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Historic Philadelphia Graveyard A Magnet For Genealogy Researchers

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(The gravestone of Daniel Harrison in the Christ Church Burial Ground, 5th and Arch Streets, in Old City Philadelphia.  Photos by John McDevitt)

(The gravestone of Daniel Harrison in the Christ Church Burial Ground, 5th and Arch Streets, in Old City Philadelphia. Photos by John McDevitt)

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PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Genealogy and graveyards often go together.  Many working on their family trees are traveling to a church burial ground in the oldest part of Philadelphia as part of their research.

At Christ Church Burial Ground, at Fifth and Arch Streets in Old City, the oldest headstone identified dates back to 1721.  The most famous occupant there is Benjamin Franklin.

Many people who get a clue that an ancestor may have been buried there show up to try to fill in the blanks of their family tree.

“I’m looking for a Benjamin Shoemaker,” said Ben Hunter (below), in from Pittsburgh with his wife, Wendy.  “He was a relative —  1811.   The death date I have is 1811.”

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hunter benwendy mcdev Historic Philadelphia Graveyard A Magnet For Genealogy Researchers

(Ben and Wendy Hunter of Pittsburgh search for grave markers at Christ Church Burial Ground.)

Ben didn’t make an immediate connection on that, but found some stones with “Hunter” inscribed and says he’ll take that information back home to see if there is any link to his family.

The land to start Christ Church  Burial Ground was purchased in 1719.  About 4,000 people have been laid to rest there, but only 1,400 with existing stones (some readable, others not) have been identified by records.

Theresa Thompson (below), from Oregon, is working on a family tree.  She was looking for clues  to determine if a gravesite was that of a family member.

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(Theresa Thompson of Oregon is assisted by John Hopkins, Christ Church Burial Ground coordinator.)

“We are standing in front of a marker for Daniel Harrison, who died October 2nd, 1768, in the 74th year of his age,” she reads.

Thompson says Harrison was a family ancestor:

“An ancestor of mine on my mother’s side, where they are direct descendants of the Harrison family,” she notes.

She took pictures and exchanged information with John Hopkins, the burial ground coordinator (at right in photo).  He helps visitors find possible ancestors with a grave inscription book completed by a warden of the church, Edward  Clark, in 1864.

Hopkins says it’s not always easy because time has taken its toll on the markers.
“So it’s kind of like detective work,” he says.  “If I’m looking for a specific grave, I have the map that Clark made and I have to look at one that is still visible, still legible, and then count over and try and figure it out.”

Hopkins says he also looks at other church records to help make a possible connection.

Reported by John McDevitt, KYW Newsradio 1060

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