Touring Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery

Timing is everything.

Rough draft plans for a mid-October road trip were on the table. Chicago, Door County Wisconsin, and Mackinac Island Michigan were the top contenders.

I was Google-ing our options when I saw the “Civil War to Civil Rights” tour offered by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. At Oak Woods Cemetery. A place I’ve longed to see. The Englewood cemetery in which 17 leaves on my family tree are buried.

Thankfully my husband is also a cemetery enthusiast. Because this trip was planned in celebration of our 15th wedding anniversary. 

The weather on the 11th was perfect, sunny and warm. We reached Oak Woods hours before the tour was to begin.

Stone chairs facing a tall monument

Stone chairs facing a tall monument

Most of my ancestors’ final resting places were clearly labeled on a map I’d gotten from the cemetery office weeks before. There were a few unknowns, so our first stop was the office. The woman who looked up the information we needed was super nice and very helpful. Armed with everything we thought we needed, we set out in search of headstones.

Incredible artwork on a headstone at Oak Woods

Incredible artwork on a headstone at Oak Woods

Oak Woods is enormous! It’s 183 acres of rolling hills and ponds and meandering lanes. Most of the burial plots are not in straight symmetrical rows, they are in winding crisscrossing curves. After searching for the first few names in vain, we returned to the office for detailed maps of the sections we needed.

But even with additional information, it was obvious this task was going to take longer than we had anticipated. We prioritized the list of 17 names, moving my direct line ancestors to the top.

My paternal 2nd great-grandparents Jacob and Elise Mueller were first. I shared that experience here.

My maternal 2nd great-grandfather Carl Tolf came next. The map directed us to Section F Division 3. Which looks like this.

Oak Woods Cemetery Section F Division 3

Oak Woods Cemetery
Section F Division 3

When I looked VERY closely, I was able to locate a few headstones. Which looked like this.

Headstone at Oak Woods in Section F Division 5

Headstone at Oak Woods in Section F Division 5

I quickly accepted the fact that I was not going to locate Carl on this visit. Next on the list?

Charles and Freda (nee Tolf) Youngberg

Charles and Freda (nee Tolf) Youngberg

Carl Tolf’s daughter Freda married Charles Youngberg. They were buried nearby in a neatly arranged section of the cemetery. We found them quickly, so I took pictures of the headstones in “their” row for Find A Grave. Then it was time to go.

Our purchased-online tour tickets instructed us to meet at the Confederate Mound 20 minutes before the tour was to begin, so we drove around to that part of the cemetery. After a half hour we started wandering around since we were the only ones there. I ended up in the Jewish section – more on that later. Then my husband saw a group forming near the Confederate Mound.

CAF Tour Guide at Oak Woods Cemetery

CAF Tour Guide at Oak Woods Cemetery

We really enjoyed the tour. We walked all over the cemetery seeing things we surely would have missed without our guide. It was so interesting to hear the stories behind the granite monuments. In fact, some headstones aren’t even made of stone

White Bronze Monument

White Bronze Monument

The tour ended near the front gate in the Union section of the cemetery.

Union area of Oak Woods Cemetery

Union area of Oak Woods Cemetery

It was late afternoon and we’d only scratched the surface of what we had hoped to accomplish during our visit. I’d found only a few on my list of ancestors and we had planned to take photos for Find A Grave. It sounds like we were disappointed, but it was just the opposite!

The day really had been wonderful. The tour was educational and informative. My husband and I enjoyed it very much.

Mr. W2L4A on tour at Oak Woods Cemetery

Mr. W2L4A on tour at Oak Woods Cemetery

I found Jacob and Elisabeth. Those were the most important names on my list.

We had a long drive ahead of us.

On the road again...

On the road again…

We’re already looking forward to our next visit to Chicago’s Oak Woods Cemetery. There is so much more to see.

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