SOUTH GLENS FALLS, N.Y. (NEWS10) – When the staff at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church prepared for the installation of a new statue of its namesake, they expected a straightforward process. Patio pavers went to work to flatten the spot where a new statue of St. Micheal now stands – and in the process, a mystery was unearthed.
A 156-year-old grave marker dug up during the paving process has become a project for the church. It’s broken off at the bottom, meaning that some information has been lost.
Here’s what the church does know. “Patrick – died May 25, 1863. Age: 4 years. Catharine – died Aug. 26, 1866.”
With those details to go off of, the church has been trying to connect the headstone to any currently-living families in the Glens Falls/South Glens Falls region, ever since finding the stone over the summer. The rest of the stone is likely underneath the property where the church now sits – meaning the information the church has is as much as they’re likely to get.
“Obviously, a family in the 1860s buried these two children,” said Fr. Tony Childs, pastor at St. Michael the Archangel. “For whatever reason, the headstone was ill-taken care of, and what I want to do is be a good steward.”
As for how the headstone wound up underneath the church? The building didn’t used to be there. Where the parish now stands, once stood a cemetery, with graves going far back into the 1800s at the time. As the congregation grew, it was decided that a new parish should be built where those graves rested – and so the dead had to be moved. The people moving graves would only transfer those that were actually on top of the remains of the deceased. If there was nothing under the ground, the headstone would have been discarded or buried – the latter being what seems to have happened.
Now, the mission is to trace young Patrick and Catharine back to living relatives, to find out who they were, and do justice to lost lives long forgotten. The first and foremost obstacle: The lack of last names.
“Irish names are really hard,” said Julie Dowd, a staff member at the church with a specialty in genealogical studies – which has led to her taking on the work in identifying the two children. “Everyone is named after their own ancestors, so the same names just pop up over and over.”
The information is too old and incomplete, and too long-buried, for anything conclusive to come up on genealogy websites like 23AndMe. Glens Falls area records only go as far back as the 1880s, missing the pair of names by a couple of decades. The church thought they had a lead on Thursday morning, stemming from the spelling of “Catharine,” but the dates failed to line up.
As of Thursday, St. Michael’s is running out of leads. Dowd plans to consult with the Folklife Center at Crandall Public Library. The church knows that they can figure out the puzzle – in 1995, a headstone was found after meeting a similar fate, and a family member was able to match it with a plot at the current cemetery.
Anyone who wants to help identify Patrick and Catharine, or thinks they may be related, is invited to reach out directly to the church. St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church can be reached by phone at (518) 792-5859, or by email at email@example.com.