• Jan Johnson & Jeff Hansen

Who's buried at Ritchie Cemetery?

Screenclip collage of Known Burials page

This post introduces a new page on the website, “…Known Burials….” Also discussed are important caveats and cautions related to data quality issues—a “must read” for researchers and genealogists who want to use any of the information.

"Known Burials...[and] Some Basic Data at a Glance"

In conjunction with this post, we are adding a new, interactive page to the site. Its full title is “List of the 302 Known Burials at Ritchie Cemetery & Some Basic Data at a Glance.” The data reported on the page reflects research status as of January 2021.

In addition to names of people buried at Ritchie Cemetery, the list includes (where known): death date; birth year; approximate age; birth state; gender; and race. Also presented are summary breakdowns by age group, birth state, race, and gender. The page is interactive, so users can apply up to five filters and sort the table by any of the fields.

Briefly, of the 302 burials known as of January 2021:

  • 91% were Black and 7% were White

  • 32% were under the age of 10

  • 41% were born in Kansas and 28%, in Tennessee

  • 50% were female and 45% were male

Data dilemmas

In researching the people buried at Ritchie Cemetery, we ran into data quality issues at almost every turn. In the post “When were burials made at Ritchie?”, we explained that the total number of burials is impossible to pin down, owing primarily to the lack of a continuous, reliable record series. In a future post, we will discuss how we addressed conflicting information regarding burial location.

Topics of concern here, though, are two of the thorniest: 1) names; and 2) birth-related information, including birth year and, to a lesser extent, birth state. Because the “Known Burials” page presents name and age-related details about individuals for the first time, it is important for us to emphasize that data limitations exist, and researchers need to be aware of them.

Anyone who starts researching people in the Ritchie Cemetery burial list will, in many instances, quickly find other data sources showing name spellings and/or ages different from those we are reporting. We know this because we found many of them ourselves. How to address those discrepancies was a persistent issue.

Our research interest has not been limited to death and burial information found in obituaries, City Clerk records, and funeral home records. We have also sought to learn what we could about the lives led by the people buried at the cemetery. The expanded search led us to federal and state census records, newspaper articles, city directories, military records, land records, probate records, and a variety of other sources.

Finding and reviewing more than one source containing name and/or age information about an individual often meant finding inconsistencies. In fact, if multiple sources existed, variance sometimes seemed to be the norm. The older a person was at the time of death, the more likely it was for age discrepancies to occur. If a name was anything but a common one, spelling variations frequently appeared.

When confronted with discrepancies in a fact that should have a single answer, there’s a strong desire to determine which among them is accurate. For many of the Ritchie Cemetery individuals, however, making that determination with any confidence was beyond our reach.

How’s that spelled again…and who said so?

Which is it?

  • Oglesvie, Oglesby, Ogelby, Ogelsby, Oglevie, or Ogilvie?

  • Balaam, Baalim, Balam, Baylem, or Balum?

  • Maria, Marie, or Mariah?

  • Fannie or Fanny?

These types of head-scratchers appeared time and time again.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, recorders of information—census enumerators, journalists, military clerks, other government officials—did not seem to place the same priority on name spelling accuracy we take for granted today. It is rarely evident who supplied the spelling: the person being named, another household member, or the person doing the writing.

For some of the people buried at Ritchie Cemetery, illiteracy was a factor during at least some stages of their life. Whenever there was a need to write down their names, the recorder probably relied on phonetic spelling. It may have taken many years after the Civil War for some families to standardize the spelling of their surname. Moreover, different branches of the same family may have settled on different spellings. Even when literacy was not an issue, name spelling could vary, and occasionally evolve over time. The surname of John Ritchie, after whom the cemetery is named, sometimes appeared as “Richey” or “Ritchey” during his lifetime.

Not often, but sometimes, there also was a change in the name by which someone was known (for reasons other than marriage). The Ritchie Cemetery burial list includes a “Williams” who was once a “Williamson,” a “Patton” who was once a “Weaver,” and a “John” who was once a “Van.”

No single, logical scheme for easily sorting out name variations presented itself. If one spelling clearly predominated over other variations, we used the predominant one. “Patton,” for example, clearly won out over “Patten.” In a few isolated cases, we found another basis for choosing one spelling over another. An example is “Mothell,” the surname of a Spanish-American War veteran buried at the cemetery. A spelling frequently found in records and in print (and inscribed on his military marker) is “Mothel.” However, when his sons registered for the WWI draft, all three signed their names with two “l’s.” His widow and sons all were eventually buried under the name “Mothell.”

Another instance where document signatures of younger generations helped to establish surname spelling is with the Oglesvie/Oglesby family. There are at least nine members of this family buried at Ritchie Cemetery. Records about them used multiple spelling variations, with differences appearing for specific individuals and among family members. Instead of attempting to make several separate judgments, we opted to use “Oglesvie,” the spelling favored by several descendants of the original migrants.

In many cases, though, we simply made a choice because we had to. If descendants come forward, we welcome any clarifications they could provide regarding spelling preference.

The Example of Balaam Oglesvie

Clips: original source material for Balaam Oglesvie

These clippings illustrate the variation in name spelling and age we often encountered. Seven of the eight clips are from records related to Balaam Oglesvie, including: federal and state census entries (from 1870, 1880, and 1905); his marriage to Penny Gentry (1865); his will (1917); his obituary (1918); and, his funeral record (1918). In just these seven records, there are five different spellings of his surname and four different spellings of his first name.

The eighth clipping, shown at the bottom, is the signature of Balaam’s grandson Ralph on his WWI draft registration card in 1917. It is the only record in the group where it is certain that a family member supplied the spelling of the surname.

Four of the seven records about Balaam give his age. The earliest record places his birth year at about 1831. Two of them report it as 1836, and one of them, as 1849.

Birth-related information (birth year, age, birth state)

Birth year and age. As with Balaam, conflicting information about age and year of birth, especially in older adults, was a common occurrence in our research. In some cases, the differences were slight and inconsequential. In others, the spread was wider and sometimes hard to reconcile, even if there was good reason to believe it was the same person.

Although the obvious choice might be to use the age given at the time of death, we opted instead to use information from the earliest available record unless there was a reason not to. Most often, the earliest record was a census record. We chose this approach for two reasons. First, the surviving relative or other informant supplying information at the time of death may or may not have had accurate birth-related information about the person who died. It wasn’t unheard of, either, for older, formerly enslaved individuals to not know their exact age. Secondly, in using the earliest available record, there are fewer years over which sizable errors can be made.

Birth state. Discrepancies in birth state were less common, but there were a few. Those were addressed on a case-by-case basis, after reviewing all available information.

When birth state information was not explicitly given for young children who died, we inferred that they were born in Kansas if we could document the family had lived in Kansas prior to the child’s birth.


Because the information we worked with was rife with discrepancies and uncertainty, there was ample opportunity for error. If we discover mistakes as we continue to work with the data, we will correct them. Moreover, we recognize that other researchers could reasonably make different choices than we did in addressing inconsistencies. In many instances, however, there was simply no readily discernible “correct” answer.

Source Notes

1. The primary record sources accessed through ancestry.com (such as state and federal censuses, city directories, military records) are attached to the appropriate individuals in the Ritchie Cemetery Project family tree created as a research tool. As of April 2021, the tree setting is still private, but the intention is to make it publicly available. A blog post will be made when that occurs.

2. Some of the census information, as well as death notices and other clippings, have been added to the relevant entries in Find-A-Grave records created by Jeff Hansen. For those Find-A-Grave records created and “owned” by others, Jeff has contacted the responsible parties in an effort to supply additional information. Some of those records have been updated as a result, but not all of those contacted have responded.

3. We have collected some of the name spelling variations, and will include them in the digital dataset submitted to repositories upon completion of the project.