I’ve always been saddened by the way John Knickerbocker Vermilyea (1851-1925) died.  He is a 2nd great-grandfather (2GG) and one of very few direct ancestors who died in an accident.

I happened to be looking at him again recently and was confused by an online memorial at Findagrave.com.  It claimed that John K. Vermilyea was buried at the Danish Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elmdale, Morrison, Minnesota.1)Findagrave.com, Find A Grave, database (https://www.findagrave.com : 1 November 2019), memorial ID 23545516 for John K Vermilyea 1851-1925, Danish Lutheran Church Cemetery, Elmdale, Morrison, Minnesota [removed 6 November 2019].  That seemed very odd.  John was neither Danish nor Lutheran and, as far as I know, no one in the family ever lived in Elmdale, Minnesota.

Another Find A Grave memorial claims that John was buried at the Elmdale Cemetery in Osawatomie, Kansas.2)Findagrave.com, Find A Grave, database (https://www.findagrave.com : 1 November 2019), memorial ID 20882174 for John K Vermilyea 1851-1925, Elmdale Cemetery, Osawatomie, Miami, Kansas.  The tombstone images attached to the two memorials are identical, so one of the memorials has to be incorrect.  The tombstone reads: John K Vermilyea 1851-1925 Alice J. his wife 18551928.

The second memorial makes more sense because John lived in Osawatomie.

Some background: John married Alice Jane Whitney (1855-1928) on 8 March 1876 in Dover, Olmsted, Minnesota.3)“Minnesota, County Marriages, 1860-1949,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 3 November 2019), entry for John R or John K Vermilya and Allie J Whitney, 8 March 1876, Dover, Olmsted, Minnesota; citing p. 176, image no. 409.  He and Alice subsequently bore three sons and two daughters, including my great-grandfather David Mead Vermilyea (1882-1950).  Here’s the family around 1896 with John & Alice sitting in the middle surrounded by their five children: Margaret, David, Emma, Avery, and Earl.4)I’m guessing at the year based on the known ages of the children.

John K. Vermilyea Family c. 1896 (Author’s collection)

Around 1902, John & Alice moved from southern Minnesota to Kansas.  They settled in Osawatomie, Miami, Kansas – 50 miles south of Kansas City – and lived there the rest of their lives.  Their residence in Osawatomie is documented by the federal and state censuses of 1910, 1920, and 1925.5)1910 U.S. Census, Miami County, Kansas, population schedule, Osawatomie Ward 4, ED 132, sheet 22B, family 539, John Vermllryea; digital image, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 2 November 2019), citing NARA  microfilm T624, roll 447.  1920 U.S. Census, Miami County, Kansas, population schedule, Osawatomie Ward 4, ED 138, sheet 3B, family 80, John K Vermilyea; digital image, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 2 November 2019), citing NARA microfilm T625, roll 541.  1925 Kansas State Census, Miami County, population schedule, Osawatomie, dwelling 189, family 201, John K Vermilyea; digital image, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 2 November 2019), citing Book no. 32-8.

So, I suspected the Osawatomie cemetery location was the right one, but needed to find other sources to be sure.  First I checked to see if the two cemeteries maintained their own websites.  They do not.  The Danish Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elmdale, Minnesota is in fact abandoned although still standing.6)“Danish Lutheran Church Cemetery – Elmdale, MN,” Waymarking.com (https://www.waymarking.com : accessed 6 November 2019), Waymark Code WM93RV, posted 24 June 2010.

I then turned to death records and obituaries.  I found John’s death record in the register to the online database Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001.7)Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 6 November 2019), Olmsted>Deaths 1911-1925, vol. H>image 1030 of 1061; John K. Vermilys, register entry no. 652, Rochester, Olmsted, Minnesota, 22 September 1925.  No mention is made of burial arrangements, but his death was a horrible accident:

Fracture skull in fall from automobile – 6 hrs. (accident occurred on Moriarty Hill – 5 miles east of Rochester, Minn.) Cerebral hemorrhage8)Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001,” database, FamilySearch, John K. Vermilys entry, Olmsted Co., 19255.

An obituary in the Rochester PostBulletin tells the full story.  John was on a road trip with his brother James I. Vermilya of Olmsted County, a former Minnesota state senator, to visit two other brothers in Wadena, Minnesota and North Dakota.  They had driven all day and were attempting to get back to James’ place in Quincy Township, east of Rochester.  The climb up Moriarty Hill caused the automobile to stall.  Here are the grim details:

When nearly half way up the steep incline, the machine came to a halt and the driver attempted to bring it to a stop by throwing in the low clutch.  His brother, after advising as to the best means of stopping the car, stepped out on the ground.  A moment afterward, after the machine had been halted in its backward roll, John Vermilya was noticed lying on the road.  When picked up by his brother, he was groaning and bleeding at the mouth.  He was rushed to the hospital at once, where he died this morning.9)“Obituary from Post-Bulletin, Rochester Minnesota,” transcript by rmhikers, shared 14 May 2008, linked to “Jonnes Family Tree” (public) on Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/86731620/person/30542993705/media/231a08bd-e64f-4ebe-966d-c08124f03b75?_phsrc=GaG10112&usePUBJs=true : accessed 4 November 2019); citing original publication in Rochester Post-Bulletin, 22 September 1925.

The accident occurred after the sun went down because the obituary explains that they reached Owatonna at dusk and decided to push on.  James must have felt guilty afterward because he told the newspaper he assured his brother he “was able to make the run.”10)“Obituary from Post-Bulletin,” in Jonnes Family Tree, Ancestry.  I think they were only 10 miles or so from home.

At the end of the obituary, we find the statement, “It is expected that the body will be shipped to Osawatomie, Kansas for burial.”11)Ibid.

Then I found the clincher: John’s death certificate.  It states John was buried in Osawatomie on 26 September 1925, four days after his death.12)Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 6 November 2019), Olmsted>Death Index 1870-1946,>image 48 of 280; death certificate for John K. Vermilya, 22 September 1925, no. 657, State of Minnesota, Division of Vital Statistics.

So, my suspicion was correct.  John K. Vermilyea died in Rochester, Minnesota but was buried in Osawatomie, Kansas where he resided.  Find A Grave memorial no. 23545516, which cites the Danish Lutheran Church Cemetery in Elmdale, Morrison, Minnesota as John’s burial location is incorrect.   Someone posting the memorial must have confused the town of Elmdale with the cemetery in Osawatomie, Kansas; probably his death in Minnesota contributed to the confusion.

This is an excellent lesson in understanding the limitations of Find A Grave memorials.  The data and information on Find A Grave is submitted by volunteers and mistakes can occur.  Fortunately, there is a procedure for remedying errors.   Anyone can submit corrections to the Find A Grave website as long as you register an account.  It is free to register.  To submit a correction, you go first to the memorial in question, then click the Suggest Edits button.

I decided to do so.  I navigated to John’s Find A Grave memorial no. 23545516 (Elmdale, Minnesota).  After clicking on the Suggest Edits button, I found I had a choice of editing the memorial or merging duplicate memorials.  I opted to merge the memorials and explained that memorial no. 20882174 (Osawatomie, Kansas) was the correct one.  I cited John’s death certificate.  The incorrect memorial was removed within a day.

References   [ + ]

1. Findagrave.com, Find A Grave, database (https://www.findagrave.com : 1 November 2019), memorial ID 23545516 for John K Vermilyea 1851-1925, Danish Lutheran Church Cemetery, Elmdale, Morrison, Minnesota [removed 6 November 2019].
2. Findagrave.com, Find A Grave, database (https://www.findagrave.com : 1 November 2019), memorial ID 20882174 for John K Vermilyea 1851-1925, Elmdale Cemetery, Osawatomie, Miami, Kansas.
3. “Minnesota, County Marriages, 1860-1949,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org : 3 November 2019), entry for John R or John K Vermilya and Allie J Whitney, 8 March 1876, Dover, Olmsted, Minnesota; citing p. 176, image no. 409.
4. I’m guessing at the year based on the known ages of the children.
5. 1910 U.S. Census, Miami County, Kansas, population schedule, Osawatomie Ward 4, ED 132, sheet 22B, family 539, John Vermllryea; digital image, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 2 November 2019), citing NARA  microfilm T624, roll 447.  1920 U.S. Census, Miami County, Kansas, population schedule, Osawatomie Ward 4, ED 138, sheet 3B, family 80, John K Vermilyea; digital image, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 2 November 2019), citing NARA microfilm T625, roll 541.  1925 Kansas State Census, Miami County, population schedule, Osawatomie, dwelling 189, family 201, John K Vermilyea; digital image, Ancestry (https://ancestry.com : 2 November 2019), citing Book no. 32-8.
6. “Danish Lutheran Church Cemetery – Elmdale, MN,” Waymarking.com (https://www.waymarking.com : accessed 6 November 2019), Waymark Code WM93RV, posted 24 June 2010.
7. Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 6 November 2019), Olmsted>Deaths 1911-1925, vol. H>image 1030 of 1061; John K. Vermilys, register entry no. 652, Rochester, Olmsted, Minnesota, 22 September 1925.
8. Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001,” database, FamilySearch, John K. Vermilys entry, Olmsted Co., 19255.
9. “Obituary from Post-Bulletin, Rochester Minnesota,” transcript by rmhikers, shared 14 May 2008, linked to “Jonnes Family Tree” (public) on Ancestry (https://www.ancestry.com/mediaui-viewer/collection/1030/tree/86731620/person/30542993705/media/231a08bd-e64f-4ebe-966d-c08124f03b75?_phsrc=GaG10112&usePUBJs=true : accessed 4 November 2019); citing original publication in Rochester Post-Bulletin, 22 September 1925.
10. “Obituary from Post-Bulletin,” in Jonnes Family Tree, Ancestry.
11. Ibid.
12. Minnesota, County Deaths, 1850-2001,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://www.familysearch.org : accessed 6 November 2019), Olmsted>Death Index 1870-1946,>image 48 of 280; death certificate for John K. Vermilya, 22 September 1925, no. 657, State of Minnesota, Division of Vital Statistics.