My interest in (and to a degree even fascination with) family history has taken me in more than one direction. Of course it began with visits to ancestral cemeteries. Beyond that, I remember early on asking questions of my parents, but other than learning that my dad’s father was born in Van Wert, Ohio, there wasn’t much to glean. Even when my husband and I made a trip to Van Wert, we weren’t successful in learning anything meaningful.

Discovering the Internet in the mid-90s changed that picture and opened up a whole world I could never have imagined. The first big discovery was that our Moneysmith ancestors did not come from an English-speaking world but from Germany (link). It was also about that time that we finally learned the actual first name of our Grandpa Hawkins’ father. And so it began, and what a journey it has been.

To travel to all these places, including Connecticut, Ontario, and Virginia, done by itself would have cost an immense amount of money and time. But we were blessed with a life situation that often fit hand in glove with doing research on family history. Throughout our travels as missionaries to visit friends and ministry partners, my husband Fred and I were able to take advantage of opportunities to search cemeteries for my ancestors and to discover new information about them. 

In the course of it all, I’ve learned about many ancestors that I had no idea or information about before. All of it has been rewarding, even though there have been disappointments along the way. Following are accounts of the discoveries we have made at different times in different places, including highlights and pictures if there are any.

National Archives

Hawkins Vital Information
1992 or ’93 

People - Esther Gross

A friend who had the exact same name I do (Esther M. Gross) alerted me to the fact that the National Archives in Washington should have records on my Great-grandfather Hawkins who had served in the Civil War. I applied (in those days, it was still free!) and received twenty 14”x17” photocopied pages of information. It was a treasure trove. We had known so little about him—not even his actual name. I am especially glad my friend gave me the Archives information when she did because within a year after that she died of breast cancer. 

Highlights — Accurate information on this great-grandfather’s name (Harrison, not Hanson), his birth date, the dates of his marriage to and divorce from Grandpa’s mother, Florence, and the fact that my grandfather’s birth name was apparently Montell.


The page from the National Archives in which Harrison himself answers questions 
about his family and gives information we had not known before


Southeast Virginia

Malvern Hill Battlefield 

People — Esther and Fred Gross

One thing we learned about from the Archives was that Grandfather Harrison had his eye injured in a battle called Malvern Hill. In the spring of 1993, my husband Fred and I visited the battlefield and the Berkeley Plantation on the James River. “Harrison’s Landing,” where Grandfather Harrison reportedly received treatment for his eye, was undoubtedly just that—the boat or ship landing for the Harrison family’s estate or plantation. 

Highlights — Seeing the current Harrison estate and most of all the battlefield where Great-grandfather Harrison fought and suffered his eye injury. 


The battlefield as seen in this day and time


Grand Haven, Michigan

Multiple Vital Records 

People — Fred and Esther Gross

For some time I did not realize that the records for my ancestors buried northwest of Grand Rapids would not be in the courthouse in Grand Rapids. They are buried in Chester Township, which is in Ottawa County, not Kent County as Grand Rapids is. The county seat for Ottawa is Grand Haven, Michigan, west of Grand Rapids on the east coast of Lake Michigan.

But we didn’t know anyone in Grand Haven. Would we have to pay for a motel in order to visit and do research in that courthouse? Until that point, we had been able to pursue my forays into family history by including them with our travels for our missionary work. 

I checked with the Wycliffe Associates Roster (listing of homes willing to offer temporary housing to Wycliffe missionaries) and found one couple in Grand Haven. When we called them, they seemed happy to “put us up,” and two surprises awaited me when we arrived at their home—African violets on the table in front of the picture window and ancestor pictures lining the walls of the hallway. My interest in African violets came from my mother, who had several dozen when she died. In addition to the violets, the Boelens were big into family history! They were delighted to direct us to the courthouse and were interested in the discoveries I made there—including a new set of 3rd-great-grandparents that I had had no idea ended their lives in Michigan. 

Highlights — Learning about Jeffrey and Ellis Champlin, third-great-grands! I also learned Delilah’s and Ferd’s birth dates; Edith and Effie May Porter’s death certificates, and the name of Magdalena Stauffer’s father—George. We had long wondered how that name got into the family since every other one of Abraham Stauffer’s children had distinctly biblical names. 


Jedidja Naomi Hoppe by headstones of Jeffrey and Ellis Champlin 2008 

Bethlehem, Connecticut 

Finding 4th-great-grands Porters

People — Fred and Esther Gross

From the overview of Porter family history that Mary Ann Porter prepared for the Porter reunions in the early 1920s, we knew that Grandpa Ferd Porter’s grandfather Curtis Porter was born in Bethlehem, Connecticut. We also learned from her about his parents, Robert and Betsey Ford Porter. 

For many years we had a supporting church in Fishkill, New York, on the east side of the Hudson River, so periodically we made trips there to report to the church. On our trip in early May 1995, we decided to see if we could track down anything related to the Porters in Bethlehem, not too far east of Fishkill. I recount parts of the discovery in my Letter to Robert under the Porter link in this Scrapbook:

After mistakenly searching a newer cemetery, we finally found the old, right one [on (Belamy Road]. Did I say “old”? I’ve never been in one like it! In neither cemetery were there any headstones readable as early as 1794. …

Then Fred hollered! And there you were, with names and ages—and Lucy! 

Robert, a 4th-great-grandparent of mine, appears to be buried between both his wives, though when Robert died, Betsey had been dead for forty-eight years. What a romantic! He had been married to Lucy almost that whole time. 

At the time we made that discovery, Bob and Dottie Hoppe were on an eastern trip as well, and when they heard about this find and this cemetery, they made a trip there, too.

There are actually some readable headstones from the American Revolution in that cemetery, and when we made a visit on a military holiday a few years later, all those headstones had flags on them.

Highlight--Discovering Robert and Betsey! – first set of fourth-great-grands!!


The headstone of Robert Porter (1764-1843) and his two wives, 
Betsey Ford Porter (1765-1795) and Lucy Hannah Porter (1767-1850)

Overview of the Bethlehem Cemetery


Fulton Street Cemetery, Grand Rapids

Finding 3rd-great-grands Champlins

People — Fred and Esther Gross

In 1994 at the Ottawa County Courthouse in Grand Haven Michigan I had learned of third-great-grandparents named Jeffrey and Ellis Champlin. But if they had lived and died in Michigan, where were they buried? See the whole story in Delilah’s Family under Porter in the Scrapbook. I learned they were buried in the Fulton Street Cemetery in Grand Rapids, and Fred and I made our first visit there in 2002. 

It is a large cemetery, and the Champlin graves are not easy to find, though they are not far off one of the roads that runs east-west through the cemetery. Beside Jeffrey and Ellis are their son John Wayne, who at some point served on the Supreme Court of Michigan, along with several of his family members. Up on a low hill is the more prominent grave of their older son, General Stephen Champlin, who fought in the Civil War and died of a wound. 

I took family members to this cemetery on other tours, including 2006 (Dottie Hoppe, Don Paul Gross), 2008 (Dottie, Matt Hoppe and children), 2015 (Rachel Rendon and family)

Highlight — Finding and visiting graves of Delilah’s parents and brothers


2008 Matt and Dottie taking coordinates for the records; Ethan and Joel Hoppe looking on


Rhinebeck NY

Finding 4th-great-grands Champlins 

People — Fred and Esther Gross

I first learned about our Champlin ancestors from Champlin-info guru Bob Champlin. The Champlins settled in Rhode Island in the days of Roger Williams and lived there generation after generation. Though our Delilah’s maternal grandparents (Jeffrey and Prudence Wilbour Champlin) were both born in Rhode Island, they lived out their lives and died in Rhinebeck NY. Fred and I had gone through Rhinebeck a few times on our way to visit friends a bit further north, so on one of our trips we stopped to do cemetery hunting in Rhinebeck. We searched a small cemetery on the north side of town first, to no avail. 

When we found the big one further south in town (also on Route 9, west side), it was so big that we had ask for help at the information office. The man located the Champlins right away in his record books, and he took us to the graves. They are just off the main entry road and very easy to find. In addition to Jeffrey and Prudence, several other family members are buried around them. 

Highlight — Discovering the Champlin graves – second set of fourth great-grandparents; seeing the graves of Ellis’s brothers


Headstones of Jeffrey Hazard Champlin and his wife Prudence Wilbour Champlin, 
4th-great-grandparents to Esther Gross standing between the stones

Chester Township, Ottawa County MI

Stauffer Bible, Bennett Cemetery

This story is told in its entirety in Stauffer Bible Comes Home under Porter in this Scrapbook (

People — Fred and Esther Gross. Julie and Judy Flietstra, Tom Rademacher, and a photographer from Grand Rapids Press

Highlight — Meeting Julie and Judy and getting the Bible


Julie and Esther behind Samuel and Roxy’s headstones; note the roses Julie brought

Standing around chatting with the journalist and photographer


Waterloo, Ontario, Canada

Canadian Stauffer Graves

People — Fred and Esther Gross

I had long known that a large group of our Pennsylvania Stauffers had migrated to the Waterloo area of Ontario, not far from Niagara and Buffalo. That generation and the offspring who had migrated with them died there before the next generation began migrating to the Grand Rapids area of Michigan. Those who died in Ontario included the “Esther” who began the string of Esthers (six in eight generations) in our family, as well as Esther Stauffer Clemens, her husband George, and their five offspring who died within days or weeks of each other.

As I looked into it online, I discovered that Canada has excellent documentation for the names of every person buried in their cemeteries. By then I knew details about all the generation that did the migration, and I was able to identify the cemeteries in which they now lay. So a trip to Waterloo sounded feasible if we could tag on that swing through Canada after the Grand Rapids trip with the grandchildren. 

On the way to Canada we made another stop in a Michigan town to chase another source of ancestor information. Somewhere along the line, I had made contact with Marilyn Tower, a great-granddaughter of Samuel and Roxy Stauffer (I am great-great to them). For a year or more after we connected, we shared information about the Stauffers and the generations between them and us. Her town of Flint, MI, was on our way from GR to Canada, so we didn’t have to go out of our way to see her.

Marilyn had an interesting story to tell about some family-history treasuries she had run across. A tray passed down from her mother was covered with something (I don’t remember whether it was fabric or paper). At some point, Marilyn decided to remove the cover, and underneath she found a paper with something printed on both sides. On one side was a grocery poster of our mutual ancestor C.E. Wells (priceless!) and on the other side a print of the town of Painted Post, NY, where the Wells family lived the last six years before they moved to Michigan.

Though we had never been to Waterloo and hadn’t known anyone there, we were blessed with a place to stay with the parents of a fellow missionary. Bless him, the gentleman of that couple did all kinds of advance research for us by locating the cemeteries in the city and providing us with a map all marked up for finding them. 

Samuel and Esther Stauffer are in Washington, Ontario, a bit west of Waterloo, so that was our first stop. It was a beautiful cemetery and well kept. Their headstones from 1867 and 1871 are soft stone and showing their age, and Esther’s has apparently over the years been sinking into the soil, but they were clearly readable, and it was a special privilege to stand by them. I just regret that I didn’t have the sense to have my picture taken close up with that of the first Esther in our string of “six Esthers in eight generations.”

It was in the Stauffer booklet that I first read about an ancestor’s sister, another Esther. That complete story is in the Scrapbook in “Esther Stauffer Clemens” under Stauffer. When I first learned of her and even when I found out what happened to her children who died in childhood, I never imagined I would one day have the sobering pleasure of visiting those graves.

We seriously searched the Weber Mennonite Cemetery for the Abraham Stauffer who migrated from Pennsylvania to Canada, but no stones were visible with dates as early as 1823. Susannah Stauffer, first wife of the Abraham Stauffer who moved to Michigan, may be in that cemetery, but we did not look for her. 

One of the most beautiful headstones I’ve seen in my travels is the one of Noah and Barbara Stauffer near Waterloo (note the death dates below). He was a grandson of Abraham Stauffer who migrated from Pennsylvania to Canada. Noah inherited Abraham’s house, and there they held the1904 centennial reunion of the move to Canada.

Highlights — Seeing and acquiring the Wells grocery poster and Painted Post print; discovering the Stauffer graves – third set of fourth-great-grands! Visiting the Limerick Cemetery where Esther Clemens and husband and five of their eighteen children are buried. Finding three of Samuel’s siblings who migrated from PA as well as the nephew who engineered the 1904 Stauffer reunion which resulted in our booklet with so much Stauffer information. 

Wells’ poster

Esther and Samuel Stauffer

Esther Gross with Esther Stauffer Clemens’s headstone

Headstone of Noah and Barbara Stauffer


Truman Street, Conklin MI

Schoolhouse gone
About 2007

People — Esther and Fred Gross only 

I don’t have a record of when Fred and I made the North-Chester trek by ourselves and found the schoolhouse gone with only the chimney standing, but it was between 1991-2006. 

Highlight (not a happy one :-/)—Finding the school gone and only the chimney still standing.


The chimney—all that was still there of the school attended by any number of our ancestors in the North Chester area


Dowagiac, Michigan

Missing Grandfather Found—sort of

People — Fred  and Esther Gross

Though I had visited the graves of more than one set of fourth-great-grandparents, my nephew and I searched unsuccessfully for years for an ancestor much closer to us—my father’s grandfather, Emery Moneysmith. He was only the third generation to carry the Moneysmith name. We knew where he was born, about his birth family, and that when he was nine his mother had died leaving a fairly newborn baby. We knew that he had married, that by that first wife had two sons—one of them my grandfather, Jacob Moneysmith, as well a daughter who died very young. We knew the marriage had not lasted because that grandmother was married to someone else before Jacob was married in 1901. Eventually we learned that in 1894 Emery had married a young girl whom he soon abandoned.
Despite everything Matt had done to try and track down about Emery, it wasn’t until about 2010 that we discovered that he had died in Dowagiac, Michigan. The account of that is written in the Scrapbook under the Moneysmith heading, including the fact that his resting place has no headstone. 

Finding that resting place was a mixed emotional experience. Having wondered about him and searched for him for so long made the finding satisfying, but knowing about the fairly broken life he lived, beginning with his mother’s death when he was only nine, the death of a baby daughter within her first year of life, plus two divorces and the abandonment of a young woman, those among other things made it an experience of mixed emotions. If Grandfather Emery ever in his life made any peace with God, we don’t know about it. The absence of a headstone added to a feeling of melancholy, and it all adds up to a sad picture. 

Highlight – Simply finding his resting place

Picture  – The fact that there was no headstone makes this a different discovery from of the others. But here is a picture of the cemetery caretaker trying to determine which of the four no-headstone lots might have been Emery’s.


Noble County, Indiana

Unfruitful Search
Possibly 2014

People – Fred and Esther Gross

We thought we had good information on our ancestors Cornelius and Catherine Sullivan, grandparents of my grandmother Minnie Squibb Moneysmith. We had what seemed like the exact location of their graves—Orange Township, Noble County, Rome City, Indiana. We had even checked at the county courthouse, though I don’t remember getting much help there. How could we miss?

But we did. The cemetery was very large, and Fred and I searched it systematically and thoroughly, with no results. We hoped to make it back someday, maybe with more specific information, but that hasn’t happened. Maybe another generation can be more successful. Consequently, no pictures or even highlights.


Kalida, Putnam Co., Ohio

Finding the first Moneysmith
Fall 2014

People — Esther and Fred Gross

At least one set of our ancestors did not arrive in America with the name that migrated down to his descendants. They came from Germany as Mahnenschmits. Two generations later, four of five great-grandsons ended up with four different Americanized versions of name (See “Early Moneysmiths” in the Scrapbook.) 

When I first learned about them and for a decade or more afterwards, I had no idea I would ever have the opportunity to stand by the grave of the one who turned out to be the “very first Moneysmith.” But I did get to, and it was an interesting venture. Kalida is a tiny place, barely on the map. It has a large cemetery, but there are still wide-open spaces at the back, mostly with very old graves, and that’s where we found him – Henry Moneysmith (b. Heinrich Mahnenschmit). 

Not surprisingly, his stone is very old and sadly barely visible. I felt terrible afterwards that I had neglected to search for his wife, Elizabeth. She didn’t die until two years later, 1862; it seems strange she wasn’t buried beside him. I have seen a picture of her grave, and it is noticeably nicer than his, but not nearly as nice as the one for their son William who died forty years later, obviously much more prosperous than his father had ever been. 


Esther at Henry's Grave

Henry Moneysmith headstone; with the sun on the other side of the stone when we 
were there, it was and is all but impossible to read the stone.

The grave of William Moneysmith, son of Henry and great-grandfather of Virgil Moneysmith



Though the interest in family history has been mine and all the ancestors discussed or discovered are also mine, with the exception of the Archives discovery none of these would have been possible without my plucky sidekick, my husband Fred. I could never have traveled to all those places alone. I am grateful that he happens to enjoy trekking around cemeteries in search of headstones that provide connections. Thanks, my friend! It’s been a pleasure doing it all with you.


The discoveries we’ve made have been very satisfying and far more than we ever dreamed of in the beginning. Yet it is not surprising that not all our searches have been successful. We never got back to western New York after we learned more about the lives the Comptons’ lived there. We never made it to Hamilton County New York to see if we could learn more about the Curtis Porter family before they migrated to Michigan, and we weren’t successful in finding anything on Delilah in Delaware County where we were told she was born.

Though we’ve found information hundreds of years back on some lines such as the Hawkinses and the Comptons, a big disappointment has been not finding any more on Curtis Porter’s wife, Hannah. We know her maiden name was Holt. Her headstone tells us she was born in 1800, and a census told us she was born in New Hampshire. Whether New Hampshire didn’t keep good records or those records have never made it to genealogical databases like Ancestry is hard to tell. I’ll never make it to New Hampshire, but I will continue to check whatever online records I can find.