Monday, October 5, 2009

A Pioneer Woman's Kinfolk Chat Online and Have Ice Cream

When I was a little boy, my grandmother, parents, and I traveled out in the countryside to the Pilcher Cemetery, our family graveyard just off Four Mile Prairie in rural Brownstown, Illinois (see my 4/11 and 5/19/09 entries). As the grownups decorated graves family members, I walked back to the interesting old section and read the inscriptions. One gravestone reads "SACRED to the Memory of Comfort Williams Who Died March 30, 1847 Aged 54 Years." I knew that the large Williams family were relatives but did not know the connection of this person until I started to pursue genealogy during my junior high and high school years. Turns out, Comfort Williams is my great-great-great-grandmother.

While pursuing genealogy, I learned that about twenty direct ancestors are buried in the Pilcher Cemetery. Still fairly young at the time, I fanced that, if I happened to be at the cemetery when the Lord returned, I'd be on hand to greet my forebearers as they rose with transformed, spiritual bodies as promised in 1 Cor. 15.

A Williams cousin gave me some amazing information. Comfort's family were buried together in Obetz, Ohio: her husband, Josiah Williams (1786-1826), sister Mary (who married Josiah's brother George), and Comfort's parents, John and Margaret Weatherington. Wow! What a genealogical windfall!

Sometime during the mid-1970s I begged my parents (who still didn't let me drive very far) into visiting the small town outside Columbus, about 230 miles from my hometown. I was thrilled to stand at these graves. The first was a bronze marker that read, "Erected to the Memory of John Weatherington, Born June 23, 1755, Died in the Year 1831 *** Margaret Weatherington, Consort of John, Born Oct 23, 1759, Died Sept. 29, 1828." A relative had replaced the original tombstones with this marker. Next to it was a large slab that marked the graves of George and Mary, and next to it was a bronze marker for that couple. To the right is an unmarked grave, and then the stone of a relative named Perry Williams. The unmarked grave is probably that of Josiah. My contact said that he, too, was supposed to have had a bronze marker but she did not know why he did not.

I think sometimes about Comfort's life. She was 33 when her husband died, leaving her with five children. What did she do? By the middle of the 1830s, her parents, sister, and brother-in-law were also buried there in Obetz. Did she sense that she no longer had reason to stay in Ohio? Sometime around 1840, according to family tradition, she came to Illinois with her children and settled in the Four Mile Prairie area. She must've traveled the old National Road. Again: how did she manage? When she died, her son Josiah, my great-great-grandfather, was away in the Mexican War. One of her daughters attended to her in her last days.

I stopped by Obetz in August while traveling back from my daughter's college. I'd visited the place three or four other times since first coming here about 35 years ago. The cemetery is a large and pretty churchyard at the outskirts of the village. I can only imagine how beautiful were the virgin woodlands and prairie in that area when Josiah died in 1826, how different the scene would have looked compared to today's small-town scene. I was a couple days too early for Obetz's Zucchini Festival.
Now that we've moved to St. Louis, I'm close to some local cousins who are also descended from this side of the family. A few weeks ago a cousin-couple here in town wrote me through Facebook and invited my wife Beth and me to an evening church event with them and another cousin-couple. Afterward we all went to Steak 'n' Shake and chatted. The usual lighthearted family conversation:

"I'm going to order chili and a sundae."
"Are you getting chili on your sundae?"
"Waiter, she wants chili on her milk shake!"
"I hope you took your Lipitor."
"I did! Do you take that stuff?"
"Not Lipitor, but other kinds."
"Heather's eighth anniversary is next week. They have two little boys now!"
"When you see the waiter, tell him I want more water."
"He's over there but he hasn't looked this way for a while."
"I like the sandwiches here and also at the White Castle down the street."
"I haven't eaten there yet, but I've eaten at the one up the street from us."
"You ate there and you're still alive? I'm impressed!"

One of the things I've missed by leading a peripatetic life is losing touch with cousins. Some of us exchange Christmas cards, but when I was a boy, several cousin families got together each summer for a reunion, and sometimes more frequently. But no one in the family has organized a reunion for several years, and when get-togethers did happen I was living too far away to attend.

Say what you will about online networking sites, but thanks to Facebook I've been able to reconnect not only with old friends but also with several cousins with whom I hadn't seen or contacted for ages! We can chat a bit, offer encouraging words, and stay connected.

It's cliche to say, but what would Comfort have thought about the ability of her descendants to communicate? When she died in 1847, communication and travel were still pretty much identical; telegraphy was in its earliest days and limited to a few areas.

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