In nearly a quarter of a century researching and documenting the cemeteries of Medina County, Ohio, I have come upon many interesting stories. Dealing with the dead in their final resting place, it comes as no surprise that many of these tales involve an element of tragedy or sadness. While I absolutely feel that it is how a person lives that defines them; it is a person’s death that is the final chapter in their story. While searching through and compiling records for Woodlawn Cemetery in Wadsworth, Ohio, recently, I continued to come upon members of a family by the name of Owens. A black couple from Virginia, Mathew and Mary Owens would have ten children of which nine would pass away before reaching their 21st birthdays. This is their story.
Originally from Clover Hill, Chesterfield, Virginia, Mathew was the son of Matilda Owens. In 1880 we find him – age 21 – still living at home but working as a coal miner to help the family. His father is not mentioned but he has five younger siblings: Mary (age 14), Rosa (age 11), Otelia (age 7), Robert (age 6), and Birdie (infant).
Also from Clover Hill, Chesterfield, Virginia, Mary Ella was the daughter of Creed and Margaret Haskins. In 1880 her father was working as a blacksmith to support his wife and their six children: Peter (age 10), Fanny (age 7), Mary E. (age 6), Robert (age 4), and twin infant boys, Arthur and Ernest.
It isn’t clear if any of Mathew’s family came here to Ohio although Mary’s parents and brother definitely did. Already working as a coal miner, Mathew continued in that line of work when he arrived here; likely recruited like so many others by the local mining companies. The couple wed on February 24, 1892 and, not long after, started a family.
Their first child, a son named Harry, was born on May 7, 1893. The following year, a daughter named Hattie on June 23, 1894. Three more children would come before the turn of the century. Samuel Mathew Owens was born on April 26, 1896. Robert was born on August 24, 1897. In 1899 another son, Floyd, was born.
In the 1900 census we find the couple renting a house in Wadsworth. Mathew is 39 and working as a coal miner. Mary is 26 and living with them are their five children: Harry (age 7), Hattie (age 5), Samuel (age 4), Robert (age 3), and Floyd (age 1). At this point, tragedy had not yet struck the family.
That all changed on February 13, 1901 when little Floyd Owens passed away from lung fever. He wasn’t even two years old. He would be the first of the Owens family to be buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Wadsworth, Ohio.
On January 7, 1902 the couple would welcome another child to the family with the birth of daughter, Mary Beatrice Owens. Sadly, she would die on August 16, 1902 at the age of 8 months from cholera infantum.
Twins must be in the bloodline of Mary Ella’s family as, on August 10, 1904, she gave birth to daughters Geneva and Geneta (Jeanetta). The former would not even see her first birthday; passing away on August 5, 1905 due to asthma.
Coincidentally, the happy date of August 10th was made special once again when, in 1906, the couple welcomed son Ernest to the family. Likely named after Mary’s brother, sadly he would pass away a little over two years later on October 7, 1908 from meningitis.
On April 9, 1909 the couple had another son born to them by the name of Sylvester.
In the 1910 census we find the couple still renting a house in Wadsworth. Mathew is 49 and now working for Ohio Match Company. Mary is 36 and living with them are their six children: Harry (age 16), Hattie (age 15), Samuel (age 14), Robert (age 12), Jeannette (age 5), and Sylvester (age 1). Also living with the couple is Mary’s younger brother Ernest (age 31) who is working as a laborer in the local brickyard.
The year 1915 would be a particularly brutal one for the family as they would lose three more of their children. On January 28th they would lose daughter Hattie to tuberculosis. On March 15th they would see son Robert succumb to double pneumonia. Finally, on October 12th son Harry would also die from tuberculosis.
The 1920 census finds the family still residing in Wadsworth. Mathew is 56 and still working though his exact occupation is hard to determine on the document. Mary is 45 and three children still live in the household: Samuel (age 23, working as a moulder with his dad), Jeannette (age 16), and Sylvester (age 10). Mary’s brother Ernest (age 39) is also still in the home and continues working as a `bricker’ in the local brickyard.
On March 23, 1920 the couple would lose yet another child to tuberculosis when daughter Jeannette passed away. Ultimately, they would lose four of their children to that horrible disease as their son Sylvester died from it on September 9, 1923.
Mathew Owens died on May 31, 1926 at the age of 65 of an all too familiar foe: tuberculosis. He would leave behind a wife and one son. Mary Ella Owens died on June 20, 1931 at the age of 56 years from hepatitis. She was living at 2172 East Avenue in Akron, Summit County, Ohio at the time.
Of their ten children, only son Samuel Mathew Owens would survive to the age of 21. He would register for the draft during World War I and did serve: enlisting on July 18, 1918 and being discharged December 19th later that same year. He would die on November 15, 1942 – per Veterans Administration records – but his place of burial is not known. The document does list his address as 209 E. Walnut St. in Wadsworth – the same as on his father’s death certificate.
Mathew and Mary Ella Owens – along with nine of their children – are buried in unmarked graves in Woodlawn Cemetery in Wadsworth, Ohio. Their exact burial locations are likely impossible to determine as the family did not purchase a plot for themselves but, instead, were buried like so many other poor individuals in the potters fields. One can reasonably wonder if any of the family are even buried in proximity to one another. I don’t know much more about this family than what I have been able to ascertain from census records, birth and death records, and cemetery ledgers but, at the end of the day, people are people and it would be a special thing to see a grave marker erected at Woodlawn to memorialize this family. Perhaps one day a stroll through the cemetery will include seeing a monument that reads:
Mathew, died May 31, 1926, aged 65 years
Mary Ella Haskins, his wife, died June 20, 1931, aged 56 years
Harry, May 7, 1893 – October 12, 1915
Hattie, June 23, 1894 – January 28, 1915
Robert, August 24, 1897 – March 15, 1915
Floyd, died February 13, 1901, aged 1 year
Mary Beatrice, January 7, 1902 – August 16, 1902
Geneva, August 10, 1904 – August 5, 1905
Geneta, August 10, 1904 – March 23, 1920
Ernest, August 10, 1906 – October 7, 1908
Sylvester, April 9, 1909 – September 9, 1923