Then We Saw It, Now We Don’t…

Sadly, cemetery grave markers disappear. Finding an ancestor’s burial is further complicated by an inconsistent or even nonexistent system of burial records. Here in central Iowa, the township clerk is the person charged with maintaining cemeteries and the records. Some do, some don’t.

Gillan home2, Colfax, ILRaycemeteryIn July 1979, my family and I, travelled to McLean County, Illinois to do a bit of ancestor sleuthing. My Gillan branch lived in the area 1865 till James Gillan’s death in 1907. Stopping by the post office in this small midwest town, I was told the old home still stands and that there was a cemetery on that property as well. Directions in hand, my patient husband, young sons and I drove to the Gillan home in Martin township, then on down the road to the cemetery.

Gillan, Sarah-grave-Colfax, ILL

Sarah Gillan’s Gravestone

James Gillan had given a corner of his property, establishing a small cemetery, called Plymouth, in 1880. When his wife Sarah died in August of that year, she was buried there. One hundred years later, I showed up. In 1979, Plymouth Cemetery had fewer than ten gravestones, most broken, some unreadable. It was overgrown, obviously not maintained. We did find the grave stone for Sarah Gillan, broken from its base, but with chalk and paper deciphered the inscription.

Recently, I discovered that Findagrave.com has no listing for Sarah Gillan. Plymouth Cemetery is listed with nine burials including “Gillan unknown,” and this note left by the Findagrave.com submitter:

We found this broken tombstone in this remote cemetery in Martin Twp., McLean County, Illinois 4-2-2009. As I researched the Gillan name, I have learned the Gillan family owned property 4-5 miles south of Colfax, that is just about where this cemetery is located.

I contacted the person who submitted the information about Plymouth Cemetery to Findagrave.com and told her of my visit to the cemetery in 1979, when gravestones were there, sent her my photos and the documentation for Sarah Gillan’s burial.

Adding to the picture proof of Sarah’s burial in Plymouth Cemetery, I have a copy of her death certificate which states where she was to be buried. Then there’s the Centennial edition of the history of the area, picked up at the local library in Colfax, Illinois which contained a newsy entry on James and Sarah Gillan. Since I was kinfolk, the librarian honored me with a copy!

Cemetery, funeral home records, death certificates, obituaries and more should always be consulted whether you actually find a gravestone or not! If you are researching ancestors here in Iowa, you now have a fabulous, valuable resource on the website,  Genealogical TreasuresGT’s databases of actual records from area cemeteries and funeral homes provides you with an invaluable resource of information about your kinfolk. Several databases are now available here on GT, with many, many more to be uploaded over the next few months…take a look…find out more about your Iowa ancestors!

Getting to Know Archibald….

Published Boston, 1817

Archibald Samuel, born about 1749, is my 4th Great Grandfather. And he is my “brick wall.” My research has uncovered many facts about Archibald from the 1780’s to his death in 1832 in Caswell County, North Carolina. Archibald was a prominent part of the establishment of Caswell County in 1777, a property owner, obviously of means, a lawyer, County Commissioner, Sheriff, husband, father – all these life details found in deeds, books and various old documents. Even with much documented proof of his occupation and community activities,  the mystery remains as to where he was born, his parents’ names or how he is related to the other people of the Samuel surname in the county!

The search for ancestors often yields only the outline of their lives…birth, marriage, death, maybe occupation or military records too. When we happen on evidence of the person they were, their interests, beliefs, interactions, maybe sense of humor, it is rewarding indeed.

And so it was with Archibald Samuel when I discovered his purchase of a set of books in 1817. I found reference to this purchase in William S. Powell’s book,  When the Past Refused to Die, History of Caswell County, North Carolina, 1777-1977, as follows:  “In 1819, seven sets of the ‘State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency‘ were purchased in Caswell County. Only fourteen subscribers throughout the state bought this twelve-volume set. Those who added this useful source book to their libraries were John Daniel, James Daniel, Fred W. Pleasants, Archibald Samuel, James Sanders, Joseph Sanders and Charles Wilson.” (p. 408)

Archibald Samuel lived through the American Revolution and is said to have served in the Army. He lived in an geographic area where battles were close by, most of the men of the area were patriots, many served as Officers in the military and were loyal to the cause. Archibald was also involved in his community as legal professional, and the business and development of his county. It can be assumed that Archibald Samuel was well read and as a patriot himself, an admirer of George Washington. He was no doubt delighted in purchasing, owning and reading this 12 volume set of books*. Did Archibald have a library in his home in Milton, North Carolina?

I wondered if the book set, State Papers and Publick Documents of the United States from the Accession of George Washington to the Presidency, might still exist today, shelved in libraries today. Yes! Found it on “Open Library” and is available for reading in a variety of formats. WorldCat has it catalogued and it is available for inter-library loan.

Archibald bought his set of these volumes in 1819. Likely, they were the second edition printed and published in 1817 “under the patronage of Congress, including confidential documents, now first published.” (1817 edition published by T.B. Watt and Sons, Boston). I can picture Archibald Samuel, sitting by his fireside with candles burning, reading his books. I wonder if he made notes in the margins….

*You, too, can read State Papers and Publik Documents of the United States from Accession of George Washington to the Presidency: Exhibiting a Complete View of our Foreign Relations Since that Time…..”   You can access and read this book at Hathitrust Digital Library:   https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044106526460;view=1up;seq=13

 

The book is great reading and informs well of the thought and culture of the post Revolutionary War era, the organization of the new government, replete with political wrangling and personalities of the founders too. As you read this book, digitalized form, think of Archibald reading his book by candlelight in 1819 in Milton, Caswell County, NC.

 

 

 

Place Studies…or “Yah Gotta Know the Territory!”

James-SarahYour ancestors lived in and were a part of a community. They may have purchased land, attended school, voted, celebrated life events, gone to war, owned a local business, advertised in the local paper, attended church, or broke the law! And there could be a record of any one of those everyday occurrences in a life. Clues, possible records await, but as the Music Man said, “yah gotta know the territory.”

Family historians often hunt for the most obvious of life event records – birth, marriage, death – but with some knowledge of the place, the life of your ancestors could become far more complete, even colorful! A study of place, within the timeframe of your ancestor(s) life there will very likely yield new discoveries about them.

Last month I wrote about Eva Gillan and her siblings, who in the 1870-80’s attended Illinois Wesleyan College in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. Eva’s parents, James and Sarah McClure Gillan, were Irish immigrants from County Antrim, arriving in Philadelphia about 1846, where they stayed about 2 years. According to James’ obit in 1907, the family migrated to Tazewell County, Illinois, “traveling by steamboat down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Pekin [Illinois].”
What no wagon train?! No, the Gillan family traveled from Philadelphia to Pekin, Illinois by waterways (this tidbit found in a county history). This is a researchable moment…was this a common mode of travel in the 1850’s? What records exist of the steamboats and river travel of the time? Maybe passenger records exist. How much would it have cost? How long did it take?

After a few years in Tazewell County, James and Sarah moved to the next county, McLean (1865). James bought a large farm of 600 acres. At that time, McLean County was a prosperous place with a sizable population, flourishing businesses and train service. In 1850, Illinois Wesleyan College was established in Bloomington, Illinois.

From my research, I found that James help establish a school in his area, gave land for a cemetery, served as a county supervisor and Justice of the Peace in McLean County. He and Sarah were literate and educated people who sent at least 5 of their 10 children through school and on to college at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State at Normal….daughters too!

How did I find out the Gillan children went to Illinois Wesleyan…or that James was so active in his community? Hints in daughter, Eva’s obit about her going to Wesleyan and Illinois State. So I contacted both schools and was able to get transcripts and other details on siblings who attended. Schools have archives and I’ve found helpful historians and librarians at schools who are glad to help. The archivist at Wesleyan also sent me a copy of book about the history of not only Wesleyan, but the development of McLean County.

Getting to know McLean County involved contacting the area libraries, courthouses, exploring county history books and genealogy journals and newspapers in the area. The local courthouse, too, yielded land records, estate and death records. I was able to find Gillan relatives and descendants of James or his siblings still living in the area, leading to a fruitful exchange of family research and adding cousins too. There was even a story of James’ horses running off with his buggy in the local press!

James Gillan (wife, Sarah died 1880) lived in Martin township, McLean County from 1865 till his death in 1907. It was a time of great changes in that county and “knowing more about the territory” certainly led to finding more about their lives and who they were too.