On Saturday, August 2, I had the pleasure of walking with a group of about fifty members of the West Michigan Genealogical Society through the southern half of Oak Hill Cemetery (Eastern & Hall). This is a group of people who are highly interested in the histories of people who have been born, lived and died in Western Michigan (and elsewhere) over the past several centuries. All of the Society members are experts at finding the records, newspaper accounts and documents that chronicle the lives of those who have come before, many of whom now rest in Oak Hill, and similar cemeteries. It was a real privilege to meet with the WMGS members, and to show them part of Oak Hill.
The route we took through Oak Hill followed the path I have shown to many other groups over the years, but we took a closer look at a couple of burial sites that had particular interest to the genealogists. One of these was the burial site of Lt. John J. Nardin (OHS I-06-06), located near the western edge of the cemetery, near the City Vault. I wanted the genealogists to see it because it, and a number of other Nardin family markers in the immediate area, illustrate so well the real importance of walking carefully and reading closely markers of even the most seemingly unremarkable outward appearance. Lt. Nardin’s marker is of granite, and of modest size and style, dating from the middle-late 19th century. Unlike many other contemporary markers, this one and some of those nearby, note a foreign birthplace (Lt. Nardin was born in Paris). But the real surprise from Lt. Nardin’s marker comes from a brief historical epitaph that is included. The marker recites that Lt. Nardin “Served with Napoleon I, was in the march to Moscow”. So it seems that Lt. Nardin, at the age of 20 (long before he came to Grand Rapids, or indeed, there was a Grand Rapids), was among the 450,000 French soldiers who followed Napoleon in his fateful and ultimately tragic invasion of Russia in 1812. Unlike most of his compatriots, Nardin survived the experience, and in his later years, came to and settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Amazing what you’ll find in a stroll through a cemetery, isn’t it?