There is a headstone that I use as my guide when I head into Mt. Hope Cemetery to visit my parents. It is the “VAN FLEET Headstone.” It is very unique, as it is a stump, with an open Bible on top. The only printing on it is the Family Name of Van Fleet; no other names, no dates. There are two smaller headstones nearby, but they too have limited information on them: Mother 1858-1904 and Father 1860-1926.
This grouping of headstones is in the same section as my family, probably about 50 feet to the west and because I have always walked past them on my way to my family, I have always been a bit curious as to who Van Fleet was and why such an interesting headstone.
So, using my genealogy resources, I started to research Van Fleet in Lansing. Since I had no proper names, I first searched in Ancestry.com under just the last name with the dates on the Father Headstone (1860-1926). What came up was a Find-A-Grave listing for Isaac R. Van Fleet. He was born in Ontario, Canada on 14 Mar 1860 and died in Lansing, Michigan on 28 Jun 1926. The accompanying photographs were the familiar headstones: a stump with an open Bible and a plain headstone with the words FATHER and 1860-1926.
I had the name behind the headstones, but this was not enough to satisfy my curiosity. So I did a little more digging and came up with the Obituary for Isaac R. Van Fleet, published in the Lansing State Journal 29 Jun 1926, on page 9.
Isaac R. Van Fleet, 66, for 14 years a cigar manufacturer and a resident of Lansing for 37 years died at the home, 515 Cherry street Monday night, following a year’s illness. Mr. Van Fleet came to Lansing from Brandford, Ont. in 1889. He is survived by the widow, Mrs. Martha Jane Van Fleet and one daughter, Mary E. Foster, and a brother, Joseph F. Van Fleet. The body was removed to Buck’s chapel to await funeral arrangements which will be announced later.
There were three other articles that came up in my initial search for Isaac R. Van Fleet: – an obituary for a Mrs. Van Fleet, 15 Aug 1911
– an article about a trial for defrauding the State in which Mr. Van Fleet was a juror, 23 Apr 1911
– an article listing candidates for city offices, listing Isaac R. Van Fleet for Constable, 05 Apr 1913
Later, I found the obituary for Mrs. Mary E. Foster, the Van Fleet daughter, 19 May 1976
None of the articles matched the dates on the MOTHER Headstone (1858-1004). When I found the Marriage license listing for Isaac R. Van Fleet and Martha Davis on 04 Jan, 1915, that would match with the name of Isaac’s widow in his obituary. So, it was easy to deduce that “MOTHER” must have been his first wife, but what was her name?
So I went back to Ancestry.com and put in the information I did know for the first Mrs. Van Fleet, and came up with Mary J. (Brady) Van Fleet, born on 14 Jun 1860 and died 11 Jun 1904. Unfortunately, searching in the newspaper, I never found an obituary for her. The obituary I did find dated 15 Aug 1911 is not for Mary J., nor is it for Martha Van Fleet, as she was still alive in 1926. This was the obituary for Mr. Van Fleet’s second wife, F. H. (Rich) Van Fleet, who is buried in Greenville, Michigan.
With a little more searching I found that Isaac Van Fleet’s third wife, Martha apparently remarried at least twice more after his death, and died in 1948. She is listed as being buried in Mt. Hope, but an exact location is not given. His daughter Mary is buried in Deepdale Cemetery, next to her husband, Grover Foster.
I still wonder why the family didn’t include the given names of Isaac and Mary on their headstones, but at least I now know who is buried under the headstones I remember most.