Puzzle pieces come together for Stauffer at Evangelical Cemetery
Judy Stauffer will never forget the hot days of the summer of 2011 when she and Marlene Schlagenhauf walked the rows of graves at the Evangelical Church Cemetery and photographed every grave in the graveyard.
“We took a picture of every stone in the cemetery, even those we couldn’t read,” observed Stauffer. “We came back to the Heritage Room and looked in old newspapers and cut out obituaries. If we couldn’t find them in papers, we tried to find some other way to find information about them.”
Stauffer said that there were no newspaper records available before 1896. The ladies then arranged the information in a binder as they appeared in rows in the cemetery.
“We are not finished yet,” said Stauffer. “We would like to arrange the information in alphabetic order, it’s a big job.
“It was hot out there taking pictures,” Stauffer said. “We started the summer before last and placed the pictures in folders according to row.”
Stauffer said that much of the information was assembled last summer and winter.
“I saw so many people that I went to school with, the Adam Egly family, many of the Neuenschwanders I went to school with and the Amstutzes,” Stauffer said. “I felt like I got to know their families much better.”
Special moments in the search were those that Stauffer referred to as, “aha moments.” She would come across things she was looking for at unexpected times in unexpected places.
“I would even find pieces to the puzzle in my own family. To me, some of it was like the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow,” noted Stauffer. “So many times I would find things when I wasn’t looking for them. It’s so addictive.”
Stauffer will never forget the day that she was in the Heritage Room when she overheard executive director Kathy Rausch talking to someone on the phone. In fact, Rausch was mentioning names that were strangely familiar to her, names like unto people in her own family.
“Suddenly, I heard enough names that I realized that she was talking to someone doing research on my family,” Stauffer said. “She was in Decatur doing research; I got on the phone and told her what I had. She was from New York and was back here looking for ancestors. Her great-grandmother was a Felty.
“We went to see Ruth Nelson Miller. She was one of the Nelsons and a distant cousin to me. One piece of information led to another. It was exciting for both of us,” Stauffer said.
Stauffer can especially connect with people from the Geneva area. She was raised in the Geneva area and graduated from Geneva High School in 1944. In 1946 she married Eugene Stauffer and they had five children.
“I hope I can live for a while yet; I still have some stuff to do,” Stauffer said. “I enjoy looking backwards and doing research. In fact, you might say that every day I look forward to looking backwards.”
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