Genealogy: Laughing With The Sinners and Crying With The Saints

Trying to find cemeteries in Cambria County, Pennsylvania proved to be more difficult than finding a specific stone within those cemeteries.  I was able to locate and visit two cemeteries but it was with some difficulty and pure luck.  It became a running gag to see a church and compare the name of that church with the graveyard that was inevitably located next to it.  More times than not the two held the names of different saints.  We shared many a laugh over this on this particular quest.  Also, it did not help that I did not know the boundaries of Cambria County so I believe my not knowing which towns were in and which were not played into some of my difficulties.

A quick search of a church directory for Cambria County shows forty-seven Catholic Churches in the county, 32 of which are named for various saints and sometimes a certain name could be used more than once.

SS Peter & Paul Byzantine Catholic Church
St. Agnes Church
St. Aloysius Church
St. Anthony’s
St. Augustine
St. Barnabas
St. Bartholomew
St. Benedict Church
St. Benedict Roman Catholic Church
St. Casimir & Emerich
St. Charles Roman Catholic
St. Columba Church
St. Demetrius Church
St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church
St. Gregory
St. John Gualbert Cathedral
St. John Roman Catholic Church
St. John the Baptist Roman Catholic Church
St. John’s Vianney
St. Joseph’s Catholic Church
St. Mary’s Byzantine Catholic Church
St. Mary’s Church
St. Michael Catholic Church – Byzantine Rite
St. Michael Roman Catholic Church
St. Michael’s
St. Monica
St. Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church
St. Patrick’s
St. Rochus’ Roman Catholic Church
St. Stephen’s
St. Therese

There was one church I hoped to find for more reasons than to walk the graveyard associated with it.  Fifty years ago this month I was baptized at Sacred Heart Church.  When I received Communion in sixth grade (I was a late bloomer but that’s a blog for another day), my Ma reached out to the church to obtain a certificate of baptism.  Looking at the certificate now – I shake my head at the various inaccuracies.  My name is spelled wrong.  My place of birth is incorrect.  Those things are so frustrating because I know the difficulties genealogy researchers face when trying to find the “passage to America” documentation for relatives with misspelled names.  But, I digress.  The certificate clearly notes the church: Sacred Heart Church, PO Box 326, Elmora, PA 15737.

Elmora is an unincorporated community located within the township of West Carroll, Cambria County, Pennsylvania.  Per Wikipedia: “ Bakerton, is the official town name, but it has an address of Elmora with ZIP code 15737.”  That is interesting to me because we passed a sign for Bakerton and a separate sign for Elmora.  Elmora has its own Post Office, I saw that.  I do not think I will ever understand the complexities of towns, townships and cities in the great state of Pennsylvania.  Another quick use of the Google gives me this: The population in Elmora (zip 15737) is 101. There are 571 people per square mile aka population density.

With the town being so small, it was relatively simple to find the cemetery.  We drove through the “unincorporated community” but could not find it at first glance.  We were excited to see a church perched upon a hill but it was St Peter and Paul’s Orthodox church. Then we caught a glimpse of a sign for the cemetery!  I was confused as to why the Sacred Heart cemetery was located at Sts Peter and Paul’s.

I would later find that some of the graves I walked past (those facing the church) were in the Sts Peter and Paul cemetery while in the adjacent field and on the adjacent hill were graves facing the rising sun – that area was Sacred Heart Cemetery.  I could not find an actual church structure for Sacred Heart. Trying to do internet searches on the fly led us on a few goose chases.  One of those ended at Sacred Heart Roman Catholic Church in Altoona, PA.  We just missed Saturday evening Mass so there was no one around that I could ask for clarification.  I now know that Altoona is not part of Cambria County nor is Sacred Heart RC Church the same as Sacred Heart Church.  But that took a number of emails the week after I returned home.  I (dishearteningly) took a photo of my baptism certificate next to the Altoona church, just hoping that they were somehow connected.

Sacred Heart Cemetery is where my Grandparents and Great Grandparents are buried, along with other relatives.  Finding it was truly a success for that reason.  After leaving Sacred Heart Cemetery and randomly driving in no particular direction, we saw St Benedict’s Church – and it was the actual St Benedict’s Church I was looking for.  There, we found so many graves of relatives in my tree.  I have SO many pictures from both of those cemeteries.  I am excited to dive into the research on some of the similar surnames (but unknown individuals).

I eventually received an email back from Tony DeGol, Secretary of Communications for the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown who noted that he thought I was referring to Sacred Heart Parish in Bakerton, which no longer exists.  The sacramental records from that parish may be available at Prince of Peace Parish in Northern Cambria.  I am planning a second trip to Cambria County later in the year.  I want to visit the Historical Society as well as Prince of Peace Parish.  I would love to find out the physical location of the church where I was baptized and maybe visit the spot.  I would also like to learn the history and fate of Sacred Heart Church of Elmora/Bakerton.

Until then, there is a ton of research necessary to sort out all of the information I found on this first venture.  It will allow me to figure out the more minute details I will search for on the next trip.

Have you ever traveled to do genealogy research?  How was your experience?  Let me know in the comments below!

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