Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Mystery of Baby Samuel

Have you ever been “haunted” by a grave you’ve encountered? Have you felt driven to find out who that person was and what happened to him/her?

I have. In fact, you could say that I still am.

Back on July 23rd, I posted a photo for Wordless Wednesday of my daughter standing over a headstone. The photo was taken at the Santa Barbara Cemetery one afternoon when my husband and I stopped by to take photos for some Find A Grave requests.

The Santa Barbara Cemetery is fairly large, so when we arrived I went into the office to ask for the location of several graves. I was given a map, along with approximate locations of the graves, and we drove across the cemetery to begin our search.

When we got out of the van, my daughter raced across the lawn and stopped at a headstone. She was being rather cute, leaning over the stone, hugging the stone, laughing and gently patting the stone... almost as if she had found a new friend. It was a bit peculiar for her, but since she lingered for such a long time, I was able to snap several photos of her, which I always enjoy doing.

Strangely, she did not want to leave that particular stone.

I began walking after my husband, who was looking for the graves we’d come to find, and I called back to my daughter to hurry up. She’s usually pretty good about coming when she’s called (unusual for a toddler, I know), but for some reason, she refused to leave that headstone. I had to go back and take her by the hand to get her to come with me. She turned to look back at the stone several times. Odd, but I didn’t really give it much thought…

…until the next day when I began editing photos, that is.

As I was editing what I thought was just a cute photo of my daughter, it took a few moments for my brain to register the fact that the stone belonging to Samuel K. Swartz, Jr., the stone my daughter was so affectionately playing with at the cemetery, belonged to a baby.

Now, I typically don’t like photographing headstones of babies. Even before my daughter was born, I tried to steer clear of the “baby sections” of cemeteries. Tiny headstones, headstones with sleeping babies or little lambs on them… these still send me running in the opposite direction.

But what really made my hair stand on end was when I realized that Baby Samuel’s birth date was the same as my daughter’s… exactly 77 years before she was born!

(Also somewhat creepy was the fact that his death date was the day after my birth date – a few years earlier, of course.)

My daughter can’t read yet, so I know she wasn’t drawn to Baby Samuel’s grave because she saw her birth date. She’s been to many cemeteries in her two, short years, and this headstone wasn’t really anything out of the ordinary. There were no flowers or toys on the grave, so there was nothing unusual to attract her attention.

So why was she drawn to this particular headstone?

I had to find out more about Baby Samuel. How did he die? Who were his parents, and what happened to them? Did he have any surviving siblings?

My husband thought I was crazy, and maybe I was. But I knew that I wouldn’t rest until I had some answers.

I examined my photo again. Were there any clues on Baby Samuel's headstone? What did that symbol - the flower in the pentagon - mean? I consulted a few books and web sites but was unable to come up with an answer.

So, later that night, I began searching for whatever I could find online.

First, I checked the transcriptions for the Santa Barbara Cemetery, posted by the Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society. There are 9 Swartz’s, including Baby Samuel, listed in the online Cemetery transcriptions for 1860-2007. Could any of these have been his parents?

Maybe, but things just weren’t adding up. Baby Samuel is a “Junior.” Wouldn’t that imply that his father would be Samuel Swartz, Sr.? There are no other Samuels, Senior or otherwise, listed in the cemetery.

Also, although some of the dates could have worked, none of the other Swartz’s were/are buried in the same section of the cemetery as Baby Samuel. Wouldn’t a parent want to be buried near his/her child, if possible? I know, I know; the section could have filled up, the parents could have lived elsewhere… there could be many reasons why a parent might not be buried next to a child.

Still... none of these names seemed right. Call it a gut feeling, but it seemed to me that Baby Samuel was all alone in that cemetery.

So I looked for more online resources. I couldn’t use a census, since Baby Samuel was born and died in 1929: too late for the 1920 census and too early for the 1930 census. The California Death Index was out, since it only contains records for 1940-1997. I tried the database at Vitalsearch, but besides being almost impossible to read, it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. [NOTE: For some reason, the Vitalsearch U.S. databases have been offline for several days. Anyone know why?]

A search of the California Birth Index, 1905-1995, revealed a record for a male baby, "Swartz," born June 1, 1929, in the County of San Francisco, mother's maiden name of Neilsen. Could this possibly be Baby Samuel?

After mulling it over for a few days, I decided to try to get Baby Samuel’s death certificate from our local office of the County of Santa Barbara.

California is somewhat paranoid about releasing this sort of information, although it’s not as much of a pain difficult as in some other states. However, not being related to Baby Samuel in any way, I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed to obtain even an informational certificate. But I was going to try.

I filled out the paperwork, walked into the County office, and presented my request. The Clerk was a bit surprised that I wanted such an old certificate, and one for a 2 ½ month old baby, at that. At least twice she asked me, “Now, how are you related?” I explained my strange story to her, and told her that I wanted this certificate for genealogical purposes. For some reason, that seemed to satisfy her. I guess I seemed believable enough: a stressed-out mother pushing a toddler in a stroller must not look like an identity thief.

I was told that they would have to see if they could find the certificate, and that they would call me in a few days with the result of the search. Sure enough, a few days later the phone rang, and I was told that the certificate was available.

Dragging my daughter to the County office once again, I paid my fee (which was a bit higher than was stated on the request form), and went home with a few more answers to my questions about Baby Samuel.

Answers and More Questions

First off, Baby Samuel’s cause of death was “acute bronchial pneumonia” with a contributory factor of “Spasmophilia – convulsions” (at least, I think that's correct; the arrows make it a bit confusing). A quick Google search revealed that spasmophilia is “a morbid tendency to convulsions, and to tonic spasms, such as those observed in tetany, infantile spasms, or spasmus nutans.”

Horrible to think of a tiny baby suffering like that. I was not at all sure that I wanted this information, but since I was already involved, I might as well keep going.

According to the death certificate, Baby Samuel’s parents were Sam K. Swartz, born in Pennsylvania, and Ingar Nielson, born in Denmark. The family’s residence was listed as San Francisco. Baby Samuel was born in San Francisco, but had resided at his place of death (Santa Barbara) for 14 days.

Why was the Swartz family in Santa Barbara? Were they on vacation? Visiting relatives? Was Baby Samuel sick before they left San Francisco? Perhaps they came to Santa Barbara seeking medical care?

Great. More questions. I decided to head over to Ancestry.com to look for answers.

I ran a search for Sam K. Swartz, born in Pennsylvania. In the 1930 census, I found Sam (age 47) living in San Francisco with wife Ingar A. (age 47), and “daughter” Irene (age 9). Also living in the household was a lodger, a 65-year old widow named Jennie Murphy.

Something immediately struck me as odd: Both Sam and Ingar list their “age at first marriage” as 43. That would mean that they married – roughly – in 1926, and in 1930 they would only have been married for 4 years. Since Irene’s age was given as 9, could she have been a child from a previous marriage? Or perhaps born out of wedlock?

Click to Enlarge

I thought so, at first… until I noticed that Irene was listed as having been born in California, with her father born in Tennessee and her mother in California. If that was true, then either Sam and Ingar were not Irene’s biological parents, or the enumerator goofed.

Upon investigating the California Birth Index, 1905-1995, I found an Irene A. Swartz, born November 29, 1920, in the County of San Francisco. Her mother's maiden name was Neilsen - same as Ingar's. So, it's possible that the enumerator goofed, and Irene was indeed Ingar's daughter (prior to her marriage to Sam), but this wasn't proof. It didn't explain why the 1930 census listed Irene's mother as having been born in California, when one line above, Ingar is listed as born in Denmark. Perhaps Irene was the daughter of a sibling of Ingar's? One who was born in the U.S.?

Coincidentally, Jennie Murphy lists her father as having been born in Tennessee. Could Jennie somehow be related to Irene? Or to the Neilsen family?

For the heck of it, I decided to search for Ingar in the 1920 census. I found a 36-year old Inger Neilsen living in San Francisco with her brother, Andrew C. Neilsen. The age was right, as was the fact that both were from Denmark. Andrew immigrated to the U.S. in 1913, with Inger following in 1917. Both were single, living with lodger Charles Laussen.

Could Andrew have married after the 1920 census was taken, and could he have been Irene's father? Perhaps he died before the 1930 census, and Irene was taken in by Sam and Ingar?

Based on their ages in the 1930 census, Sam and Ingar would have been born in approximately 1883. They couldn’t possibly still be alive, so I began searching for their death dates.

According to the California Death Index, 1940-1997, Sam was born on March 5, 1883, and died on November 18, 1969, in San Francisco. His mother’s maiden name is listed as “Zz” (a typo, maybe?). Ingar is listed as having been born on July 25, 1883, and died on May 27, 1973, also in San Francisco. Her mother’s maiden name is not listed. I also found Sam in the Social Security Death Index, with the same information.

For the record, I found a Sam Swartz in the 1920 Census, living in a house full of “roomers” in San Francisco. The age is right (36), as is the state of birth for Sam and his parents, so it could possibly be the correct Sam. He was working as a “Salesman Commercial.”

A Google search, as well as a search of Find A Grave, did not reveal where Sam and Ingar are buried, nor was I able to find an obituary for either. I can only assume that they’re buried somewhere in San Francisco, but without requesting their death certificates, I will probably never know.

So… now what?

I really don’t know how much further I should pursue this. After all, I’m not related to the Swartz’s, and no one has asked me to trace this family. For my own peace of mind, I felt that I owed it to myself, my daughter, and Baby Samuel to try to get a few answers… which I’ve done.

But despite the answers, I still have some questions:
  • Where are Sam and Ingar buried?

  • What happened to Irene?

  • Are any of the 8 other Swartz’s buried in Santa Barbara Cemetery in some way related?

  • Are there any living relatives in Santa Barbara? Or San Francisco?

  • Why was the family in Santa Barbara, and how did Baby Samuel get sick?
But the biggest question, for me, is:
Why was my daughter drawn to Baby Samuel’s grave in the first place?
I will probably never know the answer to that one.

Samuel K. Swartz, Jr.
Born: June 1, 1929
Died: August 24, 1929

Rest in peace, little lamb.

Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth O'Neal



California Department of Health Services, Center for Health Statistics. “California Birth Index, 1905-1995.” Database. Ancestry.com, http://www.ancestry.com/ : 2008.

California Department of Health Services. “California Death Index, 1940-1997.” Database. Ancestry.com,
http://www.ancestry.com/ : 2008.

California. San Francisco County. 1930 U.S. census, population schedule. Digital images. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com/ : 2008. From National Archives microfilm publication T626, roll 203.

California. San Francisco County. 1920 U.S. census, population schedule. Digital images. Ancestry.com. http://www.ancestry.com/ : 2008. From National Archives microfilm publication T625, roll 138.

California. Santa Barbara County. Death Certificates. Santa Barbara County Clerk, Recorder and Assessor’s Office, Lompoc.

Carmak, Sharon DeBartolo. Your Guide to Cemetery Research. Cincinnati: Betterway Books, 2002.

“Samuel K. Swartz, Jr.’s Headstone at Santa Barbara Cemetery.” Digital image. Photographed by Elizabeth O’Neal, July 19, 2008. Privately held by Elizabeth O’Neal, [ADDRESS FOR PRIVATE USE,] Santa Barbara Co., California. 2008.

“Santa Barbara Cemetery, 1860-2007.” Database. Santa Barbara County Genealogical Society. http://www.cagenweb.com/santabarbara/sbcgs/Santa_Barbara_Cemetery/index.htm : 2008.

United States. Social Security Administration. “Social Security Death Index.” Database. Ancestry.com, http://www.ancestry.com/ : 2008.

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Sheri said...

Wow Elizabeth,
I got chill bumps reading your story. Good research!
Sheri Fenley

wendy said...

What an interesting story! This would make a wonderful "Freaky Friday" piece (see my website: http://allmybranches.wordpress.com )

Amy said...

Excellent post. Great work.

Maybe someone will see this and provide more answers.

Miriam said...

Someone cared enough about this little one to provide a headstone. That in itself says something.

footnoteMaven said...


My only suggestion is that you do a newspaper search for all the names. There may be obituaries, funeral notices, and who knows what else.

Excellent source notes! The footnoteMaven loves it.


Homemom3 said...

sounds like someone made a friend. I doubt find this strange at all, actually I've been so drawn to the cemetery myself near me that I finally made myself go in. I feel there is something there but not sure what. I'll probably go back on a day that I don't have kids.

Thomas MacEntee said...

Elizabeth - a great piece of work here - especially with the footnotes (as fM already stated).

Cindy Jane said...

The innocence of a child speaks volumes and, I am convinced, languages that only a child can hear. I am convinced that heaven is not a place far away but closer than we think. Blessings to you for following your mother's heart and your researcher instincts.


Denise L said...

A great piece of research, Elizabeth. Who knows what draws us to people and their stories; perhaps your daughter was drawn to the child's size of the tombstone. In your photograph, it looks appropriately diminutive.

If you want to continue looking for the family, perhaps you might be able to find school records for Irene. I wonder what happened to her? Keep us posted.

footnoteMaven said...


Here is more information. It may be possible that Irene is Samuel's daughter and that he had a first wife Elsie.

1918 California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
Samuel K. Swartz 3386 16th Salesman

1918, September 10 World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918
Samuel Karstetter Swartz Birth Date 5 Mar 1876
476 Ellis San Francisco Occupation Drummer
Mother – Margaret Swartz - Ickesburgh, Perry County, PA

1920 California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
Samuel K. Swartz 480 Ellis Salesman

1920, November 29
Irene A. Swartz born

1923 California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
Samuel K. Swartz 416 19th Ave. Salesman
Mrs. Elsie C. Swartz 416 19th Ave. Housewife

1929, 1 June
Baby Samuel is born

1930 Census Address 416 19th
Swartz, Sam K. 47 yrs, born PA
Swartz, Inger A. 47 yrs.
Swartz, Irene 9 relationship to head of household daughter
Murphy, Jennie 65 year old lodger
(It looks as if the enumerator missed a line (that of Irene) and was placing Jennie Murphy’s information on Irene’s line. You can read Kentucky under California in Irene’s place of birth. For the father’s place of birth the enumerator starts the word with a P but leaves the ennessee from the line below.

1932 California Voter Registrations, 1900-1968
Samuel K. Swartz 416 19th Ave.
Mrs. Inger Swartz 416 19th Ave.


Finn said...


I read your post about "Baby Samuel" with interest. Since Samuel's mother was from Denmark, I thought I would take a lot at some sources that I use to see what I might find. If some of the dates that you gave are correct, I think I found Inger Ane Nielsen, note spelling of name, on a ship's manifest in 1916. The pieces seem to fit and may lead you somewhere. The ship's name is Frederik VIII. Inger is said to be going to San Francisco to a brother, A. C. Nielsen, living at 3027 - 16th St, San Francisco. The initials "A. C." nine times out of ten stand for Anders Christian. Her mother's name is listed as Kirsten Husted. Inger has listed her last "permanent residence" as Randers. She lists her home as being in Snejbjerg. That town is in the western side of the Jutland peninsula, where as Randers in on the eastern side. There is note indicating tht she wa "discharged to" T. A. S...... (illegible). This info can be found on the Ellis Island website. I hope this helps in some small way.

Finn S. Hanse