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Aaron and Betsey Thomas headstones belong to Morningside Cemetery, Malone

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MALONE — Mystery solved, partially.

Headstones of Aaron and Betsey Thomas will soon return to the family plot in Morningside Cemetery, Raymond Street. After several decades in the basement of the Times, 260 Washington St., Watertown, it was discovered Thursday by village resident Allen S. Beamish that the monuments belong in Section G of the cemetery, where nine other Thomas family members are buried.

Mr. Beamish told a Times reporter Thursday that after he read about the mystery in the paper earlier this week, he began digging for answers.

“I had a friend when I grew up that was a Thomas, and I was thinking if this person was related,” he said. “I knew there was a Thomas family plot in Malone because I have a photographic memory. You can go online and check inventory and it says Aaron and Betsey Thomas are buried there.”

Helpful markings on the two headstones stated Aaron died on June 4, 1869, and that his widow survived him by nearly five years, dying on April 11, 1874.

After Times staff searched for any clues about the mystery Thomas couple, a volunteer in the genealogy department at the Roswell P. Flower Memorial Library found Aaron and Betsey were a farming couple who owned a considerable amount of property in Franklin County, somewhere in or near Malone. His source: the 1860 census for Franklin County, displayed on HeritageQuest Online.

Through his own research, Mr. Beamish found matching dates and names, although Betsey was spelled “Betsy” through the Northern New York Tombstone Transcription Project, an online tracking system for people in cemetery plots in Franklin, Clinton and Essex counties. The project was hosted by rootsweb, an Ancestry.com online community.

The project also listed that both Aaron and Betsey have footstones at the cemetery, along with seven other relatives.

Even a last name as common as Thomas couldn’t stop Mr. Beamish from solving part of the Times’ headstone mystery. He said he’s always been fascinated with history and learning about people’s ancestors.

“I’m like a graveyard rabbit,” he said. “My mom would take us there when we were little and I’d wonder what life was like back then. My mother instilled in me that it was important to learn about people before you. It’s a respect thing. People now don’t even respect the living.”

Richard S. Allen, cemetery superintendent, said he was unaware the headstones were missing until he read it in the Times this week.

“I went in the office, checked records and found they are buried in the Marvin Thomas lot,” he said. “It’s an older section of the cemetery. In this cemetery, there are several areas that don’t have markers.”

He said he would check the sites today to see if they have headstones.

Morningside Cemetery is a total 46 acres, and Section G alone is four acres. Lot #33, where the Thomas family is buried, is 424-square-foot. Mr. Allen said the “most recent” burial was a Willis Thomas in 1919.

Mr. Beamish, Mr. Allen and John B, Johnson, Jr., the Times’ editor and co-publisher, have all said they have no idea how, or why, the headstones ended up in the Times’ basement.

“I just can’t imagine how they’d be uprooted,” Mr. Allen said. “I hope they’ll end up coming back, and we’ll send them where they belong.”

Jeanne R. Snow, former publisher of the Thousand Islands Sun, has a theory about how the headstones found their way to Watertown.

According to Mrs. Snow, during the days of hot metal typesetting, when machines such as the linotype cast molten lead into letters and lines of type, newspaper companies would buy rejected headstones to hold the heavy frames, or “chases,” that held the slugs used to press ink onto paper.

Mrs. Snow has just such a headstone from the Thousand Island Printing Company plant, which dates to 1901. The name on the stone is Manoah Pratt. His headstone, perhaps rejected because of an error or sold by the stone mason because of a failure to pay, once formed part of her patio before an addition was built on her home.

Mr. Johnson said he wasn’t sure how the headstones would be returned, but “we’ll get them back there.”

Times Staff Writer Daniel Flatley contributed to this report.

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