Solving the puzzle of an old tombstone

Brief life, knotty mystery

July 20, 2006|By KRISTI FUNDERBURK | KRISTI FUNDERBURK,SUN REPORTER

In verse, and with a few cold facts, the engravings on the tombstone describe a 19th-century life that ended not long after it began.

But the gray granite -- found along a road in Owings Mills and housed, at least for now, at the public library in Reisterstown -- provides only clues toward answering a simple question: Where did it come from?

Put another way: Where is Paul F. Kalar, an infant who died in 1848, buried?

It's a mystery that Doris Hoffman is working to unravel. Hoffman, a retired elementary school teacher who volunteers in the Reisterstown library's history and genealogy room, has recruited a team that is scouring records and working the phones in hopes of reuniting the headstone with the child's remains.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Thursday's Sun on efforts to identify the origin of a tombstone found along a road in Owings Mills included an incorrect title for Carol Porter, who is an assistant librarian for the Baltimore County Genealogical Society. The article also included an incorrect e-mail address for the Reisterstown Library. The correct address is reisters@bcpl.net.
The Sun regrets the errors.

"Suppose it belonged to your family and it disappeared," she said. "It should be where it belongs."

Hoffman and the other researchers have been trying to solve the puzzle for nearly two weeks. Yesterday, a woman from a program that compiles records on tombstones around the country reported a possible break in the case, one that leads to a family farm in West Virginia.

The headstone was found May 13 along the side of Thoroughbred Lane near its intersection with Bonita Avenue in Owings Mills, according to Baltimore County police. The person who reported the discovery to police said the stone had appeared overnight, a police report says.

The cemetery at St. Thomas Church, a few miles away in Owings Mills, has graves dating to 1742, but no tombstones have been taken from it, a church secretary said. The oldest graves in other cemeteries in the Owings Mills and Reisterstown areas are from approximately the 1870s.

Police contacted cemeteries in western Baltimore County and found none with complaints of vandalism, said Bill Toohey, a county police spokesman.

Not knowing where the stone might have come from -- or, for that matter, whether it had been taken from a gravesite -- police had, in effect, no crime scene.

This month, they enlisted the help of local genealogical expert Hoffman to find more information about where the stone might have come from. Hoffman assembled a team of at least nine that includes historians and genealogists.

The tombstone, with dirt on the bottom, is being kept in an office on the second floor of the Reisterstown library. Flour has been placed in the faded engraving to make it more legible.

The marker includes, at its top, a carving of a bird. The engraving reads: "PAUL F., Son of J & S Kalar, Died May 28, 1848, aged 6 mos."

Below that information are the lines:

He was lovely he was fair

And for awhile was given

An angel came and claimed his own

And bore him home to heaven

Hoffman said she has been working at her home and at the library, searching for leads. She called friends including George Horvath, a historian and genealogist in Carroll County. He saw the stone when it was at the Police Department's Franklin Precinct and later contacted Carol Porter, president of the Baltimore County Genealogical Society.

Porter has looked in will indexes and census records. Maryland death records weren't recorded until 1875 for Baltimore and not until 1898 for the state's counties, she said. She has been searching the society's collection of church and Bible records for ideas on the tombstone's origins.

Barbara Sieg, president of the Coalition to Protect Maryland Burial Sites, said the organization receives two or three reports a year of tombstones found outside graveyards.

"It's particularly aggravating when a vandal goes into a cemetery and pulls one out and everybody has to go hunting for it," Sieg said.

Hoffman has been searching the Internet and large binders with names of people buried in Maryland cemeteries. She said anyone with information can e-mail her at reister@bcpl.net.

She learned that a person named Kalar lived a half-century ago not far from where the stone was found. She spoke to a person named Kalar who lives in Rosedale, she said, but found that family is from a different line and doesn't know anything about the tombstone.

She also learned of several families with the name Kalar that go back many years in West Virginia. She found records for Paul F. Kalar, son of Jacob Kalar and the man's wife, whose maiden name was Sarah Ryan "Sallie" Long. But the information also said that the child was born on Nov. 14, 1841, which would have made him 6 years old in May 1848, the date on the tombstone for the 6-month- old boy.

Yesterday, Kathi Jones-Hudson, manager of the Tombstone Transcription Project in Maryland, Delaware, Tennessee and Washington, found records showing that Paul Franklin Kalar, whose parents were Jacob and Sarah, died May 28, 1842, and was buried at the Kalar family farm in Shaver Fork in what was then Virginia, West Virginia not having been a state.

The Randolph County, W.Va., sheriff's office could not say late yesterday afternoon whether any tombstones in the Shaver Fork area had been reported stolen.

Roberta Kalar, who lives near Shaver Fork, said that after the sheriff's office called yesterday, she checked her family records and found that she had ancestors named Jacob and Sarah Kalar. Those records also show that Paul F. Kalar was born Nov. 14, 1841, and died May 28, 1848, but she said there could be a mistake in the records.

She said yesterday that she would look into whether a family burial ground has been disturbed.

Jones-Hudson said she is confident that the tombstone found in Owings Mills is for the Paul Kalar who was buried in West Virginia.

Hoffman said more work is needed to be sure. "We've got to keep going until we find the right dates and the right family," she said yesterday. "And only research will do it."

kristi.funderburk@baltsun.com

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