Saturday, January 11, 2014

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks: #2, Silas Kirk

I had always been vaguely puzzled about the fact that my paternal grandfather, his parents, and their families, were buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Auburn, Maine, rather than across the Androscoggin River in Lewiston. My grandfather, Chester Kirk, lived the last 39 years of his life in Lewiston, raising my father and aunt there. His parents, Silas and Sarah (Sukeforth) Kirk, had spent at least 25 years in Freeport, Maine, before Sarah's death there in 1905, after which Silas moved to Lewiston to live with his son until his own death in 1909. So why Auburn?

The answer lay in a brief mention in Silas's obituary, an 1873 land ownership map of Auburn, and two names on the gravestone.

Obituary of Silas Kirk, Lewiston Daily Sun, 10 May 1909
When Silas died on his 82nd birthday in 1909, his obituary1 noted that "Over 30 years ago he came to Auburn and owned a farm where Mt. Auburn cemetery is now located." It was no surprise to me that he had lived in Auburn – Silas, Sarah, and Chester were enumerated in Ward 2 of the city in the 1870 census – but until I read the obituary, I had no idea exactly where.

I located an 1873 land ownership map2 of Auburn, Maine, and sure enough, there in Ward 2 is the house labeled "S. Kirk", and it appears there was already a cemetery there, just around the corner from the homestead. (Click on the image to see a larger view.)

Excerpt from 1873 land ownership map of Auburn, Androscoggin County, Maine
Curious as to where the house and cemetery lay with respect to present-day Mount Auburn Cemetery, I pulled up the area on Google maps and overlaid the 1873 map. I had to distort the land map somewhat to make it line up, and either the shores of Lake Auburn have changed considerably or the old map was not too reliable, but several key roads are clearly in virtually the same locations (notably the road with the sharp bend and the adjacent triangle just west of the tip of Lake Auburn; the road that curves around Central Maine Community College east of the lake; and the fork where Silas lived). And there, in the red circle, is Mt. Auburn Cemetery, exactly where the old cemetery was located and with Silas's house on the periphery.

Land ownership map overlaid on present-day Google map
All right, now it's easy to see that Silas did have a connection to the area... but the family had moved to Freeport by 1880, and had lived there much longer than they did in Auburn. So I might have expected Sarah, then Silas, to have been buried in Freeport, or even back in Knox County (Silas was born in Warren and Sarah in Washington, Maine). No, there was more than just nostalgia for the old farm going on here, and it's revealed on the last four lines on the gravestone.

Silas Kirke family gravestone, Mt. Auburn Cemetery, Auburn, Maine
This stone3 was clearly erected well after Silas's death, quite possibly after Chester's death in 1939 (Chester and his family are on the other side of the stone) – it's not likely that a two-year error in his date of death would have been made otherwise. (The odd spelling of the last name, with the added "E", seems to have been something that Silas adopted in his later years; no other records have this spelling, with the exception of Sarah's death record, and no one else in the family ever used it. Note that even Silas's obituary used "Kirk".) It reveals that Chester was not an only child, as it would appear from census records: he had two little sisters, Abbie and Mabel, each born and buried between two consecutive census years.

Five-and-a-half-year-old Abbie died in 1867; two-year-old Mabel in 1874. Noting that the land ownership map dates to 1873, it would seem likely that these children died while the Kirks were living in Auburn. And in fact, a little more research revealed that both children did die in Auburn, and Mabel was born there (Abbie was born in Washington, Maine).4 Almost certainly they were buried in the original old cemetery on the farm property; it would be logical for Silas to retain the rights to the cemetery plot when he sold the farm. And now it makes perfect sense that Silas and Sarah were buried in Mt. Auburn Cemetery with their two little girls, and that Chester and his family later joined them there.

(Note: This post is in response to Amy Johnson Crow's "52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks" challenge at No Story Too Small.)

  1. “Silas Kirk” obituary, Lewiston (Maine) Daily Sun, 10 May 1909, p. 8; digital images, Google News Archive ( : accessed 7 Jan 2014).
  2. "U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918", database and digital images, ( : accessed 7 Oct 2012), database entry for S. Kirk, image of map of City of Auburn, Androscoggin County, Maine (1873); citing Library of Congress Collection Number G&M_1, Roll Number 1.
  3. Mount Auburn Cemetery, Auburn, Androscoggin County, Maine, Kirke monument, read and photographed by the author, 10 Nov 2007.
  4. Greenleaf Cilley and Jonathan P. Cilley, The Mount Desert Widow: Genealogy of the Maine Gamble Family (Rockland, Maine: Knox County Historical and Genealogical Magazine, 1895), p. 170; digital images, Internet Archive, ( : accessed 5 Mar 2012).

    1 comment:

    Pam Seavey Schaffner said...

    Great post! I'm going to have to look at those land maps too. Born and died between the