Several years ago, whilst investigating my father’s family, I learned that my great-grandparents (his father’s father and mother–Joseph E. Corley and Ida C. F. Corley), were buried in a mausoleum called Arlington Abbey in Arlington, Va., after they passed away in the 1920s. The mausoleum is no more, however, and all of the bodies have since been relocated.
At that time, I assumed this was because the former mausoleum bordered Arlington National Cemetery, which from time to time expands to accommodate more graves. Grad school intervened and I had to shelve my family research. Only recently, did I pick this trail back up.
It’s not a pretty one.
A helpful ancestry.com member responded to a post on that site a few years ago to tell me that many of the bodies formerly located in the mausoleum were relocated to National Memorial Park in nearby Falls Church, Va., especially when next-of-kin could not be found. I called there this past weekend and was told that there is no record of my great-grandparents at that cemetery.
Joseph and Ida used to live in Shelby County, Illinois, the location of a Corley Cemetery where a few of my ancestors and extended relations are buried. Thinking perhaps Joseph and Ida had found a way back home, I did some searching. I found an online list of the gravestones and Joseph and Ida are not listed. Scratch that possibility off the list.
Since these were my only leads, I decided to do some more digging into the history of the mausoleum. I turned up a couple of articles in the Washington Times from the 1990s. Turns out that the mausoleum used to be privately owned, but was not very profitable. The owners turned over control of the facility to the federal government back in the 1950s, but the government didn’t have the resources to oversee it closely. It fell into disrepair and was the target of vandals and apparent satanic worshipers. Bodies were removed from their crypts and valuable items stolen.
As disturbing as the above news is, the articles above include valuable information like the name of the company that originally owned the facility, the exact date when they turned over the property to the government, etc. Perhaps most importantly, I now know the name of the Army Corps of Engineers archaeologist who was tasked with investigating the families of the deceased to try and find next of kin when it was determined all of the graves had to be moved.
I was able to track down his contact information over the weekend and I’ve left him a voicemail to see if he has any information about the whereabouts of my great-grandparents’ remains.
He is not my only hope though. If I don’t hear back or he doesn’t have information about Joseph and Ida, I now have more details that I can use to perform further research. Luckily, I live close enough that trips to libraries in Arlington County, Va., or Washington, D.C., are feasible.
I’d be curious if anyone else reading this has also traced relatives to Arlington Abbey — have you had any luck finding out what happened to them?
Stay tuned for Part 2 next week. I hope to report back that I’ve heard from the Army Corps archaeologist.