MASSILLON (AP) — Three women break a loaf of bread and share it before placing a few pieces at their great-grandfather’s gravesite.
No name marks the spot, just a 2-inch square stone bearing the number 84.
Next, they have some olives and feta cheese. A bottle of champagne is passed around as part of an Orthodox tradition they have done many times for relatives and friends who have died. Soil from the graves of relatives is scattered in a circle around the top of the grave.
The women refer to it as the “feeding of the soul,” which is traditionally done at a funeral or at the cemetery during the burial. Their great-grandfather, however, died in 1918 and no relatives knew where he was buried until Marian Ricalis decided to begin searching for the grave two months ago.
On Thursday, 100 years to the date of their great-grandfather’s death, Ricalis and her cousins, Cathy Nitsopoulos and Linda Yanch, made the seven-hour drive from Canada to Massillon. They are the first of the family to visit the Massillon Cemetery resting place of Christo Lazo Shishareff, who they refer to as Dedo Christo.
“The road trip has been an emotional ride,” Nitsopoulos said. “To make it on this day is something special.”
Somewhere in Ohio
For many years, Ricalis’ father searched for the grave. Language barriers and a lack of information made it difficult for the family to locate their lost relative. And it was before the internet made searches of this type easier.
In 1910, Shishareff traveled to the United States and began working on the railroad for A.B. Clark’s mill, which later became Central Steel Co. in Massillon. Roughly eight years later, a week before he was scheduled to return to his hometown in Macedonia, he was struck in the head by a steel beam and died instantly.
He was 45 on Nov. 8, 1918 when he was killed in the accident, and was buried a few days later on Nov. 12.
Shishareff had traveled with a group of other Macedonians who reported back to the family of his death. However, no one from the family knew where he was buried. The only clue they had was that he died somewhere in Ohio.
As a child, Ricalis heard stories about her great-grandfather. She grew up in Toronto, Canada after the family left Macedonia in 1952.
Her father died 23 years ago, and Ricalis took it as her mission to find the grave of Shishareff. Over the years, the search was placed on the back burner as Ricalis and her cousins were busy with their jobs and families.
The search for her great-grandfather’s final resting spot resurfaced when Ricalis bumped into a family friend who had an interest in ancestry and genealogy. Within 24 hours, the friend had tracked down records of Shishareff, narrowing the search to Stark County.
“It was always in the back of my head,” Ricalis said. “When we found him, it was very emotional. Without (our great-grandfather) none of us would be here. We have a huge family, and we’re very loving and supportive of one another.”
To begin her search, Ricalis contacted several health departments in Stark County until she was able to obtain the death certificate from Massillon City Health Department.
She then contacted P.J. Crawford, a reference assistant at the Massillon Public Library, who dug through archives to find records of Ricalis’ great-grandfather.
In the 1980s, volunteers combed through Stark County cemeteries, jotting down names and information found on headstones. Shishareff was not among them.
That lead Ricalis and her cousins to Massillon Cemetery, where they talked with Rose Buxton, office manager, who was able to track the location of Shishareff in the digital archives.
Each grave in the cemetery is marked with a number. Through her electronic search, Buxton learned he was buried in section 13, lot 84.
The challenge, however, was Shishareff did not have a headstone marking his grave.
Buxton and the groundskeeper used a spade to try to locate the small stone with number 84, which was placed at the foot of the grave.
After three tries, they found the marker covered over with grass and leaves.
“It’s a lot of book work,” Buxton said. “Once I narrowed it down, we went out and looked at the headstones nearby. It can take a while, but I really enjoy doing this.”
The three women went to the cemetery late Thursday morning where they laid a Canadian flag, a jar of soil from the graves of other relatives and pieces of food from the feeding of the soul ceremony.
Beiter Monument Works will be creating a headstone, and the trio plans to return to the grave after it’s completed.
Through 100 years — during many of which other family members had searched for the grave — it was surreal to stand at their great-grandfather’s resting place, the women agreed.
“I think (our family) would have been proud,” Nitsopoulos said. “We were happy to find him. They wanted to know where he was and who he was.”