After close to a hundred years of separation, the remains of a pioneer family and the tombstone that once stood over their remains were reunited at a ceremony on June 2 in Sacramento.
The tombstone once memorialized the remains of members of the Asch family who, for a period, were buried in the New Helvetia Cemetery at Sutter’s Fort.
Engraved on the tombstone are the names of John Asch’s daughter who died in 1860, his son who died in 1877, John Asch who died in 1895, and his wife Barbara who died in 1901.
Originally from Germany, John and Barbara Asch emigrated to America in the late 1840s with their four children. They lived in Pennsylvania for a few years where they had four more offspring. Then they headed to California and settled in Sacramento where they had two more children.
The tombstone and Asch family remains were separated after the New Helvetia Cemetery, which dates back to 1849, was closed in 1912 because of repeated flooding. Four years later the cemetery was converted into a park and its occupants relocated to a nearby property. All the raised plots were then leveled and replaced with flat concrete markers.
It’s assumed that it was at this time that the original headstones, including the Asch tombstone, were taken by the local community for gardens, pavers and other uses.
In 1956, the bodies were exhumed once again and sent to various cemeteries to make way for a new elementary school. There they lay quietly slumbering until 2009 when a descendant of the Asch’s, Susie Hofmeister O’Brien, decided to do some genealogy work while attending a relative’s wedding in California.
With her two sisters, Cathy and Barbara, O’Brien started mapping cemeteries where their ancestors were buried. Her aunt also gave her some information about the Asch side of the family.
She learned her ancestors included a railroad yard worker, a sheriff, a scoundrel shot by a Nevada sheriff, a lawyer and a teacher in old town Sacramento. Some of her relatives also turned out to be early residents of Placerville.
According to O’Brien, her great great grandfather, Fredrick Hofmeister, ran the Ohio Hotel in Placerville on Main Street. This was in the mid 1800s to 1890s. His son George, who was her great-grandfather, was a member of the Native Sons of Placerville. “My relatives have been in this area for a long time,” said O’Brien.
In the process of doing all this research, O’Brien decided to visit the Asch gravesite in Sacramento and noticed that the picture on the brochure for the City of Sacramento’s cemetery was that of the Asch family tombstone. “I couldn’t believe it was a picture of my family tombstone,” she said.
Wanting to find out more, O’Brien posted the picture on the Website ancestry.com in August of 2009.
“But, I wasn’t expecting much,” she said.
However in Feb. 2010, she received an e-mail from a woman named Louise Pipher, who lives in Auburn. As it turned out, Pipher is a genealogist herself and a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Auburn Emigrant Trail chapter.
On a whim, Pipher had begun researching the Asch family and then contacted O’Brien asking if she was related to the family listed on the tombstone because she had spotted it nearby in a flower bed with rocks around it. She learned later that the tombstone found its way to Auburn by way of a man who was a mason. He came across the stone and decided to make it part of his garden.
“We became e-mail pals,” said O’Brien.”This was amazing because of everything I went through to find this tombstone. There were 5,000 people originally buried in the New Helvetia Cemetery and only two of them had hand-carved tombstones.”
O’Brien said Pipher and other members of DAR then started working together to get the tombstone returned to the graves where it belonged.
A year and a half later, the tombstone was removed from the flowerbed and headed back to Sacramento to reunite with the bodies of John and Barbara Asch in the Sacramento City Cemetery.
During the same period, O’Brien went to work raising money from relatives to restore the tombstone to its original state and to buy a new base for it. Altogether, she raised $3,500 between contributions from the family, Daughters of the American Revolution, her own contribution and other donations.
On Saturday, June 2 at noon, the rededication ceremony was held at the Sacramento Historic City Cemetery. At the ceremony, not only was the Asch family tombstone officially reunited with the family remains, but so was the tombstone of Ersiglio Bonetti. Those are the only two original New Helvetia Cemetery grave markers that have been found.
So after endless upheavals, repurposing and a serendipitous turn of events, the traveling tombstone is once again back where it belongs.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or [email protected] Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.