Woodmen of the World

Yesterday I arrived a little early for an appointment in Mendota, Minnesota. What would a curious family history researcher do with extra time on a beautiful fall day but take advantage of the opportunity to drive through the Cemetery of the Church of St. Peter?

My husband’s great-grandparents, Thomas and Rose (Rowan) Quinn, were married at the Church of St. Peter on 12 February 1861.  I haven’t found records of any (close) family burials there and had never visited the cemetery. It’s a scenic spot. Trees now obscure what must have been a great view of the church and the river and Ft. Snelling a century ago. 

A narrow driveway winds through the older part of the cemetery. I edged along in my car, reading the names on the big upright gravestones. Irish and French surnames abound reflecting the make-up of the early congregation.

Find-a-grave photo

Find-a-grave photo

Wait! Who’s that? William Rowan (1851-1916) and his wife Mary Ann (1856-1924).  I got out of the car to inspect the gravestone.  An unusual seal stamped on the gravestone read “Woodmen of the World.” Could this be a source for more information about William and Mary Ann Rowan?

I believe William Rowan (b. 1851) was the oldest son of James and Bridget Rowan. But my big questions have always included, “Who was James Rowan? How was he related to Rose Rowan?” My unsubstantiated conclusion is that James and Rose were cousins, the offspring of brothers Patrick and Michael Rowan from County Mayo, but proof has been elusive.

Might “Woodmen of the World” be one of those fraternal organizations with helpful genealogical records? This is what I found about its history:

The organization was founded in 1890, in Omaha, Nebraska, by Joseph Cullen Root. Root belonged to several fraternal organizations including the Freemasons. The forerunner of Woodmen of the World (WOW) was Modern Woodmen of America (MWA), which Root had started in 1883 after hearing a sermon about “pioneer woodsmen clearing away the forest to provide for their families”. Today Woodmen of the World remains one of the largest fraternal benefit companies with open membership in the U.S.

Woodmen graves are found throughout the Midwest, West and South, often decorated with symbols such as logs, axes, or woodworking tools; sometimes the grave markers themselves are in the shape of logs or tree stumps. Engraved on the stone might be the words “Here Lies a Woodman of the World” or the inscription, ‘dum tacet clamat’ (meaning “though silent he speaks”).

Gravestones were initially furnished free to Woodmen members and later offered to those who’d purchased a $100 rider (until the mid-1920s when the stones became too expensive).

But does the Woodmen organization have old records available? Alas, apparently not. All my Internet browsing indicates the company no longer retains documentation about its long-deceased members.

Nonetheless, it was a nice day for a stroll through a new cemetery.

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