52 Prompts in 52 Weeks #16 – Tombstone Tuesday – Sarah A. Ball

This prompt is for Tombstone Tuesday and is exactly what it sounds like. I’ll be sharing a tombstone with you but this person is not from my family. This tombstone is a lesson entitled “Not Everything is Where You Expect to Find It.”

Sarah Ball, wife of John A. Ball, died on 20 October 1904 aged 49 years, 3 months, and 15 days.

Tombstone for Sarah Ball

Her tombstone is a simple unpolished, gray marble stone with a elegant round carving of flowers at the top.

Detail from Sarah Ball’s tombstone

The back of the tombstone has damage with some significant chipping at the top back portion.

Damage to Sarah’s tombstone

Even with damage, Sarah’s ancestor’s would be happy to find her tombstone. It’s clearly carved, it’s in fairly good shape, and it gives some good genealogical data. We can generate her birthdate of 05 July 1855 based on the tombstone information. We find Sarah living with her husband and son in Lawrence Township, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, in 1900[1] shortly before her death. The complete household looks like this:

  • John A. Ball, age 53, white male, born September 1846, married 30 years
  • Sarah Ball, age 45, white female, born July 1854 (varies from calculated date by one year), married 30 years
  • Ray Ball, age 9, white male, son, born February 1891
  • Ester Walker, age 3, white female, niece, born January 1897

A quick search of Find A Grave yields no results for cemetery pictures for Sarah Ball’s grave marker. With me knowing exactly where the tombstone is right now, this is not an unexpected result. Here is a wider shot of her tombstone.

Sarah’s tombstone in place

Wait, is that prickly pear and cholla cactus in the picture? How can that be? Sarah is from Tioga County, Pennsylvania, and there’s no cactus like that in that region. Where is the grass and other gravestones from the cemetery?

This tombstone is sitting in my side yard in Tucson, Arizona. It’s the only one there. Given that Sarah and her husband John lived their lives in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, how in the heck is her tombstone in Tucson? Through a series of unusual events…

Here is the story as related to me. Sarah died and was buried in a Tioga County cemetery (name unknown) in Pennsylvania. Her family provided her with a beautifully carved headstone. She laid in rest there until the late 1970s. Dam construction in the Tioga County, Pennsylvania, area caused her cemetery (and others) to be moved. The bodies were moved (unconfirmed) but the gravestones did not follow them. The stones were gathered up and piled in great heaps. Eventually, local antique dealers were allowed to come in and purchase the gravestones. My ex-husband Bruce’s mother, Barbara (Gilroy) Shutts, purchased Sarah’s tombstone. She gave the headstone to Bruce who had it at his house for a while in Elmira, New York. When he moved out here to Tucson around 2000-2001, he brought Sarah’s tombstone with him. After we were married, the tombstone took up residence in our side yard.

As if it’s not hard enough to track down the females in our family trees, things like this make locating information on them even harder. There is not clear paper trail tracking the movement of Sarah’s tombstone and she’s definitely not buried where her marker is located. Find A Grave (or the internet) didn’t exist before the cemetery was ruined. A search of Google (tioga county cemeteries affected by dam project) bring up a sprawling website related to Tioga history that I didn’t have the patience to search through diligently to find either Sarah or John A. Ball given that they aren’t in my family.

Here’s hoping that someone finds my blog and gets to connect Sarah’s tombstone to their family and add the photo to their files!


[1] 1910 U. S. census, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, population schedule, Lawrence Township, ED 141, p. 7B (penned), dwelling 179, family 188, John A. Ball; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 18 August 2018); citing NARA microfilm publication T623.

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