Originally Published: September 17, 2007 9:27 p.m.
PRESCOTT - You never know what you'll find when you start looking into your family history - or where the information might lead you.
In the case of Fae and Chuck Houck of California, their newly found interest in genealogy led them from California to Prescott to place a headstone on the grave of Fae's great-grandmother on the 100th anniversary of her death.
Her Uncle Phil Hand had documented the grave of Fae's great-grandmother Lucy Lake Pettit Hand in Prescott's historic Citizens Cemetery back in 1974.
On a recent trip to see the Cactus League baseball in Phoenix, Chuck thought he'd swing through Prescott and see what else he could find about Lucy.
He copied Lucy's newspaper obituary at the Sharlot Hall Museum in Prescott and the archivists advised him to contact Pat and John Atchison, since Pat is president of the non-profit Yavapai Cemetery Association that takes care of the county cemetery where the obituary said Lucy was buried.
Pat showed Chuck the location of the grave on a map and Chuck went to see it. It didn't have a headstone, although it might have had one in the past.
"I went downtown and bought flowers and set them there and left," Chuck said. "Then we got to talking about it, and decided (buying a headstone) was the right thing to do."
Fewer than half of the approximately 2,700 people buried at Citizens Cemetery have headstones, Atchison said. Some just deteriorated, some were stolen and some people never got one.
The Cemetery Association volunteers helped the Houcks install the gravestone Sunday, exactly 100 years after Lucy died.
Ironically, the family's 99-year
cemetery plot lease had just run out, but the county doesn't enforce those early leases.
After the headstone was set and Fae placed a bouquet of flowers behind the grave, it was clear that Fae's act of kindness brought her closer to someone she never knew.
Since Fae's grandmother Elinor was only 3 years old when Lucy died, she had few memories to relate to Fae. They were memories of a young child, such as her fear of the large geese that chased her around in Poland.
"It's just sad," Fae said. "I don't know anything about her, really. I just think she deserves a headstone, that's all."
The obituary says Lucy was born in Pennsylvania. She married Poland miner George Hand, who was a native of England. They had two children, Elinor in 1903 and Louis in 1904. Three years later, Lucy
died at the age of 28 of Bright's (kidney) disease in Poland, which now is a ghost town west of Poland Junction.
"The family lore was, she was a tomboy," Fae related. "She apparently was sort of a free spirit. She liked to gallop around the country on her horse."
George remarried and had five more children with his second wife, who must have been quite busy since she also ran a boardinghouse while George was away in a sanatorium suffering from tuberculosis.
Lucy's son Louis also died tragically young, at the age of 22 in China after joining the military. He's buried at the Presidio in San Francisco, not far from where Fae and Chuck live.
Lucy now has a great-great-granddaughter with her name.
And now that Chuck put uncle Phil Hand's family research on the Internet, the family has heard from long-lost relatives in England.
One can guess where the Houcks will be visiting next.