Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Tombstone Exposed: John Clementine and Kissiah Abbie Willite


 
Some folks may think that the pursuit of our ancestors in cemeteries is a bit strange.  However, to those of us bitten by the genealogical bug, cemeteries are absolute gold mines of information and high on the list of places to visit to further our research.  Unfortunately, time and the elements have a way of eroding the tombstones of the dearly departed and can make them very difficult to decipher.  Such is the case with the monument marking the final resting place of my second great grandparents on my mother’s side of the family—John Clementine Fisher (b. 15 Oct 1866, d. 22 Jan 1926) and Kissiah Abbie Willhite (b. 23 Feb 1869, d. 1907).

Located under a large shade tree in the Jones Chastian Cemetery in a rural area just south of Nixa, Christian County, Missouri (picture above and below), sits the weathered stone of John and Kissiah.  Over the years I have seen photographs of this stone on the Web, mostly associated with family trees on Ancestry.com and Find-A-Grave.  However, zooming in on those photos hasn’t produced much information since the characters on the face of the monument have largely disappeared.


I was able to take these photos of the stone one day in April last year documenting the poor condition it’s in.  My cousin Ben Hurd of Sparta, Missouri who is very familiar with the stone volunteered to help me locate the monument and interpret the remaining letters and numbers—or at least we tried.  We left the cemetery that day with confidence the tombstone under the tree was that of John and Kissiah, but there was some uncertainty as to what exactly was inscribed on the face of it.  Visually, the word “Fisher” was apparent along with the intials “J.C.”, but it was a real challenge to make out much else.  We didn’t make a “rubbing” of the stone since that’s an abrasive and destructive practice for any stone especially with a marker as badly deteriorated as this one.  So what could be done, if anything, to read the tombstone?  That’s where technology came to the rescue!

Using the powerful capabilities of digital photography, I was able to uncover many of the letters and numbers remaining on the face of monument.  I took the photo of the tombstone shown above and subjected it to a variety of alterations using Adobe Photoshop to highlight the remaining characters.  Without getting too technologically “into the weeds”, I basically relied on the fact that, as light strikes an object it illuminates some parts and casts shadows on others creating ever-so-slight color and contrast differences.  By altering the brightness, contrast and various colors present in the light captured on that photo, I was able to tease out much of what exists of the remaining characters on the face of the stone (below).     


The photo above is one of the better digital variants I was able to produce.  Considering Ben’s knowledge of the tombstone, plus the initials “J.C.” and “K.A.” and the dates “1869” and “1_07” for K.A. and “1866” and “1926” for J.C., there’s no doubt this is the tombstone of my second great grandparents.  The photos below present a closer perspective of the individual sets of initials and dates. 

 


Of equal interest are the two small, flat stones on the ground just in front of and to the left of the John and Kissiah’s tombstone (below).  They simply read “E.F.” and “L.F.”, and most likely stand for “Elmer” or “Ethal” Fisher (birth and death dates unknown) and “Louise Fisher” (b. 30 Oct 1904, d. 27 Jul 1918).  Louise’s death certificate obtained on-line at the Missouri Digital Heritage web site indicates that she passed away of typhoid fever at age 14.  I haven’t been able to uncover anything about the fate of Elmer and Ethal Fisher, but I suspect that “E.F.” died at a young age and relatively close in time to Louise.  According to my cousin Ben—John, Kissiah and their children suffered a great deal of hardship as they struggled for many years to make a living off the land as the simple nature of the two flat stones seem to suggest.       



Further investigation has uncovered other individuals in the Jones Chastian Cemetery who were related to John and Kissiah making the trip a productive one for my research and not so strange after all!  I expect to be visiting more cemeteries in the future.

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