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  • Writer's pictureTheFormidableGenealogist


I remember stopping at cemeteries with my mother when I was young. She would pull over as we encountered little, out-of-the-way cemeteries along our route. Just to see who’s there, she would say. Now I do the same.

About 20 years ago, one of my duties was keeping the burial records for the non-denominational cemetery in our little town of Manson, Iowa. I would often visit for an evening walk if there was still enough light to read the gravestones. Several of my family are buried there, along with other well-known families from our town.

I spent a lot of time alone in that cemetery and looking at the records. I indexed the names and dates from the ledgers, made a map of where everyone was buried, and gave a copy to the local library so that the information would be more easily available to out-of-towners.

I haven’t lived in that town in two decades, and I haven’t been to the cemetery in several years. When I think of it, oddly, I don’t think of any of my family buried there. From walking the rows and reading the records, I recall a few unconnected remnants. One of them is a gravestone.

I remember the gravestone because of how tragic it seemed to the 20-something girl who walked by it dozens of times. I don’t remember a time when I knew their names—just that there was once a mother who buried a heartbreaking number of children. A kind of yardstick for grief. I’ve thought of her several times in my life but hadn’t thought to learn anything else about her. Until today.

The headstone marks the grave of Elliot Brooks and his wife Lydia Eaton Fifield. They died in 1909 and 1906, but the stone is much more recent. They share their marker with the names of their children. Frank died in 1870, around age 8. Sherman died the same year, age 6. Elliotina was only 2 when she died in 1883. Their headstone is also a monument to Elliot and Lydia’s children Hugo Cecil and Cora, buried in Illinois.

Lydia Eaton Fifield was born in Andover, New Hampshire, in April 1838. She was named after her father’s mother, Lydia Ladd Eaton, who herself was the fourth Lydia in her maternal line. By 1850, Lydia Fifield and her family had moved to Knox County, Illinois. Lydia and Elliot married there in 1856. He had come from Vermont. Hugo Cecil and Cora were their first and third children. Lydia and Elliot appear to have lost another child in 1866. Only three of their nine children survived to adulthood. They were all daughters and all moved away from Manson, leaving no Brooks there.

The land Elliot farmed, southeast of town, is about half a mile from the farmhouse I lived in as a child. Manson isn’t very big, but it still strikes me as interesting that I passed by Elliot and Lydia’s land more often than I walked by their tombstone. [The house there now was a stop on my school bus route for the infinite number of years that I rode the school bus.]

Also farming a little slice of the greater Manson area in the 1870s was my 3rd great-grandfather August Lichte and his son August, my 2nd great-grandfather. The elder August came to America from around Hanover, Germany, in 1867 as a widower with the younger August and two daughters. [Finding more about them in Germany has been difficult, however. The name Lichte has been mangled into many different spelling variations and probably is itself, based on lack of records in Germany, a variation of something else.]

I’ve never been able to find the elder August on the 1870 census. I would think he would be nearby, as his two daughters were both married in the area in 1870. And the Augusts are living together in Calhoun County on the 1880 census—just a few farms away from Elliot and Lydia. I knew that the younger August is on the 1870 census of Calhoun County, though living with another family as a farm hand. He’s still a teenager, he’s only been in America three years, and he’s been without a mother for a while. I took another look at that census entry to see how far he was living from Elliot and Lydia that year.

And it turns out that the family he is living with in 1870 is Elliot and Lydia Brooks. It’s the year that the last sons of Lydia and Elliot Brooks—Frank and Sherman—would be buried. August’s sisters were recently married; perhaps his father was not able to take care of his only son or briefly sought his fortune elsewhere. Whatever their reality, I would like to think that this mother-less son and son-less mother were able to help each other in some way. I also choose to think that Lydia's life wasn't defined entirely by grief, as my younger self believed. The 40-something woman I now am will know Lydia as the amazingly tough woman that she must have been—on the plains of northwest Iowa, before this remote little town was even a place.

I’ve walked through cemeteries around the world, just to see who’s there. Today I met Lydia for the first time. I was just a little late.

Photo: The farm just south of Elliot and Lydia [where I used to pretend to be a little pioneer girl]


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