So yes…I admit that I like to spend my time off wandering cemeteries. While this may sound strange to some, every true genealogist can relate to this obsession. Today we explored the Fairmount Cemetery in Libertytown, MD. It is a well-kept cemetery with attractive iron gates at the entrance.
As we walked around something caught my eye. It was a tombstone carved from a large gray stone. It marked the grave of Howard S. Thomas, born in Hanover, York County, Pennsylvania in 1860 who passed away in 1943. It is the only stone of its kind in the cemetery; and displays primitive qualities given the year of death. As you can see in the photo to the left, the top of the stone has a carved hand with the index finger pointing downward. The epitaph reads “RETURNED TO MOTHER EARTH”. I began wondering who this person was; and why such why he had such an unusual stone.
I went home and started researching. Through the 1870 census records I verified that he was indeed born in the Hanover Borough of York County, PA. He was the son of Emanuel and Sarah A. His father was a carriage maker, his mother keeping house, and he had three brothers and four sisters. The 1880 census revealed that Howard S. Thomas was still residing in Pennsylvania, 20 years of age, and working as an apprentice stonecutter. His father was a retired gentleman, and his brother Jacob’s profession was listed as a dentist and another bother Edward a cigar maker.
In doing further research I stumbled upon one of his siblings obituary: Miss Cora Ellen Thomas, a dwarf, daughter of Mrs. Sarah A. Thomas, died Thursday evening at 4:30 o’clock, at the home of her mother, on York Street, of a complication of diseases from which she had been suffering for the past few weeks. She was aged 37 years, 3 months and 13 days. Miss Thomas measured only 37½ inches in height and 30 inches around the waist. When she was three years old, she suffered with blood poisoning, and since that time had not grown. She usually enjoyed good health and weighed 44½ pounds. She retained childish manners all her life, the development of her mind stopping with the end of the growth of her body. She is survived by her mother, three brothers and three sisters, George W. Thomas, of East Middle Street, Dr. J. A. Thomas, of Reading, Howard S. Thomas, of Libertytown, Md., Mrs. William Strayer, of Aaneoka, Minnesota, Mrs. Emory Swartz, of York Street, and Mrs. William H. Melhorn, of McAllister Street.The funeral will take place on Sunday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock at the house. Rev. M. J. Roth, pastor of the Trinity Reformed Church, officiating, assisted by Rev. G. H. Reeser, of Emmanuel’s Reformed Church. Interment at Mt. Olivet Cemetery.Hanover Herald – Saturday, December 02, 1899
While searching The Frederick News newspaper I found and article from 1895 that stated, Miss Emma Thomas of Liberty is visiting her parents, Mr. & Mrs. James Baltzell of the same place. In 1900 Howard and his wife Emma K. (born 1864 – MD). are residing in Libertytown, MD. The census records indicate they were married in 1882. They have two children that are listed as Harrie B. and Frankie. His occupation is listed as a marble cutter. The 1910 census still find them residing in Libertytown, MD, his sons apparently gone off on their own, but a little surprise. They have a grandson living with them who is two years old and is named, Howard F. Thomas, most likely after his grandfather. Howard is still working as a stone cutter in a Marble Shop.
The 1920’s find Howard and Emma living together in Libertytown, no longer is he a stonecutter, he is now listed as a barber! I began searching the newspapers for an obituary when I found an article that explained everything. Howard Thomas had been preparing for his demise for over thirty years leaving detailed instructions for his funeral. It states that Howard built his own casket as well as carving his very own tombstone. He proudly displayed his casket in his barbershop for all patrons to see. I am not related to this family, but hopefully they will enjoy the article. Another genealogy COLD CASE mystery solved.