Deciphering a Cryptic 1700s Philadelphia German Tombstone

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German tombstoneDecipher a German tombstone? What trick is there to that?

I was once deeply involved in genealogy researches. A distant Kite family member had connection to the original 13 settlers of the Philadelphia, PA area. These immigrant families were of German origin. In my pursuits, I had established an email list on a site that went “belly up.” Shortly before that, I had been invited by a Rootsweb representative to transfer my list to their oversight.

Interested Researchers

As of September 2019, the Original-13 list still exists there. For some, the tombstones of family members of these 13 are of special interest. One tombstone in particular caught their interest. It read very cryptically. Descendants wondered what language was used in the inscription. How did it read?

Here is the transcription:

1745
MARIA OPTE
GRAFF B___
BIIN BARIT HIR
THA 3_ TA AF
AGOST BIIN ATEN
EARS AF AJH

A German Tombstone

Some of the list members felt this was a German tombstone, so the epitaph must have been written in some form of German. After all, their ancestors were undoubtedly well-educated. Would they not have carried their German culture with them?

Not being inclined to prejudge the inscription, I attempted, on 21 Aug 2000, to explain what the inscription might mean. After all, these people came to a new land to make that land home! Could their inscription have not been written in English? After some staring and some thinking, and talking it out with a British co-worker who agreed with my conclusions, I came up with:

1745
MARIA OPTI
GRAFF BODY
BEING BURIED HERE
THE 30TH OF
AUGUST BEING EIGHTEEN
YEARS OF AGE

And that it actually represents the burial of Maria Evans Updegrave (one of several variant spellings). She was the daughter of Abraham Updegrave and Elizabeth Evans. She was born in 1727!

Author’s Note: I just discovered that my elucidations, listed above, were actually published in the book Quick Tips for Genealogists by Juliana S. Smith. The book is referenced below. I have received no royalties or benefits whatsoever. However, neither do I seek any, nor do I feel cheated in any way. Rather, I feel honored to have been put into print. In fact, I have been mentioned in some four genealogical publications.

References:

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6 thoughts on “Deciphering a Cryptic 1700s Philadelphia German Tombstone

  • Nice to see you on the web again – Don’t think I knew about this gravestone story. Hope you are well. Did we ever discuss whether we had any common cousins with surname Summers? Mine are way back marrying my 4g grandfather Charles Caton in Maryland, but you never know…

    Best,
    Nancy Caton
    also an Original-13’er

    • I believe we touched bases before on Summers. Mine came to Massachusetts, then to Pennsylvania, then to New Jersey. Mostly they were humble coal miners, but eventually assumed other occupations.

  • Very interesting. It definitely pays not to prejudge and you have shown that it also pays to look for the “simple” explanation first (Occam’s razor?)

    • Meg, you’ve caught my interest. I’ve never heard of Occam’s razor. I have to check it out. In this instance, it was almost as if the desired answer was one that would appeal to the intellect. I look for ordinary and simple first.

  • J Rhenow

    My wife has German ancestors from the mid 1800’s and they settled in Berlin NY. There was a church for their community, and they kept to themselves mainly because of the language barrier. They made charcoal and did well at it until the changes to coal and oil. At that time, they had to “fit in” to get employment. We visited the church lot (Church burned years ago) and went through the Cemetery to find many of my wife’s ancestors. All of the stones are in German, and we took pictures to get someone to translate into English. It is surprising that we were able to figure out most of it by looking at the dates and figuring the words for Born, Died, etc. The road is called Dutch Church Rd. and everyone in the town refers to it as the Dutch Church cemetery. I have told many people there that it is not Dutch… It’s Deutch (German). I don’t think they will ever change it. There is a large monument at the site of the Church, and someone maintains the cemetery very well. It seems to me that half the people in the area are related to those ancestors.

    • Very nice. The puzzle I solved was approximately 100 years older than the ones you mention. Would it be inaccurate to say there were probably much fewer German people in this country at that time? In the case of Irish ancestors, I know the earlier Irish emigrants tended to be protestant, whereas those of the mid 1800’s tended to be starving peasants of the Catholic religion, fleeing the potato famine of the 1840s.

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