Librarian turns sleuth to unearth marker mystery

8/27/2005
BY CHRISTINA HALL
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Police Lt. David Schmidt locates a headstone in Forest Cemetery engraved with the name Conrad Yahn.
Police Lt. David Schmidt locates a headstone in Forest Cemetery engraved with the name Conrad Yahn.

Toledo police believe their case of a missing person is actually a case of a misspelled gravestone.

After a handful of hours of detective work by a curious public librarian, police believe they have identified the person to whom a marker found in a North Toledo alley belongs.

They believe the marker of "Conard Yahn" belongs to Conrad Yahn, a 22-year-old Toledoan buried more than a century ago in Forest Cemetery under the name John H. Jahn.

More confirmation came when police went to the grave. They found a marker identical to the one officers found last month. The only difference with this stone was the spelling of Conrad.

"We think we solved the mystery as to whose stone it should have been. We're satisfied a proper stone is on the grave, so it does not need to be returned [to the cemetery]," Lt. David Schmidt said.

Librarian Donna Christian says digging into the truth about the marker was  fun  and plans to put her research in a file.
Librarian Donna Christian says digging into the truth about the marker was fun and plans to put her research in a file.

Toledo-Lucas County Public Librarian Donna Christian, who started her research when she saw the story Wednesday in The Blade, believes she knows why Mr. Yahn is buried under a different name. A microfilmed record from St. John's Lutheran Church lists Mr. Yahn, 1876-1898, as Conrad Johann Hermann Jahn.

That's the name his niece, Eleanor Orndorff, has in her family history, with slightly different spellings. The 91-year-old Clyde, Ohio, woman was a bit startled when she saw the story.

"The first thing I did was get my book out. When I saw the dates, it seemed so unlikely it would be two people with the same dates, but anything is possible," she said, adding that she then called police.

She did not believe her uncle married or worked. She said her mother had a pair of dice he made. The dice are now with Ms. Orndorff's daughter.

In trying to find information on Mr. Yahn, Ms. Christian researched his parents and seven siblings. The veteran librarian, who works in the local history and genealogy department, made some interesting finds.

For example, Mr. Yahn's parents, August and Augusta, are buried in Forest Cemetery under the last names of John and Yahn, respectively. Their gravestones show the last name of John.

Ms. Christian found the family's last name spelled three ways - Yahn, Jahn, and John - when she pored through records, many of them handwritten.

The records included Census information, city directories, birth, death, cemetery, and church records, and newspaper clippings. She used the various spellings when cross-checking names, addresses, and dates of events.

"It's real fun," Ms. Christian said of her research, which she plans to put into a file. "I thought I'd probably find something here, and things came together like this."

She said she believes Mr. Yahn died in Gallipolis, Ohio, of epilepsy, based on a Lucas County Probate Court death record and a burial permit listing in the Toledo Bee. The death record lists him as Conrad John of 614 Humboldt St., which was the family's residence. The burial permit listing shows his name as John H. John.

But yesterday Ms. Christian was still curious as to why he was in Gallipolis. She did more research that brought her to a possible conclusion. She learned the Ohio Hospital for Epileptics opened in Gallipolis in 1893.

Those trying to sort out the matter think the found marker had a spelling error and so a new stone was made. Police are still looking at where the misspelled stone came from and how it got into the alley. Lieutenant Schmidt said it will be kept in the property room a while longer in case a relative or monument company proves ownership and would like it returned.

Ms. Orndorff said she plans to ask her daughter if she would like the misspelled marker.

"At least we got a little mystery to think about," she said.

Contact Christina Hall at

chall@theblade.com

or 419-724-6007.