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  • Writer's pictureGregory Winters

My First Case: Ira James Wayt

I have always felt a special sort of driving feeling to locate where my g-grandfather is buried. He is, in a way, the reason I am into genealogy. Regardless, I can never accept the idea of people coming into and going out of existence with no memorial to their being, so I decided to try and track down Ira's burial place.

Greg with the brand new marker at Maple Grove Cemetery in Findlay, Ohio.

Mystery has always surrounded the life and death of my great-grandfather, Ira James Wayt. In life, Ira is caught up in a larger mystery: whatever happened to the widow and family of John Wayt (1806-1868) in 1870, just after his death? They seem to have completely disappeared. Mickie Charlene Griffith, wife of James William Griffith (the great-grandson of Elbert E. and Emma Jane Wayt Griffith) and I worked for a spell on this one and came up with a number of tantalizing bits of information, but nothing conclusive.

In 1870, Eliza Jane Armstrong Wayt had five surviving children: William Davenport, Ira James, Sarah Samantha, Mary Elizabeth, and Emma Jane. (David had died in 1865.) According to our accepted tradition, Eliza died 1 March 1879 (Al Laser, et al). We also know that her late husband John had a nice piece of property in Ohio County near Triadelphia. Would this be a case of an aging widow not being able to tend the farm and her two eldest male children not desirous of the same?

Mickie first posed the question to me in an e-mail dated 30 November 2005 and I instantly became intrigued since Eliza is my g-g-grandmother. When I began to look into the matter, however, it was quite a difficult story. I wrote Margaret DeBolt and asked her what she thought. She is in possession of correspondence between William David (W.D.) and his wife, Elizabeth Null Wayt. The letters were written over the course of William's travels to Cincinnati, Ohio to attend Miami Medical College. This time period was 2 November 1870 to 29 January 1871.

I could not place any other "James Wayts" to any other family, so Mickie may have latched onto something here.

Margaret noted that the letters contain some important pieces of information, including the fact that Eliza with living with son Ira and that he was in Ohio at the time. This information has always been something I myself believed as a result of separate correspondence between Ira's son, Harry Earl Wayt and Al Laser which stated that Ira lived in Belmont County, Ohio for a spell before moving on to Findlay, Ohio. However, when, exactly, did Ira and Elizabeth go to Belmont County?

Mickie found an 1870 Triadelphia census record that shows a young couple, James and Sarah Wayts, living there. James is listed as being 24 years of age and born in Pennsylvania. Sarah is shown as being 23 years old, also being born in Pennsylvania. There are no others listed as living with them. Ira's first wife was Sarah E. 'Libby' Daniels and they were married 7 April 1869, and although their only daughter, Jesse, was born in 1870, it is possible that she wasn't born yet when the census was taken. The discrepancies regarding Ira's age (he would have been 22 in 1870) and his birthplace (it was either Kentucky or West Virginia) aren't showstoppers, but it's hard to reconcile. However, I could not place any other 'James Wayts' to any other family, so Mickie may have latched onto something here.

There is sometimes a side benefit to work that you're performing for another reason. This story was no exception. Mickie turned up a long lost 1880 Hancock County, Ohio census reference to Ira and his little family living as Ira Waite with wife 'Mandy' (Amanda Mae Simms Wayt) and two children. This was a great find.

The story rests now with many of the original questions still unanswered. What happened to Eliza? Where was the family after John died? Eliza J’s connection with the Armstrong family is also problematic. Our tradition shows that her parents were David and Mary Ann Ewing Armstrong and that she was born in 1821, yet Internet sources who’ve documented the Armstrong family claim that Mary Ann was David’s second wife and they weren’t married until 1823. (The first wife was Jennie (Armstrong.)

The company Ira worked for paid for the 'hole in the ground,' but that was it. Ira was buried in the back of the city cemetery in an unmarked grave.

On the back end of the story is poor Ira, dying of stomach cancer at the early age of 52 on 18 April 1900 (probably from working in those awful conditions of the gas fields in Findlay) and the family having no money with which to bury him. By now, his daughter Jesse had left (or had died), and he had six children with Amanda. The company he worked for paid for the 'hole in the ground,' but that was it. Ira was buried in the back of the city cemetery in an unmarked grave.

My original information was the place to start, so I went to Findlay and contacted the office of Maple Grove Cemetery there. After a cursory review of their records, they informed me that there was no Ira Wayt buried there and that I should try the public library. The library was of little help. Although I located a microfilmed obituary and some City Directory records, there was nothing as to the burial. That trip ended there.

War Memorial monument at Maple Grove Cemetery, Findlay, Ohio ~1967: L-R Arthur Alvin Wayt, Harry Earl Wayt, Elsie Winters Wayt, Ollie Leland Wayt Winters, Bertha Fern Wayt Winters. Photo probably taken by William Daniel Winters, Ollie's husband.

I contacted my aunt, Anne Corinne Winters, (daughter of Ira's daughter, Bertha) and asked her if she could recall anything - any little tidbit of information that might help. After contemplating for awhile, she was able to recall a story of her mom and some aunts and uncles visiting the Findlay cemetery sometimes in the late 1960s. I perked up. I wondered if she still had those old photos of this group traveling to Findlay, and sure enough, she did. In this photo set were photos of the group at the cemetery! This proved that they were indeed there, but there was more.

My aunt recalled that even at that time, the cemetery management did not know where Ira was buried, but they called an 'old gentleman' who lived in town who could remember where everyone was buried in the cemetery, including those in unmarked sites, and he came out to the cemetery and led the group back to their father's burial place. At this time, my great-uncle, Arthur Alvin Wayt, suggested that they all pitch in for a stone since the gravesite was unmarked, but he was overruled by everyone else who held that 'no one would care, anyway.' The matter was left at that.

Ira James Wayt, from a charcoal sketch of a photo taken in the 1870s.

However, this was a lead, so back to Findlay I headed. The cemetery office wasn't of much help and neither was the library, but the person heading the genealogy area there suggested that I contact the Hancock County Historical Society for assistance. It was here that I got a small breakthrough. An investigation I conducted in November 2005 revealed that this 'old gentleman's' name was Ernest Dietsch (who died September 1, 1974) and he was the superintendent of the cemetery for nearly 30 years. After he had retired, he got a small job delivering dry cleaning around town on his bicycle, but made himself available to continue to help with the cemetery. When the office ran into a problem, they would contact him and he would ride his bike over to help.

This is evidently what he did the day the Wayts visited the cemetery. Speaking with a number of folks in Findlay, I was told that he was known for his photographic memory and my story, if true, would not be surprising. Phone calls to Ernest's living nephews bore no fruit - no one was aware of any records that Ernest might have left about his knowledge. The only glitch in this whole sequence is that even if Ernest indeed possessed this gifted memory, he couldn't have acquired the knowledge on his own. He became superintendent of Maple Grove in the 1930's, but Ira was buried in 1900. To me, this meant that Ernest had to have seen some form of written records and then committed them to memory.

With good luck we located a lot adjacent to Ira's that had a stone and thus we were able to locate Ira.

Upon return to the cemetery, however, I found the office closed, but ran into a gentleman who was the supervisor of maintenance there and he informed me that there were some 'old books' kept in the safe there and that I might want to check those. I revisited the cemetery in February 2006 and was permitted to open the books. We found Ira's burial record right where it should have been with surname listed as 'Wayte.' This is not an uncommon spelling of the name and the office manager was curious as to why Ira's record never appeared in the computer printout. It seems as though the computer records were never transcribed directly from the books, but from cards which were transcribed from the books. When we researched the burial by the Lot number, however, the card assigned to that lot was for one 'Ira Wayle' - W-A-Y-L-E. What had happened was that the original cursive in the book had looped the T in the name and never really crossed it well, so the transcriber thought it was an L and added the E on the end.

Ira's yet-unmarked gravesite is located directly behind this stone.

We had one final issue to deal with, however. The vast majority of the burials in this 'indigent' section had no stones and the small cement markers which had originally designated the lots were few and far between. With good luck we located a lot adjacent to Ira's that had a stone and thus we were able to locate Ira. A monument has been placed at the site.

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