September 19, 2012 - Brandon Twp.- Mary (Jeffries) Walter died 143 years ago and those who knew and loved her are long gone, too.

Nearly a century and a half after she died June 26, 1869 at the age of 65, it would seem there is no family left to visit Mary's grave, located in Carmer Cemetery here in the township, much less to fix the broken headstone that marks her final resting place.

The headstone, barely legible after many long years exposed to the elements, has the top half resting now against the base, only her name clearly visible.

But Mary is not forgotten, and Mark Hiselman, who never knew his great-great-great-grandmother, has plans to pay tribute to his ancestor with a new headstone.

"I figured, one person found the broken headstone, the least I can do is fix it," said Hiselman, an Ann Arbor resident who was researching genealogy online at findagrave.com and learned where his grandmother was buried, as well as that her headstone was broken. "I plan to do this as soon as I have the time... My next step is to go to Brandon Township and map the cemetery. What if the headstone has been moved to the wrong location?"

Carmer Cemetery was established in 1832 and according to findagrave.com, 49 people are buried there. Sue Chesnutt, keeper of record for the township cemeteries, said a 2001 survey done by two members of the Daughters of the American Revolution found 45 graves in Carmer, which is located off State Park Road, between Ray and Sand roads.

"The family members of the deceased are owners of the grave sites," said Chesnutt. "We maintain the cemetery and do mowing, but the monuments are property of the people... It's very unusual to find someone who wants to replace a headstone, you don't find that often. I think it's cool."

The age of the pioneer cemetery makes it difficult to tell who is buried there, as some markers may have sunk beneath the earth, or other graves may be unmarked. The first person to be buried in Carmer was Daniel Webster, who died in 1832 at the age of 35.

A tour of the very small, fenced cemetery shows about 35 visible headstones, and only a few monuments that are clearly read. Others have barely legible names. Members of the Carmer, Sand, Niles, Ousnamer, Shetler, and Guiles families are buried here. Dates of death are common and sometimes the age at which they died, but little else describing their life or relationships. On one stone is the message, "We hope to meet in Heaven."

Due to a lack of visible headstones bearing the name of Walter around hers, it would appear Mary is the only member of her family buried in Carmer, but records show several other Walter family members in Carmer, including infants and children.

Hiselman, "the family historian," has done some research on his great-great-great-grandmother.

"Amongst our family, we know that Mary was a very good mother, and a kind, and good woman," he said. "She is one of the only people we have saved photos of. She came to Michigan from out east, up the Erie Canal, and took a boat across the Great Lakes to Detroit and settled in Brandon Township with her husband and children. Mary had at least five children, maybe more. It's extremely unusual to have information on female lineage, and it shows she was respected."

Hiselman notes he has several steps to take prior to take to replace the stone, including getting a map of where the current graves are located. He has also visited a monument maker and learned that homeowner's insurance covers repair and/or replacement of ancestors gravestones. He will replace Mary's stone with something more durable, such as granite, but plans to have the same color, cut in the same manner, with a half-circle arc at the top, and a slightly thicker stone so it won't break as easily.

"I am thinking of leaving the old stone onsite, leaving it flat and putting under the base of the new stone," he said. "I think that the way we treat people living and dead has a lot to say about our society. Respecting one of my ancestors shows respect for my family."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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