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Saturday, June 21, 2014

What Was Katharina Doing There?

We just returned from a vacation trip through the Sierras, up I-5, over to the coast at Cannon Beach, then home along I-84 and down I-15 . . . and one of the things we did was to look for the graves of my grandmother Beatrice Boedefeld’s two grandmothers. 

Barbara Oliphant Worsley, the maternal grandmother, we knew was buried in Brownsville, Oregon. Just past Eugene we left I-5 and drove east into Brownsville, a tiny place with incredible charm. The cemetery is all the way through town on a hillside overlooking a valley to the southeast. My parents had located the stone in the 1980s and, finding it broken in two, they had taken the pieces home with them where my father set them into a cement frame, and when it was cured, he had taken the stone back and set it against its former base. We were looking for a slab flat on the ground and, parked practically next to the grave, we never looked at it the entire hour we scoured the cemetery for a flat slab with the name “Barbara” on it. 

Giving up, we had driven back into town thinking to leave, but the town is so tiny that there in front of us was the City Hall, so we parked and I went in. An incredibly helpful lady got out the old cemetery map, a huge roll of parchment paper, and spread it on a table for me. She zipped over to her computer to see if Barbara was in the database while I scanned the map. She found Barbara and helped me match her to the right place on the map. For further help, we wrote down the names of all the people buried around Barbara. Then we had to figure out the orientation and changes the decades had made in the actual landscape, and we figured out where the roads still run. 

Driving back up the hill, I realized quickly that we had been parked extremely near where Barbara had to have been buried. We all looked one more time, but this time for the prominent monument with the Kirk name on it, a landmark and a well-known member of the community. Then we scanned the ground around it, still looking for a flat stone. But the map showed that Barbara had to be . . . this slanted slab leaning almost upright against a broken base . . . and across the top, the name Barbara! We felt pretty foolish and were elated at the same time.  

My mother admired my dad’s handiwork and we took a photograph. Then my husband found me a tool that I could use to gently scrape away the lichen from parts of the wording on the stone, and we took more pictures. 

A week or so later we were on the way home from the coast, staying in The Dalles, which is one of my favorite cities. Four years before this, we located the graves of Beatrice’s maternal uncles in the I.O.O.F. cemetery here, and then we had been successful in tracking down the old pioneer cemetery with its gravestone monument to Beatrice’s maternal grandfather, the husband of Barbara: John Worsley.

We had thought that Beatrice’s paternal grandmother, Katharina Selgrath Boedefeld, was buried in the Odd Fellows Cemetery too. But when we returned there and asked at the office, the kind worker there could not find her in any of his databases, and he said that they were very much complete. He referred us to the Catholic Cemetery across the road. We scoured that cemetery, each of us taking a row in turn, until we felt we had walked two miles each. My mother went back to the car to lean against it and rest. We checked every single stone (the office was locked for the day) and were unsuccessful. 

Late at night when I was almost asleep I realized that we had the wrong place. I was suddenly sure she had died in Pendleton, so why should she be buried in The Dalles? There were no Boedefeld relatives that I knew of in that area. The next morning I looked up her records, and sure enough, she had died in Pendleton in February 1904. Pendleton cemetery records were online and I found a “Catherine Bodenfeldt” in the Olney Cemetery. Thankfully, there was a good map too, showing exactly where in the huge cemetery her grave was located. 

We arrived around lunchtime. A quick drive through the cemetery located the right place, but the sprinklers were going full blast right on the spot. Not feeling like a shower, we all opted to have lunch and then return. When we got back, the sprinklers were just turning off in the right location. I took off my shoes and walked through the wet grass to find her. I could not find her. I searched every row of that block, and then we decided to ask at the office. 

The helpful lady there, whose name was Deb, got out the burial card for Catherine and located her on the map. Then she got out the block card and wrote down the names of the people buried in the same block. They were mostly infants, and we thought there might not be headstones for them. I thought I recognized one name though. She got out the block cards to the two sides and wrote those down too (Catherine was buried in the corner of her block). Back up the hill I took off my shoes again and this time found the right place in the wet grass, but there was no headstone, and no evidence there had ever been one. The spot was a little sunken, which was encouraging. Those wooden coffins disintegrated in this soil.

The place raised all kinds of questions and speculation that I had never thought about until seeing this lonely place with no marker of any kind. Her records in the cemetery office were spelled “Catherine Bodenfeldt” instead of “Katharina Bödefeld” as she used to sign her name herself, and as surely her relatives would have known to spell it. At least they would have put the Americanized version that they themselves had adopted: Boedefeld, wouldn’t they? And why did I have the date 13 February 1904 for her death, when the cemetery record showed her interment was 13 February 1907? Come to think of it, why would any of them bury their mother or grandmother way out here in Pendleton, away from all the rest of the family? 

  • Her eldest son Jacob was probably dead by this time. 
  • Her second son, John, and his wife, Magdalena, were living in Portland. Their daughter lived on the same street where I found Katharina living in 1900, but I don’t know the people Katharina was living with, even though she is listed as the mother-in-law of the head of the house. 
  • Her third son, Joseph, was in a home for old soldiers and sailors back in Pennsylvania after living many years in Alaska.
  • Her eldest daughter, who had been a nun but had left her order, was living in Portland.
  • The next daughter, Catherine, lived with her husband in Pennsylvania.
  • I can’t find the next two daughters, Agnes Boedefeld and Isabelle Hamilton.
  • Son Ferdinand and his wife and daughters lived in Elkhart, Indiana.
  • Daughter Mary Ann Zweibel lived back east in Pennsylvania or Ohio.
  • Son Frank and his wife Mary were living in Tacoma, Washington.
Would the family have left her grave unmarked? I don’t think so. Would they have misspelled her name? No. There was no owner listed on the grave card (there was something typed in that space and white-out put over it; we scraped away the white-out to find the name of the girl buried in the next plot, typed there by mistake and then moved down to the line where her name belonged).

Why was Katharina by herself in Pendleton, Oregon, dying alone and apparently buried by strangers? We speculated that perhaps she was returning to her home in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, and she was overtaken by something that proved fatal, and she dropped through the cracks in her family. Perhaps the family in the east did not know she was coming; perhaps the family in the west, with two other deaths a few months later (John and his wife, Magdalena), lost track of the fact that nobody had heard whether Grandma got home all right. And Grandma was lost until now. . .

We returned to the office and ordered a simple marker for Katharina’s grave. And we shelved the questions that cannot be answered.

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