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What’s with the marker?

So The Legal Genealogist is in Texas, doing something that’s truly rare these days.

Looking into my own family history.

There’s not always a lot of time, when you write and lecture, to research your own family, so every chance you can get is a real treasure.

And sometimes a real mystery.

And, Lord knows, there are enough real mysteries in my family.

I wouldn’t mind solving a couple of those mysteries in the next day or two, with the aid of the Houston Genealogical Forum’s Marilyn Maniscalco Henley, who’s serving as driver, organizer and aide de camp extraordinaire.

But we sure didn’t get anywhere with one big mystery yesterday.

The mystery of how a Texas boy became a Yankee on his military grave marker.

GilbertMy grandfather’s brother Gilbert Fleetwood Cottrell was born 10 October 1892 in Wichita County, Texas, and died 11 July 1970 in Houston, Harris County, Texas.1 In 1913, he joined the Army2 and spent time in the Quartermaster Corps at Fort Yellowstone, Wyoming,3 before being ordered to the Philippines.4

He was still in the Army in 1920 when he was enumerated at Camp Zachary Taylor, Kentucky, as 27-year-old Gilbert F. “Cotterall”, a sergeant in the United States Army, born TX,5 and still in the Army when he married a Kentucky girl, Myrtie Hart, in Clark County, Indiana, on the 15th of May 1920.6

That relationship quickly soured, Bert left the Army and went back to Texas, and in 1922, he took out a marriage license in Victoria County, Texas, to marry a German girl, Hertha Musch.7 He and Hertha spent their entire lives in the Houston area, recorded there on the 1930 census8 and the 1940 census.9 Bert died there in 197010 and Hertha in 1990.11 They’re buried there, in the Earthman Resthaven Cemetery.12

I stood there yesterday, in the rain, at Bert’s grave in that cemetery. There is only a military grave marker for him and no marker at all for Hertha. Not surprising, perhaps, since they had no children to care to erect a stone, and no-one left to put up any marker after Hertha’s death.

But what is surprising is what’s on Bert’s marker.

“Gilbert F. Cottrell,” the marker reads. Check. The date of birth: “Oct 10 1892.” Check. The date of death: “July 11 1970.” Check. Military service: “Sgt US Army World War I.” Check. And above the description of his military service, these words appear:

New Jersey

Say what?

Born in Texas. Raised in Texas. Lived in Texas. Died in Texas.

What in the world is with this New Jersey reference?

The cemetery records don’t explain how New Jersey came to be on Bert’s marker. Its copy of what looks like it might be the application for a military grave marker is so faded only a few scattered letters and words can be read. Like the first few letters of Bert’s last name. And, inexplicably, the words “New Jersey.”

And, of course, the digitized database of “Headstone Applications for Military Veterans” on only goes up to 1963,13 and the later records — which used to be at the main facility of the National Archives in Washington, D.C., where they’d be fairly easy for me to get a copy — have been moved to St. Louis,14 where they’re not so easy for me to get access.

Now it’s possible, of course, that Bert served in New Jersey, or may have once re-enlisted in New Jersey, or was discharged in New Jersey, or just plain liked New Jersey.

But it’s a sure bet he never thought of himself as being from New Jersey.

And why New Jersey is on his grave marker… well, that’s still a mystery for another day.


  1. Texas Department of Health, death certif. no. 49224, Gilbert Fleetwood Cottrell, 11 July 1970; Bureau of Vital Statistics, Austin.
  2. Entry for Gilbert Cottrell, “Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010,” database and index, ( : accessed 11 July 2014).
  3. See “Washington Army Orders,” Galveston (Texas) Daily News, page 4, col. 3 (“Privates Gilbert F. Cottrell and Charles M. Tellman, quartermaster corps, now in confinement at Fort Yellowstone, Wyo., are assigned to that post”).
  4. U.S. War Department, Special Order 198, 22 August 1914, in Special Orders, 1914, vol. 2 (Washington, D.C. : War Department, 1914); digital images, Internet Archive ( : accessed 11 July 2014).
  5. 1920 U.S. census, Jefferson County, Kentucky, Camp Zachary Taylor, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 18, p. 268(B) (stamped), dwelling B79, family 159, Gilbert F “Cotterall”; digital image, ( : accessed 15 Oct 2011); citing National Archive microfilm publication T625, roll 577.
  6. Clark County, Indiana, Marriage License and Return, Marriage Book 50: 482, Gilbert F. Cottrell and Myrtie Hart, 15 May 1920; digital images, “Indiana, Marriages, 1811-1959,” FamilySearch ( : accessed 11 July 2014).
  7. “Licensed to Wed,” Victoria (Texas) Advocate, 9 June 1922, page 2, col. 3.
  8. 1930 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, Houston, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 142, p. 158(B) (stamped), sheet 18(B), dwelling 248, family 249, Gilbert F. and Hertha Cottrell; digital image, ( : accessed 11 July 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T626, roll 2351.
  9. 1940 U.S. census, Harris County, Texas, Houston, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 258-34, sheet 6B, household 138, Gilbert and Hertha Cottrell; digital image, ( : accessed 11 July 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication T627, roll 4191.
  10. Texas Dept. of Health, Death Certif. No. 49224, Gilbert F. Cottrell (1970).
  11. Social Security Death Index, entry for Hertha Cottrell, Houston, Texas, 1990; database and index, ( : accessed 11 July 2014).
  12. Earthman Resthaven Cemetery (Houston, Harris County, Texas; on North Freeway, approximately one mile north of the intersection with Sam Houston Parkway, Latitude 29.960995, Longitude -95.413649), Gilbert F. Cottrell marker. The records of the Cemetery reflect Hertha’s burial next to Bert.
  13. “US, Headstone Applications for Military Veterans, 1925-1963,” database and images, ( : accessed 8 Mar 2015).
  14. See “Personnel Record to Move to National Archives at St. Louis,” ( : accessed 8 Mar 2015).
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