It is indeed a sad situation to be buried in an unmarked grave, seemingly forgotten by the world. Worse yet, to have no one document the burial, or have the records lost or destroyed. That is the apparent reality for five members of the Daniel Mulqueen family of Askeaton, Wisconsin. This includes Bridget Elizabeth (Mulqueen) Chase, the mother of Earl J. Mulqueen Sr. (1895-1965).
We know the family patriarch, Daniel, is buried at St. Patrick’s Catholic Cemetery in Askeaton. We also have every reason to believe these five Mulqueens are buried in the same cemetery:
- Mary (Corcoran) Mulqueen (1827-1913), wife of Daniel
- Daughter Bridget Elizabeth (Mulqueen) Chase (1866-1897)
- Son Thomas Mulqueen (1855-1913)
- Son James Mulqueen (1853-1917)
- Son Daniel Mulqueen Jr. (1865-1926)
Newspaper obituaries either directly state or strongly suggest these Mulqueens are indeed buried in the parish cemetery. Yet the only monument is for the father, Daniel, who died in March 1893. Worse yet, there are no cemetery records for the four siblings and their mother. A recent site inspection confirmed the situation, and deepened the mystery.
Every cemetery has unmarked graves. Sometimes, families did not have funds to create a headstone. Some burials were marked by wooden crosses or other temporary markers that were destroyed by the passage of time. Small footstones could be swallowed by the earth, lying unnoticed just beneath the surface. Records were often nothing more than index cards. Over more than a century, these records could be lost, misfiled or destroyed by fire.
The lot maps for St. Patrick’s cemetery clearly show the plot for Daniel Mulqueen, along the western property line in the oldest section of the cemetery. Underneath his name are the names Mary and Mike. Mary is Daniel’s wife. He had a son named Michael, but he is buried in Dickinson County, Michigan. It is clear upon visual inspection that there are burials to the north of Daniel’s monument. Depressions in the ground often indicate very old burials, since pressure from the earth eventually crushes and implodes wooden caskets. Today, burials in Wisconsin require use of a concrete burial vault to prevent this situation.
There is a good chance all of the “missing” graves are immediately to the north of the Daniel Mulqueen marker. The map is blank for that area, so it appears no one else holds a deed for that space. Other, similar size lots on the cemetery map contain as many as eight burials, so there would be room for a family. About 75 feet north of the Mulqueen lot, there is a small metal cross marking burial of an unknown parishioner. This makes it clear there are at least some undocumented burials at St. Patrick’s cemetery.
There are ways to find unmarked burials. Sunken grave markers can by found using a steel earth probe. The same earth probe can indicate unmarked burials, since the earth in the burial location is less compact than surrounding, undisturbed ground. Those methods can be tried on a future cemetery visit. Other methods, including use of ground-penetrating radar, are too expensive to be practical.
We plan to examine the record books for St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, which should include death, funeral and burial information. Those records are most likely held by the Diocese of Green Bay, where we have already filed a request for access.