If you have ever visited the cemetery and walked around the historic Witte section, you may have noticed three small graves in the Naegeli area which at first glance appear unmarked. But if you get down and look carefully, you will find the initials “MN” carved into the stone outlining the grave closest to the fence. Next to “MN” is another grave whose stone outline is so weathered that one cannot make out any letters among the lines and cracks. And next to this is another child size grave bearing the letter “N.” I remember the older relatives referring to them only as “the children.” Until recently, I knew nothing about these nameless children. Who were they? Who were their parents? Grandpa Henry Jaeger’s book The History of Early Pioneer Families of Winedale, vol. 1, provided me with the information I needed to start my search.
Albert Naegeli and Franciska Witte (Daughter of Anna Marie and Victor Witte) purchased a farm on the north side of the Rudolph Witte farm. They had four daughters named Agnes, Elsie, Lucile, and Frances, and a son named Alfred. Albert died in 1901, leaving his wife with five children ranging in age from 3 to 17. Alfred married Lena Louise Stoerner, daughter of Louis Stoerner and Julia Mayer on November 12, 1912 and the couple continued to farm the land. They had five children, of which only two survived. The three children who died are the three children buried in the Jaeger Witte Cemetery. But who were these children? What were their names?
The Texas Department of Vital Statistics only records deaths going back to 1903. Using Lena and Alfred as my starting point, I was able to locate a birth and death certificate for their son Manfred Naegeli. This little boy was born on September 11, 1919and died on October 20, 1919. The attending doctor states under cause of death, “I could not determine it, was dead 12 hours before my arrival.” There are no birth or death records for the two other children, however a list of burials compiled in 2006 by the Washington County Genealogical Society lists them as “L. Naegeli” and “E. Naegeli.” Unfortunately, aside from a lone “N,” those letters are no longer distinguishable among the lines and cracks in the concrete. I wonder sometimes why the family did not place a headstone on these graves, if only to say, “infant son of A. and L. Naegeli.” The infants were loved, as evidenced by being given names and a proper burial. So why is there no birth or death certificates on record? And aside from Manfred, his mother Lina, an older relative, and an unrelated child from Houston, the Texas Death Index does not even list a Naegeli as having died between 1913 and 1930. The only documentation we have is faded field markers on the graves and the information passed down from Grandpa Henry Jaeger.
So, who were these two children whose records have been lost? Did their parents talk about them to their other children? Who etched their initials into the stones and cleaned their graves? These are questions that might never be answered.
Left to right: Child Naegeli, Child Naegeli, Manfred Naegeli
Detail: “N” etched into middle child’s stone and “MN” etched into Manfred’s stone