Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans’ Day – Finding Uncle Tommy

All my Mom remembered about her favorite uncle, “Tommy Jacob,” was that he was in the Army and Navy, used to send her pineapples from Hawaii, and lost an eye somewhere along the line. She thought he died around 1988, because a check arrived in the mail back then. It was from his estate lawyer and was for $1500 - $500 for each of my Mom’s children, i.e. my brother, sister, and myself. There was some oddness to it all, something about his wife Millie not wanting him to associate with us or something. 

I never knew the man, but I accepted the money graciously and gratefully. Years later, in 2012, I was talking to my Mom about several genealogists I had met through Facebook. She wondered if we could find out where Uncle Tommy was buried. I tried off and on for over a year, until the search eventually paid off, thanks to
I tried the veterans’ sites first, but to get records, you needed the deceased’s social security number and be a next of kin. We didn’t have the former, and we weren’t the latter. Matter of fact, we weren’t even certain of his NAME! When it came right down to it, we really didn’t know WHEN he was in either branch of the military, or exactly when he was born or died. My Mom’s memory is a bit hazy on such details, she being 79.

I really wanted to do this for my Mom, but I was having no luck cracking the military burial records websites. With all the talk lately about family trees, I really thought this would be easier! Apparently I was barking up the wrong tree. I’m no genealogist, not even an amateur one. I was just futzing around, really, not knowing what I was doing. Which is exactly what many people are like, right? So kudos to for understanding the needs of the layman!

Around May of 2013, I heard an ad for on the radio (yes, I still listen to the radio, being “up in age” myself, at 54!). I decided to give it a try – I think it was free for ten days or something. Basically, all I had to input to their search engine were variants of his name and the approximate years he died. Other clues were asked for, like WHERE he died (luckily, my Mom knew this – it was Nanticoke, Pennsylvania) and the names of his siblings. My Mom knew the latter as well – “Thomas D. Jacobs” had five brothers and sisters, my Mom’s mother Anna (my grandmother) being one of them.

Burial record from websearch

Detail from 1930 Census record (
So with the information above, not only did I get a copy of the 1930 U.S. census with the entire Jacobs (not “Jacob,” but “Jacobs”) family information on it, but I got Tommy’s Veterans’ Administration burial record, which indicates where he is buried. All within fifteen minutes! My mother was absolutely thrilled. Having her hear me read the names of her aunts and uncles, their ages in 1930, her grandparents’ names, was astounding to her. Her Mom, Anna (who I wrote about in a separate blog, "My Grandmother's Grave"), was 17 at the time; Tommy was 5. Tommy was actually the youngest of Michael and Mary’s five children. Besides Anna (my grandmother) and Tommy, there were Elizabeth, Helen, and Andrew. I myself have vague recollections of people mentioning “Aunt Helen” and “Uncle Andrew,” from back when I was very young. Andrew was the oldest child, 22 in 1930. The handwritten census record also indicated that my Mom’s grandparents were born in Czechoslovakia.

Full page of hand-written 1930 Census record provided by
Tom Jacob's burial record showed the name of the cemetery in which he is buried, which happens to be just a few miles from where my Mom lives in northeast Pennsylvania. It also indicated he was a United States Army veteran, having been retired as a Staff Sergeant. Makes you wonder what kind of man would serve in three wars. He may have been drafted I suppose, but WWII, Korea, AND Vietnam? He and his wife Millie had no children.

I phoned Chapel Lawn Memorial Park in Dallas, PA, to see if I could get specific location information on Tommy Jacobs’ grave for my Mom. The woman who answered the phone was extremely helpful. She looked up the name and told me that it was a bronze government-issued grave marker in the veterans’ section. I was rather surprised when she told me that his wife Mildred was buried next to him, with her own plaque. I didn’t realize the government did this. 

The cemetery representative told me she could send me a map with the grave location marked, and that whenever we visited, someone from the office would gladly help us find the grave. I thanked her and received the map about a week later. I sent the map to my Mom.
Thomas and Mildred Jacob, Chapel Lawn Memorial Park, Dallas, PA
After several botched attempts to head north to the Wilkes-Barre area (from where I live in Philadelphia) to visit the grave with my Mom and my brother Tim, I finally had to just let them do it on their own. So on July 28, 2013, Tim took her to see her favorite Uncle’s grave. It was quite an emotional experience for her, an experience which I, unfortunately, missed. Luckily, Tim took all these photos with his smartphone and sent them to me.
My Mom, Beverly Snyder, at her Uncle Tommy's grave
My Mom called me after they returned from Chapel Lawn. She said, “That was such a good thing that you did, thank you!” She said they had asked for help from the office, and a man guided them to the grave. My Mom said, “It was heartbreaking when I saw it. He used to call my mother ‘Annie’.” As my Mom stood over her Uncle Tommy’s grave, she told me she said, “Annie’s daughter is here to see you.” 

The man who showed my mother and brother to the grave apologized that there was no American flag at his marker. He went back to the office and got one, returning to place it on his grave. We all need tangible links to our past. I will at some point physically visit my Great Uncle’s grave. With his Social Security Number (199-12-1756), we might now be able to access some of his military records, as my Mom may be the only next of kin. I’d like to find out where he was stationed throughout his twenty-year military career and if those pineapples really came from Hawaii! His army serial number was 13-335-094 if any kind soul out there might want to save me the trouble of searching; I’d really like a photo, to see what he looked like.

Rest in Peace:
Thomas D. Jacobs (a.k.a. Tommy Jacob)
Born July 30, 1924
Died January 22, 1993

Notes and References:
All photos of the Jacobs' graves were made by my brother, Tim Snyder.
The images of the various grave medallions were made in Cedar Grove Cemetery, Adamstown, PA.
Chapel Lawn Cemetery, Dallas, PA website website