Finding “Vater” and “Mutter” in Tonawanda

By Patrick Clancy

I recently visited a Cemetery for a service learning project involving the photographing of headstones with a death date between 1800 and 1920. Another requirement of the service learning was that the cemetery had to be within 20 miles of the canal. For the project I was allowed to coordinate with another student, Andy Telban, and we were to photograph a minimum of 700 pictures, 350 each.

Because such a large number of pictures were needed, we were forced to use two different cemeteries, both of which were in the town of North Tonawanda. The two cemeteries were called St. Paul’s and Sweeny Cemetery.

The first Cemetery we went to was St. Paul’s. I found out some interesting information about location of the cemetery. It was originally located behind St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The church then decided they were going to expand into a school. The cemetery was then dug up and moved a few streets over into a small field surrounded by woods.

The cemetery itself was very interesting. The first thing I noticed about the cemetery was the headstones labeled “Mutter” and “Vater” which means Mother and Father in German. The neighborhood that the cemetery is located in is a predominantly German settlement. I also think that the community was so small when the cemetery was created that the people only had to label their parents graves Mother and Father. We managed to get about 400 pictures from this cemetery.

We then moved to the second cemetery. This cemetery was created in 1868 and held many graves from the 1800s. Something I found very interesting about this cemetery was that there was a headstone of a soldier who served in the War of 1812. I have never seen a headstone from anyone who was even alive during the War of 1812, let alone fought in it. That was my highlight of both cemeteries.

Overall I found the cemetery project to be very informative as well as interesting. I was surprised as to how many people from the 1800s still have headstones intact. I only wish there was a way to stop the natural wearing that occurs due to the elements.

Patrick Clancy is a sophomore at GCC. He is enrolled in general education classes and plays lacrosse for the Genesee Cougars.


About Derek Maxfield

Associate Professor of History Genesee Community College
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One Response to Finding “Vater” and “Mutter” in Tonawanda

  1. Kayla says:

    Very interesting. I took a walk through a cemetery in La Porte, Indiana and saw “”Mutter” on many of the head stones from the 1800s. I pretty much figured that it was a variation of the word “mother” but wanted to know where it came from. I’m just wondering why the hell there are German head stones in La Porte, IN of all places xD Very interesting essay though, I must say!

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