Stories From The Grave
Final Resting Place Row 4, Plot 44
My name is Megan and I'm 14 years old. My grandma is an Odd fellow and we are thought she was a little odd because of her fascination with the Odd Fellow’s cemetery. On one of the workdays scheduled at the cemetery, I stopped by to see what was so "fascinating" and as she gave me a tour, and started telling me stories about some of the people buried there, I was hooked. I had only viewed a cemetery as a place full of dead people. Sort of a creepy place. All of a sudden, I realized that every person there had a life story to tell, if we only looked. I could learn about geography and history from everyone there. I adopted 2 plots that day, and have started researching the lives of "my" people. This is an article on the William Sell plot, based on my research. I have used information I found online at Ancestry, Fold3, and Family Search and also from the de Ferrari archives and received loads of information from the Tuolumne County Genealogy Society. I hope you enjoy learning about William.
William was born in Pennsylvania on September 23, 1816. I was unable to find out much about his childhood, but he married Juliann Wile Sell on March 2, 1843. They had 4 children in Philadelphia and as was sadly true for the times, 3 died in the first few years of life. Edward died of cholera in his first year, Almira, died of “convulsing” before her third year, and little Juliann M., died of coupe in her first year. All three babies were lovingly buried in the Monument Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA. Monument Cemetery was a Victorian Cemetery of over 14 acres holding the remains of over 28,000 people. Most of those people ended up thrown together in one large grave. One of the saddest parts of the story is that all the historical tombstones and even large significant monuments where thrown in the river. You can see them today at low tide, under the water and along the river shores. This once beautiful resting place was purchased by Temple University in the 1950s and the University acquired permission to remove the graves and turn the area into sports fields and parking lots. Many of the headstones became the base of the Betsy Ross Bridge. This story made me realize what a loss of history occurs when a cemetery becomes old and neglected and I understand why my grandma lovingly keeps “her” cemetery neat and clean.
I have found references to 7 other children born to William and Juliann. Jesse, his son, is buried just a few plots away from his dad. These children all lived to adulthood and many stayed in the immediate area or adjoining counties.
William and his family arrived in California in 1854, by coming through the Isthmus of Panama. This was a fairly common route back in the day. He came to Sonora for the mining opportunities and purchased land that would become the very successful Sell Mine. This mine was located on Brown’s Flat Road, which is the road that starts as Columbia Way (across form the High School) . This area was known as a rich pocket mine location. William’s mine did quite well , but according to another census, he also was a skilled plasterer and did the ceiling ornaments for the Caleb Dorsey home, which was once located at 171 N. Washington Street. It has since been replaced by a small complex of shops. It was really interesting to find his land and the location of the Dorsey home. Before, they had only been ordinary locations, without any meaning to me, but now I have some history to go with the locations and they have become so much more than just a “place”. I guess I never really thought about what was here before my arrival. Typical teenager, I guess. After all, I AM the center of the universe!
I think I understand how important a cemetery is now. Every one there has history to share with us and lessons to teach us. My grandma has told me that in the old days, and even today, in some parts of the country, families would get together weekly to tend to their ancestors resting places and honor them in that way. It was also a time that they could pass on the family stories and history with their children. It was a way to stay connected with the living and those that had passed. Often, they even had picnics by the grave sites! It was a place where there was laughter and stories and fond remembering. I’m so glad my grandma showed me what a beautiful place a cemetery can be and how much it has to offer to those that want to know more.