While scanning a past newsletter for inclusion in the “newsletters” segment of our website, I ran across this vignette from the Winter 2004 edition. In honor of our upcoming Cemetery Seminar, I thought it might make an amusing “Old is New” read for all of our friends…
By Fred Sisser III
While Dennis Joseph Zeveney III of the Everitt’s Hill section of Raritan Township was excavating his backyard in order to put an addition onto his circa 1840s home, he unearthed a marble tombstone. On it was engraved “Martha A. / Stenabaugh / May 6,1840 / July 16,1906.” Concerned that there was more than just the stone, Dennis’ wife, Jennifer Jeanette (Barker) Zeveney, called on her mother’s cousin (the author of this account) to investigate the situation.
Inasmuch as small family burying grounds on private property were no longer used by 1906, it was assumed that Martha’s tombstone was removed from some cemetery. In order to find the place in which she was interred, and determine where Martha’s tombstone belonged, several sources were tapped. The 26 July 1906 issue of The Democrat-Advertised, in Remington, noted that “Miss Martha A. Stenabaugh” died at “her home near Oak Grove [on] July 6th 1906 … [of] cancer of the stomach.” Unfortunately, the account did not state where she was buried. Likewise, a search was made for her death certificate, on which was to be indicated her place of burial. Evidently such a document was never filed with the authorities.
The 1870 Federal Census records that Martha A. Stenabaugh was the 39 year old daughter of Peter Stenabaugh, with whom she resided in Franklin Township, Hunterdon County. Living in the same household at the time were Martha’s older brothers, Samuel, age 44 and Charles, age 42, both of whom she “made her home with” at the time of her death.
Samuel Stenabaugh died on 12 June 1925, at Croton. His obituary in the Hunterdon County Democrat stated that “had he lived until October 8th he would have been 91 years old.” The account further noted that he never married, and left one brother, Charles. The Democrat recorded that Charles Stenabaugh, also a bachelor, died on 23 February 1936, and that he “was 98 years old last October.” Both death notices mentioned that Samuel and Charles were survived by one nephew, Ellis Stenabaugh. Death certificates were filed for both brothers, on which it was indicated that they were each buried at the Locust Grove Cemetery in Quakertown.
Under the assumption that Martha was also buried at Locust Grove, Donald Trauger, the caretaker of this Quakertown cemetery was contacted. He was able to find the Stenabaugh brother’s tombstone, which in turn explained the mystery surrounding Martha’s marble marker in the Zeveney’s backyard. Martha proved to be one of five siblings, four of whom including herself never married. She was the first of the unmarried members of her family to pass away (in 1906). When her spinster sister, Sarah Jane, died in 1919 the family decided to erect a large memorial, on which was ultimately inscribed the names and year of birth and death of Martha and all of her unmarried siblings. As a result, the original stone erected in honor of Martha in 1906 became unnecessary, and, as Don Trauger put it, her “first” tombstone was “chucked.”
But how did Martha’s original tombstone come to be buried in the Zeveney’s backyard? A study of the previous owners of the property revealed the answer. On 1 April 1902 Abraham Hoppock sold Ellis S. Stenabaugh, for $700.00, property in Raritan Township located on “the line of land of (formerly) J. S. Everitt. . . [on] the great road leading to Flemington.” Ellis sold the land in June 1935 to John W. and Edith J. Storr, who in turn deeded the property to the individual who sold it to the Zeveneys. The Zeveney home, therefore, was once owned by Martha’s nephew, Ellis S. Stenabaugh, who evidently claimed her initial tombstone when a new marker with her name was erected in the Locust Grove Cemetery. According to Mr. Zeveney, the stone was discovered in his back property at the comer of a shed, near an ash tree. Apparently Ellis was a practical individual, and used it for flagging, perhaps as the entry stone into the shed. In time it sank into the ground, and lay hidden until unearthed by the Zeveney backhoe.
Ellis S. Stenabaugh (1863-1947) was the son of the only sibling of Martha A. Stenabaugh (1840-1906) to be married. This was her brother, John Stenabaugh (1826-1905), the eldest child of Peter Stenabaugh (1794-1883) and his wife, Mary Strimple (1802-1877), whose fourth known child was Martha. Ellis married Matilda Pimm in September 1891, and they were the parents of four sons: Raymond F. (1893-1957), Charles (1895-), Paul (1899-1987) and Frank, who married Sara Ida Grey on 30 May 1931.
Information for this article was obtained from a variety of sources, the foremost being the resources of the Library of the Hunterdon County Historical Society, especially the Frank Burd Obituary File. Other vital facts were secured from the author’s personal file of Hunterdon County marriages and deaths. Certificates of deaths and marriages were acquired at the New Jersey State Archives. Special thanks is extended to Den and Jenn Zeveney and Don Trauger for their appreciated assistance.