John Foulk

![John and Martha Foulk](IMG_1587.jpg)

John Foulk and his wife, Martha Morrow, were the pioneers who broke ground on our little bit of Illinois prairie and ultimately built the house we think of as our Homestead. They were also my Great-Great-Great Grandparents. The entry that follows is meant to capture and reflect what is known about him and his life. In addition to being a blog entry, a more permanent entry will be available on the site here, and that will be updated and revised as information and providence allow.

John Foulk was born on June 14, 1822, in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, to Daniel Foulk and Susan Harsher.

He moved from Pennsylvania to Wayne County, Ohio with his parents. The age at which this occurred is unclear, but he appears to have been young at the time. Records indicate that he worked as a farmhand as a boy in Ohio because his father was "in limited financial circumstances and it was necessary that the son provide for his own support" (PPLC).

John Foulk appears to have learned a thing or two from this experience, because he "later" rented land in Ohio, cleared it, and "lived life in the pioneer style" (PPLC). Records suggest that he did well at this, and ultimately purchased 80 acres of "good land" to work before deciding to move to Illinois.

He met Martha Morrow in Ohio, and married her on November 2, 1843. He would have been 21 years of age, and she 20. They lived together in Ohio for a time, and had four or five children:

  • John Henry Foulk, born 10/3/1845
  • Mary Elizabeth Foulk, born 6/1/1849
  • Daniel Morrow Foulk, born 7/30/1853
  • Frank Albert Foulk, born 2/25/1856

![John Henry, Mary, and Frank Foulk](IMG_1588.jpg)

John Henry, Mary, and Frank Foulk - year unknown, but Frank looks to be about 2 years old.

There is also a reference to a son named “Henry Foulk" noted in one of John Foulk’s obituaries, but it’s unclear whether this is an additional child, or a reference to his son John by the middle name. A second obituary says that he only had three children. The Foulk Family Bible (FFB) lists the four children above, and given that it is just about as close as we will get to a first person account, seems to be likely to be the most reliable source. The reference to three children in one obituary may reflect the early passing of Daniel Morrow Foulk, who died in January 1854, just shy of 6 months of age.

John took his family from Ohio to Illinois. PPLC suggests he purchased property in Mendota in 1850, but other records suggest he did not come to Illinois until 1856 (his youngest son, Frank, was born in Ohio in 1856). He is said to have first purchased 200 acres in Mendota, and later another 500. The land that he bought was "wild and unimproved. There were no trees or fences or buildings upon the place and every evidence of pioneer life was here seen" (PPLC). Indeed, the settlers who moved to the area before him had mostly settled in the woodland groves along the waterways, preferring the shelter and abundance of the forested land to the windswept prairie.

He may have lived in Mendota for a period of time before moving his family out to the Homestead. In moving out to the Homestead he appears to have brought a large supply along with him, as he moved "bringing a carload of horses and another of cattle and goods, including farm wagons, harness, etc" (PPLC). The entry in PPLC that provides this says that he "made the journey over the Fort Wayne Railroad". There was indeed a railroad system that connected Ohio to Illinois existing in the era, and one suspects this is what is referred to here, meaning that it’s a reference to how he moved his stock, supply, and equipment from Ohio to Illinois. The line from Fort Wayne appears to end at the I&M Canal in 1850, which would suggest he’d have traveled over land from Kanakakee to Mendota. That’s a day’s travel at walking speed over modern roads. Perhaps a bit less if he’d loaded his stock on to barges to take the canal from Kankakee to LaSalle.

On this trip he and Martha would have been traveling with their three surviving children, the older two at eleven and seven years of age, and the youngest who was less than a year old. Martha may have had her sister along with her - Barbara Morrow, ten years Martha’s senior, is shown as living in the home in later census records, though it’s unclear if she was along at the beginning, or joined them later. This would have been quite an adventure for John and possibly for Mary, but anyone who has traveled with an infant in modern times can imagine what this would have been like for the multiple day trek it would have involved.

Regardless, it seems they would have arrived well stocked and supplied to begin their lives on the prairie. John and Martha would have been in their early 30’s as they began their lives with their family on the Illinois prairie. He first built a small house (or cabin) on the property, set at the northeast corner, to give them a home while the Homestead was constructed. If they arrived in 1856, as seems most feasible, they would have lived in their small home for about five years before the Homestead was complete.

Materials for the home were likely hauled in from Chicago (JJ), and it would have been taken time to build. And lest we forget and think that this was simply empty, unused land, the family stories talk about Native Americans coming to their little cabin, looking in, and asking for food. They were not alone.

John Foulk made his money primarily in the raising of livestock. He had success at this, as reflected in PPLC and his obituary:

He was very successful as an agriculturist and stockman and at one time brought the best drives of hogs ever taken to Mendota being in number 111, averaging 500 pounds and brought 8¢ per pound. At another time he had on his farm 2200 sheep and in this city sold two loads of wood for $4526.00.

We don’t have the exact year that this sale occurred in, but if we assume 1865 for purposes of comparison, an online inflation calculator suggests that John’s load of sheep would have brought him over $70,000.00 in 2017 dollars. So he was doing well (and what ever happened to the days of putting this sort of information into an obituary?). Google Books allows us to know that, with respect to those sheep, he raised Spanish Merino’s (perhaps among other breeds), and that he was competitive about it. He is listed as taking "second premium" for a "pen of three ewes under two years old" at the Illinois State Fair of 1864 (this as reported in the riveting Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society, with Reports from county and district agricultural societies and kindred associations, Volume V, 1861-64 - all kidding aside, Google can turn up some obscure things with a search).

In addition to these types of livestock, John Foulk was also a fancier of draft horses. PPLC credits him as having probably done "more to improve the grade of draft horses raised than any other man in the county". He is listed as an Illinois member of the American Clydesdale Association in their Clydesdale Stud Book: Volume V, published in 1890. A search today, in October 2018, finds he also shows up in later volumes, and that his name is associated with multiple hits in these books, including records of purchases and sales. One such purchase, in Volume 7, bought from Jas. I. Davidson in March of 1880, was for a horse named President 44. For fun, let me note some of the other horse names associated with him in this Volume include Jock, Daisy, Maud, Button, Lady Flora (all apparently names given by him and/or his family) and Lady of Burnside (which he purchased).

His agricultural interests ran deep, and he appears to have presented as a leader of sorts in the community. One obituary states "For years he was president of the Mendota Union Fair Association and later a director in the Mendota Fair and Agricultural Society".

He did not do this alone - he was busy and successful enough that he had hired workers assisting him, some of whom lived in our Homestead, likely in the worker’s area to the back of the house. One census record indicates that John Semens, a 22 year old Farm Laborer, and Lavina Fortney, a 21-year old woman working under the census title of "servant", lived in the home with them.

All of this suggests a man who is diligent, hard working, self-sufficient, and successful, and all of that is true. But we know he was not a perfect man. PPLC artfully states that John Foulk remarried to Jennie M. Johnson after Martha passed. This could technically be true - at this time I don’t have information to indicate when the second marriage actually occurred, if it ever did. What we do know, however, is that John Foulk took up with Jennie well before Martha passed - PPLC appears to be attempting to be artful here in how they present what must certainly have been scandalous information for its time.

Family lore (JJ) indicates that Jennie Johnson was traveling with gypsies - this not being the generic term for people who tend to move from place to place, but actual Romani peoples in the US - as an indentured servant. He is said to have traded a team of horses and a wagon for her. Charitably one could say that he was buying her freedom. It’s not clear how their intitial encounter occurred, or what his intentions were when he did this. It does appear, however, that he took her into his home with his wife and family, which would have included at least his youngest son in the home at the time. It’s also clear that he moved out some time after this, taking Jennie with him and leaving the Homestead to Frank, and that Martha also stayed behind.

This latter event is suggested to have occurred in 1880 by one of his obituaries. Martha passed away some thirteen years after that, bringing the veracity of "remarrying after her passing" into clear question. He and Jennie are said to have had two children, but that both died young. Thus far no other information about them appears to be available.

When he moved out, he moved to the "Blackstone Farm", an area of Mendota which would now likely be the southwestern end of the town (there is an elementary school by the name of Blackstone in the area). Little information seems to be available about this time in his life, though the livestock records suggest he was still active. It’s unclear whether that was at the farm out by the Homestead, at the Blackstone farm, or perhaps both.

One of his obituaries states that "in 1902 he moved to a farm one mile east of Mendota where he remained until death". It’s not clear with current information where, exactly, this was, though an obituary indicates it was in “section 34, at the east edge of the city".

John Foulk would have lived in this location for about four years until he passed away on January 18, 1907. He was survived by his partner, Jennie, his son Arthur, and his daughter Mary. Martha passed before him in September of 1903. He is buried in a family plot at Restland cemetery at the northern edge of Mendota.

John Foulk’s Gravestone

References Mentioned:

  • Past and Present of LaSalle County (PPLC)
  • FFB - Foulk Family Bible (FFB)
  • Joel Johnson (JJ) - and it should be noted that multiple other bits and pieces of information herein also likely come from my Uncle Joel - he’s an avid family historian and a delightful storyteller when it comes to family history. Many of the photos are also courtesy of Joel.
  • Clydesdale Stud Book: Volume V, Published 1890
  • Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society, with Reports from county and district agricultural societies and kindred associations, Volume V, 1861-64
  • Two Obituaries that were found as clippings online - unfortunately without any reference to the paper in which they appeared.

Genealogical Contradictions

Doing genealogical research on family members must gives a bit of an idea as to the struggles historians encounter while they are trying to put together a more-or-less accurate picture of a person’s life. For some time I’ve been working on getting together information on many family members as a part of the family tree. In most cases this is just to gather a more complete picture. But in some cases there are more direct relatives for whom I’d like to be able to include profiles here as permanent portions of this page. Chief among these is John Foulk, my great-great-great grandfather. This takes a priority for me because he is the builder of our Homestead.

The frustration comes from the variations in sources of information. Now, as one moves back to the mid-1800’s and before, those sources become few and far between. But even with that said, it’s surprising the contradictions one can encounter. I have, thus far, encountered the following references for John Foulk:

  • Past and Present of LaSalle County (PPLC), 1906, Pages 937-938 (or 1025-1026 of the google books edition).
  • Two obituaries - one of which baldly plagiarizes PPLC, and the other which seems somewhat more independent.
  • Transactions of the Illinois State Agricultural Society, with Reports from County and District Agricultural Societies, Volume V, 1861-64 (one brief mention)
  • American Clydesdale Stud Book, Volume V, 1890, which lists John Foulk as a member and has minutes of a meeting he may have attended, but a scan of it suggests he did not speak if he was there.
  • Martha Morrow and John Foulk’s family Bible, which my uncle has; and
  • My Uncle

To his credit, my Uncle does not seem to provide contradictions, and one can more or less assume that the few family entries in the Bible are probably accurate. The other sources, however vary considerably in value and agreement. For example:

  • PPLC indicates that he purchased property in Illinois in 1850, but his more independent obituary says that he didn’t move to the state until 1856. His son Frank was born in Ohio in 1856, which lends credence to his obituary over PPLC.
  • The contradiction above has knock-on effects: We know that he first built a small house on the property to live in while the Homestead was constructed. Given that the house was built in 1861, if PPLC is correct they would have lived in their little pioneer home for the better part of a decade before the Homestead was complete. The time is about half that otherwise.
  • Sources list between 3 and 5 children.
  • PPLC artfully suggests that John Foulk remarried after Martha passed away. However, one of the obituaries indicates that he moved into "town" (Mendota) in 1880, and that he remarried after his first wife died in November of 1885. Martha Morrow, his first wife, never moved into town, and she died in 1903 (as indicated on her gravestone). Family lore reflects that he took up with another woman and moved out. The rest of this is perhaps purposeful obfuscation to preserve his legacy?
  • The more independent of the biographies indicates that he and his second wife had two children that did not survive to adulthood. Those additional children do not appear at all in PPLC...

And so on. I’m quite certain others doing this type of work have uncovered similar inconsistencies and contradictions - that my experience is neither unusual or special. But it does bring into question how information was gathered for these sources, and what decisions were made when compiling them. PPLC is a compendium of short biographies for all sorts of early settlers in the area. It was published in 1906, the year before John Foulk’s death. Who was their source for the information they provide (perhaps John Foulk himself, or one of his surviving children)? Did they do any fact checking or otherwise verify what they were publishing?

A Mr. U.J. Hoffman, County Superintendent of Schools from 1894-1906, is listed as the author, but his work is indicated as being "Together With Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Prominent and Leading Citizens and Illustrious Dead".


This would suggest that he’s the author of the first portion of the book, which relates information about LaSalle County back to its earliest days, but that he’s not the scribe for the “Biographical Sketches", which frankly comprise most of the book. And his preface (or "Prefatory") indicates his purpose to the book is in "awakening a patriotic appreciation of our country and people near home", and with respect to the early pioneers "to awaken in the reader an appreciation of their heroism and worth".

All of which suggests that he’s not going to write or print about anything that might suggest a less than favorable light his subjects.

This would explain quite a bit about this source, but also bring its veracity sharply into question.

So the work goes on, and these details and contradictions make it clear that, regardless of effort and intention, the picture presented will ultimately, always, be an imperfect one.

The Allens at Ellsworth Cemetery

I noted, in my entry about Ellsworth Cemetery last week, that I’d come to find the grave sites for Emeline Johnson, the daughter of Smith H “Prairie” Johnson and Ziba K Tompkins, my Great-Great-Great Grandparents, and her kin. Many of the graves at Ellsworth Cemetery have become difficult to read, but in the case of Emeline Johnson (Allen), she and her family have not yet faded away.

She married Nathaniel Chandler Allen, and they are both interred here:

Nathaniel and Emeline Allen

Curiously, the marker does not include her date of passing, which her obituary indicates was July 18, 1920. One presumes that the marker was purchased and placed some time following Nathaniel’s passing, and well before hers, and so the spot was left open to be completed when she died - this is a common practice, and you can readily find stones in modern cemeteries where this is the case. I do not believe, however, I’ve seen an example where the date of passing simply never got completed. All but one of Emeline’s five children preceded her in death, so perhaps the resources to have it completed were simply unavailable.

Most of her children are also buried here, either memorialized on the other sides of the family stone, or with their own marker. The youngest is heartbreaking:

Lula or Lulo

My records say “Lula", while the stone reads "Lulo", but in either case she lived only four days. Emeline would have been 39 years old at the time of her birth, so one wonders if (or suspects that) there were complications.

Her oldest, Cora, married Terry George Stevens. What can be pieced together about her history suggests that they lived in Shabbona, IL, for a time, and then moved out west. She had two children before moving - Roy Erwin and Guy Demmon Stevens, and a third in Montana - Bertha Myrtle Stevens (Brown). Bertha was born two years before Cora died, which would suggest that Cora passed away while living out west. This would mean that, despite living in Montana or, perhaps, Idaho (more on this in a moment), her body was returned to Illinois to be buried in this family plot:

Cora B Allen (Stevens)

From my modern perspective on the past, it seems like the effort of transporting a body back to Illinois would have been quite a chore in 1900. Perhaps this was a wish of Cora’s, or of her family being met by Mr. Stevens. Ironically, perhaps, it appears that, according to her obituary, Emeline also died in Idaho, while "visiting". One assumes this visit was with her grandchild Roy, who later died in Idaho, while her son-in-law and the other children had moved on to California.

Her son Rufus C Allen died in the Philippines while serving in the Infantry. His memorial on the stone indicates both the date of his death, and of his burial, no doubt to make a record of the fact that it took over a year for his body to arrive home for internment. This is also noted in his obituary.

Aranda Franklin Allen, Emeline’s third child, passed in 1919, less than a year before his mother, and is buried next to the family stone:

Aranda Franklin Allen

Clarendon Smith Allen, her fourth child, was born in 1872 and died in 1948, and is buried in Kaneville Cemetery in Kane Counthy, Illinois. Curiously, findagrave lists only one sibling for him - Rufus - and only as a half-sib. This seems unlikely to be correct.

Allen Family Mysteries

I’ve been listing the order of Emeline’s children numerically based upon the information that I’ve had up to this point, but it’s possible I’m missing some clues. The obituary of Aranda Allen is also available on Geneology Trails, and it contains some mysteries:

ARANDA FRANKLIN ALLEN - was born August 22, 1868, at Allen's Grove, and died September 24, 1919, at the old home where he was living. He leaves his mother, Mrs. Emaline Allen of Dixon; _two sisters, Mrs. Ed Davis of Glen Ferry, Idaho, and Mrs. James Bend of this place_; and two brothers, Clarendon and Adelbert, besides many other relatives and friends to mourn their loss. Services were held at the home, Rev. P. R. McMahan of the Methodist Church officiating. Appropriate music was furnished by Mr. and Mrs. F. E. Nangle, and the interment was in Ellsworth cemetery. (Emphases added)

The records that I have indicate only one sister, Cora, surviving into adulthood, and she had died before Aranda. Who are the other two women this obituary refers to? In the infuriating style of the time, they are referred to only in terms of their existence as a wife, and so their given names are not recorded here. And what’s more, while my records reflect Clarendon Allen, there is another brother, Adelbert, noted here, of whom I have no record. If this is correct, Emeline would have had eight children rather than five. This would have been consistent with family tradition - she appears to have been one of 10 children herself. But it demonstrates the limits one encounters when dealing with incomplete information in any database. does list a James Anthony Bend buried in Dixon, Illinois, who was married to Blanche M Allen (Bend), who is buried with her husband. They died less than a month apart, and while the site lists abundant information about James, Blanche has only her relationship to her husband to identify her. Being born in 1878 would have put her six years after Clarendon and five before Lula, which is feasible.

Similarly, there is an Edward C Davis buried at Glenn Rest Cemetery in Glenns Ferry Idaho (and he appears to be the only Ed Davis buried in the county), as is his wife, Nettie E Davis. Findagrave indicates she was born in 1864, and died in 1939. Being born in 1864 puts her at two years after Cora and two years before Rufus, which, again, is feasible.

Adelbert, well, he remains a mystery. You’d expect a name like Adelbert to be easy to track down. There are only three identified in all of Illinois on findagrave. However, one was born the same year as Lula, which is clearly not feasible, and the other two were born in 1855 and 1857, when Emeline would have been 11 and 13 years old, respectively. A nationwide search finds fully 40 people by the name Adelbert Allen (seriously!). Most of these can be ruled out by year of birth alone, and others by the identification of parents on the site who are not Nathaniel and Emeline, or a birth location that is not northern Illinois. However, there is one possibility:

Adelbert R Allen was born in 1875 (which is feasible for a child of Emeline) and, while location of birth is not identified, he is buried in Glenn Rest Cemetery in Glenn’s Ferry Idaho, the same place as Ed and Nettie Davis. Perhaps he traveled west with his sister and brother-in-law?

The final mystery is the "correct" spelling of Emeline’s name. Her obituary spells it as I have done here, but her grave stone uses an "a" in the place of the second "e": "Emaline". It’s spelled with the "a" in Aranda’s obituary, but with the "e" in Rufus’s. It’s certainly the case that spelling was more fluid in the 1800’s, but you’d think she might have had a specific preference...


I don’t typically delve quite so far into the details of doing genealogical research here, but I thought I’d leave this as a nice example of what the process looks like. One can spend a fair amount of time searching for information, only to find twists - like three additional family members - around the next corner. And then we land on only partial clues, as with Adelbert and Nettie, where the connection is suggested, but where anything more tangible is likely to remain out of reach.

Percy Wade

One of the ongoing joys of living in a family homestead is the gift it gives of allowing one to routinely walk in the footsteps of one’s ancestors. But this is only true for one side of family. The homestead is the product of my mother’s side of the family.

Getting a bead on my father’s ancestry is more challenging. For his part, my dad has been known to say that this is because his side of the family was made up of “gypsies and horse thieves”. There’s a bit of truth to this - family members on his side moved around quite a bit, and lived in the intensely rural north-central part of the state, sometimes bleeding across the Mississippi into Missouri and Iowa.

This means that, when the opportunity presents itself to get a better understanding I try to take it. Last weekend the weather and my time conspired to allow me to take a ride along the Hennepin Canal State Park Trail. While this would have been fun in and of itself, it offered some familial connection because my Great Grandfather Percy Wade worked as a Lock Tender on the Canal. Specifically, he worked at Lock 12, which was the target of my ride.

It starts to give me a feel for this man who was previously little more than an abstract idea for me. Between the trip to Lock 12 and available records, these are the things we know about this man:

Percy Leroy Wade was born in 1896 in Bureau County, and died in 1962, nearly a decade before I was born.

Percy was one of six or possibly 8 children - 3 girls and either 3 or 5 boys - born to George Washington Wade (these types of names were popular for the era - we also have at least one Benjamin Franklin in the family) and Sarah Amelia Ireland. I say "possibly" because lists two additional boys in his generation, both younger than Percy, who don’t otherwise appear on the census information from 1900 or 1910. The additional boys - Irvin Charles and James Monroe Wade (there’s another of those names) - have birthdates of 1905 and 1907 respectively, so they should be in the home on the 1910 census, but they don’t appear there:

1910 Census

1910 Census - close up

Now it is the case that the family does run down to the bottom of the page, but the following page is also available, and they don’t appear to continue there. It’s conceivable, I suppose, that the record keepers just decided it would be too confusing to have the remaining two kids continue on the next page and, given that they would have been about five and three years of age, just chose to drop them off. There are other errors or points of confusion in the census - in 1900 George’s wife is listed as "Carrie A", and in 1910 as “Sarah A". He could have remarried, one supposes, but both women have the same birthdate...

If Ancestry were correct, Percy would have been a middle child in the group. It seems more likely that he was the second youngest. Two of his sisters - Jessie and Nina - became teachers and frequently came up in the local papers due to one school function or the other. His parents were both born in Illinois, and appear to be first generation Illinoisans - though this is sketchy, as the birthplace of both of their parents is again, different between the 1900 and 1910 census’s. According to the 1900 census, George’s parents were born in Kentucky (father) and Maryland (mother), while Sarah’s (or "Carrie’s") were from Pennsylvania (father) and Ohio (mother). In 1910 George is consistent with the information about his father’s birthplace, but now his mother is from Iowa, while Sarah’s father is now from Illinois while her mother continues to hail from Ohio. Did they change what they reported 10 years later, or did a census taker make an error? There’s quite a difference between Maryland and Iowa, and as well between Illinois and Pennsylvania...

Percy’s father was a farmer and by 1910 one of his brothers, Harry, was also working as a farm laborer. Interesting, his oldest brother is listed as working as a telegraph repairman. Percy, at 14 years of age, hadn’t yet entered the work world in 1910.

When he was 21 years old, in 1917, Percy’s draft card says he was a tall man of "medium" build (the other options were "slender" and "stout"), with brown hair and blue eyes. He was living on Rural Route 2 in Tiskilwa, Illinois, and working as a farm laborer for John Albrecht. He was already married by then. It’s unclear from what I have at the moment whether he served in the military - the First World War persisted until 1918, but his draft card was filled out pretty late in the game - June of 1917. Also, he was claiming an exemption from the draft on the card, specifically due to "support of wife", so one suspects he may have managed to avoid service.

Percy’s Draft Card pg 1

Percy’s Draft Card pg 2

His first wife was Anna Amelia Tolene. She was the daughter of Swedish immigrants, though she appears to have been born in Illinois. Her parents spoke Swedish, according to the census, and one suspects she may have as well. Together they had two children - my Grandpa Glen, and Lorene Marie Eleanor Wade. Marie, which she appears to have gone by, died unfortunately young, just shy of her 12th birthday.

When he worked as a Lockman on the canal is unclear - in 1920 his is still indicated as a farm laborer, and by 1930 he is listed as a foreman at, I believe, the Zinc Plant in DePue - his job specifically says "Lithophone Plant", I think (it’s hard to read), and the Internet says Lithophone (or Lithopone) is a pigment used in Zinc, so that’s my extrapolation.

Given the history of the canal itself, it seems most likely he worked there at some point between 1920 and 1930. What is known, through family lore, is that he worked specifically at Lock 12. Picturing this originally I would have thought of this as a basic day job - travel from home to take a shift at the lock raising and lowering barges and boats through the lock, then travel back home. What I did not realize is that this was a far larger affair. The lockmen lived on the canal, with housing provided. They were responsible for operating the locks, maintaining and repairing the canal as needed, and had workshops and outbuildings to assist them in these tasks. In the winter they cut ice off of the canal to sell; this to help fund canal operations (somewhere we have family pictures of them hauling ice - understanding this role suggests that it’s Percy in those pictures). In short, it was as much a lifestyle as it was a job.

And it would have been a rustic lifestyle. While housing was provided, the homes had neither electricity nor running water. This wouldn't, perhaps, have been terribly unusual for the era - the region was, and remains, very rural. Percy’s son - my grandfather - was born in 1918, and his daughter in 1924. One can imagine family pressures ultimately driving the decision towards taking work that offers, say, the opportunity for indoor plumbing...

I mentioned that I had an opportunity to see Lock 12, riding out to it. The house and maintenance buildings are long since gone, and the site, accessed via trike on the towpath, feels very remote. It really gives a feel for the lifestyle that one would be embracing choosing this work.

At Lock 12 Arriving at Lock 12

Looking about it is clearly an isolated spot:

nothing but trees, grass, and water

Lock 12 is somewhat special in and of itself because it was the site of one of the nine aqueducts along the canal - huge concrete troughs that carried the canal water and traffic over rivers and streams in the area. In the case of Lock 12, it rose some 20 feet or so above Big Bureau Creek. Six of the aqueducts still remain, but Lock 12 is not one of them. Instead the trough was replaced with a piping system that runs under the creek and rises up back into the canal on the far side.

Bureau Creek below Bureau Creek below, with pilings likely from the old aqueduct

The canal ends here Canal is walled off above Bureau Creek...

big drain ...Goes down this drain...

water bubbling up ...and bubbles up on the other side.

Anna, Percy’s first wife, died in 1940 at the very young age of 42 years. Percy later remarried, and my father still refers at times to "Grandma Mattie" - Mattie Wade Lampkin.

Mattie survived him. Percy passed away in June of 1962, at 66 years of age. He is buried at Elm Lawn Cemetery in Princeton, Illinois, alongside both of his wives and his daughter.

Percy Wade

Anna and Lenore

Grandma Mattie

all together

Historical References

I return periodically to conducting family research, and one of the more interesting parts of that is combing through historical documents trying to find some mention of an ancestor. Sometimes searches come up with nothing, and sometimes you find something good.

Today was an example of the latter.

Some time ago, on, I came across a piece of posted media about John Foulk. It was a short biography discussion his life before coming to Illinois as well as his time on the prairie. The title line at the top of the page indicates the book is called Past and Present of LaSalle County. This shows up in searches - in Google books, among other locations - but the version that shows up was published in 1877. A text search of that version does not find John Foulk, however. This is not surprising, given that the text refers to his "having continued farming operations until 1902" and notes that he has "now retired... having reached the age of eighty-four years". John Foulk was born in 1822, so this would put the manuscript right around 1906 - nearly 30 years after the version available online.

Still, while I could not find the book I was looking for (I suspect this may actually require a trip to the library - you know, that physical location where they keep the dead tree versions of books), I did come across an interesting resource:

Digital Research Library of Illinois History provides a list of history references for each county in the state. And for fun, it also lists counties, like Marquette, which have since been abolished. There are four references for LaSalle County, and six for Lee. These are all vintage references - the newest in this list is from 1918. But this is the very sort of perspective one is looking for when it comes to this sort of research.

One does find that the editors of these tomes feels no compunction against reprinting material from earlier sources - there is word for word repetition in some, albeit with credit given to the original authors. Still, this is hardly surprising. When one is working with historical accounts this specific, there will only be a handful of potential sources to choose from. And one does find that later sources seem to have edited down longer accounts. For example, while I did not find the information I was looking for about John Foulk, I did find references to three ancestors from another part of the family - Smith H. "Prairie" Johnson, and his sons Benjamin Franklin and Truman Johnson. These included accounts of how Prairie got his nickname, as well as the fact that BF Johnson was the Commissioner of the Inlet Swamp Drainage District (undoubtedly quite an honor), and of the fact that Truman’s marriage to Mary Melugin was the third to occur in Viola Township.

This is not extensive information, but they are little details that help flesh out and humanize people from the past. I find, reading through them, that I begin to get a glimpse into the lives that they had.

The Digital Research Library provides more than a simple list. The links listed that I’ve followed thus far each have provided an apparently complete PDF of the book in question. Though the text is not searchable, opening these into a good PDF reader (I’d suggest something like PDF Expert) gives you a text you can visually search through fairly quickly and efficiently.

I’m looking forward to digging through more of the links on the page. And, I suppose, eventually working my way to the library to see if they have a slightly more updated copy of Past and Present of LaSalle County...

Old Pictures

One of the many upsides to doing genealogical research is having the opportunity to look through old family photos and get a glance - however fleeting - into the lives of ones ancestors. In the house itself we have a handful of pictures, and family members have allowed for the gathering of others.

While I enjoy them all, I was particularly impressed to find that my uncle, who is certainly our foremost family historian, had pictures of three pairs of my generation’s third-great (great-great-great) grandparents. This is delightful and surprising, as these are people born in the first half of the 1800’s or, in one case, late in the 1700’s. None of them were born in, or really anywhere near, their final settlements in Illinois.

Here are Smith H. "Prairie" Johnson and Ziba Johnson (née Tompkins):

Prairie and Ziba Johnson

Prairie has the distinction of being the earliest born of the bunch, in 1797 in Vermont. Ziba was several years younger than he, born in 1809 and hailing from New York. Both are buried in Fisk Cemetery.

Joel Compton and Nancy Compton (née Townsend):

Joel and Nancy Compton

Joel and Nancy were born in 1819 and 1824, respectively. He was from New Jersey and she from Pennsylvania, and my records indicate that they were married in Pennsylvania in 1842. They opened a general store and a town that became their namesake was founded around them. Both are buried in Melugin Grove Cemetery.

John Foulk and Martha Foulk (née Morrow):

John and Martha Foulk

Both born in 1822, John was born in Pennsylvania, while Martha hailed from Ohio. These folks are the builders of our old house, the people responsible for the living history around me each day. They are buried at Restland Cemetery in a family plot.

These photos give a glimpse into their lives, and give a reference for our modern day family. Photography would have been a new technology in their times, making the existence of these pictures all the more remarkable. Clearly, these moments were special occasions, and you can see in the shots that they’ve selected their finery, such as it was. Nancy Compton, in particular, is decked out in necklaces, ribbons, and earrings.

It’s interesting to consider as one looks through these and considers current day family members where the resemblances lie - who looks like a Compton, a Johnson, a Foulk, from days of old. Or does a given person perhaps more resemble one of the other third greats, for whom we may not have pictures? There are, of course, six of these per parent, 12 to consider in all...

Part of the long-term goal is to have these pictures and the known stories about these folk preserved in order to know them better myself, but also to allow for others to know them. Having this ability is a gift many are not given, whether due to poor family record keeping or, often, due to the unfortunate nature of how their ancestors arrived into our country. It seems appropriate to make of that gift what we can.

Searl Ridge Cemetery


In the latter part of this past summer I had an opportunity to search out and find Searl Ridge Cemetery. This little site is tucked away in one of the more rural areas of the already very rural Bureau County here in Illinois. Many of the ancestors on my father’s side of the family lived in this area, and I was interested in this site in particular because it includes the gravesite of my great-great grandparents.

I often like to bike or trike to visit these graveyards, but Searl Ridge is a good 30+ miles from home. I may work up to that type of distance, but I’m not there yet, so when one of LB’s Cross Country meets took us into Bureau County I took the opportunity to find it. Like many of these older cemeteries, it’s clear that the site has been cared for. Still, the degree of this declines over time, likely as descendants move out past the generations that actively remember those interned within. As a testament to this, the iron fence and sign have on it a plaque indicating it was "donated by M.R. Clark [and] R.L. Clark, 1994". This seems, to a person from my era, like recent attention paid to the site by benefactors until one realizes that 1994 was 23 years ago...

There are other indications of change as well. As is often the case, I found this site through This site often includes pictures not just of gravestones, but also of the entranceway to the graveyard itself, which can be helpful when things are hidden away behind trees and the like. The black fence and sign here are unmistakable, but to the right of the sign there is a building foundation with charred remnants of its former occupant.

Charred Remnants

I’d saved the entranceway photo from findagrave back when I first came across the location. It’s unclear when that photo was taken, but the building was still present at that time.


When you enter the cemetery you see that someone cared about this site not just enough to put up a fence, but also to make an informational sign:

Searl Ridge Sing

The sign was put up as part of a restoration project that appears to have started back in 2007, according to this article from BCRNews. The building that is gone was The Ridge Chapel. The cemetery, the chapel, as well as some history about the buildings, are touched on here by Avra Valley John on his site Off the Beaten Path in Illinois. The article, which is from March of 2017, refers to the chapel as being present, which suggests it burned relatively recently. A comment on his site suggests it was in very poor repair so it’s possible the fire was intentional, though vandalism also rears its ugly head out in rural areas.

Also referred to in these sources is the old schoolhouse, which is still there:


Avra Valley John indicates the structure, built in 1875, is the third school built on the site. The first was a log cabin which hosted the first classes in 1837. This was replaced by another building in 1860, and then the current building, pictured, built in 1875. The history on the sign indicates that it continued to be used as a school until 1947.

The graveyard itself is like many in the region, with stones ranging in age from the mid-1800s to the late 1970’s (at least), in varying states of repair:



Several of the "stones" weren’t stone at all, but appeared to be a cast metal, and are hollow:

cast iron?

This was new to me, and it’s difficult to tell just by looking, but knock on them and they ring out. Wikipedia suggests that these could be cast iron, or sand-cast zinc, which were popular for the era. In many cases the "engravings" and information appear to have withstood the ravages of time better than their stone counterparts.

George Washington and Sarah Amelia (Ireland) Wade are the great-great-grandparents I was here to find, and their site was present:

George Washington Wade and Sarah Amelia Ireland Wade

I know very little about these folks, aside from some demographic information. They had eight children together, including my great grandfather, Percy.

George and Sarah Amelia Descendants

Two of their daughters - Jessie Pearl and Nina Elsie - worked as school teachers in the area (they show up frequently in newspaper archives). Percy himself was a lock tender on the I&M Canal.

There are only these Wades in the cemetery, but there are several Irelands. There are also Searls, as one might expect, and at least some (if not all) of these are family to Sarah Amelia. Included among them are her great-grandfather, Timothy Searl, and her parents, Jonathan Ireland and Elizabeth Catherine. The broken gravestone, above, is possibly for Elizabeth - it reads "Eliza, wife of J. Ireland". If so, it was later replaced with this, much larger stone:

Elizabeth C Ireland

It appears she also has two brothers here. Wilber, buried with his wife Mary:

Wilber G and Mary A Ireland

And her brother Frank, is also here:

Frank L Ireland

The inscription on the stone reads "Uncle". This would suggest that he never married.

It seems likely, given the nature of these sites, that several of the other Searls and Irelands are also relations. I realize, as I look through my family tree and try to pair pictures with people, that I will need to take another trip to Searl Ridge Cemetery. I was focused primarily on finding George and Amelia’s grave. I was successful in this, but i missed out on many others. I’ll need to take more time on another day

Fourmile Grove Cemetery

Fourmile Grove Cemetery

Tucked off a little side road east of Welland is the Fourmile Grove Cemetery. This one is a little different than some of the others I have featured here in that it is a little harder to turn up online. I come across this particular location not by online research, but by riding past it on a bike outing a while back.

The reason for the name is somewhat hard to sort out. My best guess - and it is a guess - is that the name reflects the distance of the cemetery from the tiny town of Meriden Illinois. There is a creek in the distance, and the remnants of a grove, though it's difficult to see at the site itself. While there are large old trees there, the immediately surrounding territory is farmland.

This site is being maintained - it's mowed regularly, and apparently has a section of the property maintained as a bit of prairie.

Prairie Maintenance

But several of the graves are slowly being consumed by the earth, and others appear to already be subsumed.

Swallowed by the Earth

The earth giveth, the earth taketh away

Review of the site from lists several graves that I did not - could not - see while I was there. This makes me wonder further how many additional graves there may be, covered, at the other Melugin Grove Cemetery.

This is a lovely site, and it was a lovely ride to get there. Aside from that, for me this was a bit of a bust. With my current information at least, no one at Fourmile Grove appears to be a relative.

Fisk Cemetary

Fisk cemetery

One of the more delightful parts of doing geneology research is that it takes me to wonderfully peaceful locations like the other Melugin Grove cemetery and, today, Fisk cemetery.

The countryside here is peppered with these little cemetaries, some of them tiny, some of them large. Typically there are gravestones at an array of ages, some legible and, for the older graveyards, many not. Some time spent online will find that some of these sites (though not all) have at least partial rosters to give you an idea of who is interned there. I recently re-discovered, which is a low cost way to find a considerable amount of information both about where to find ancestors, as well as adding to what you know about them - I've found, for example, a few additional family members a couple of generation back, within the information available on the site.

It also meant that I knew - or at least had a pretty good idea - what I would find by traveling to and exploring Fisk cemetery. Central to that trip today was the grave for my Great-great-great grandfather and grandmother: Smith H. ”Prairie" Johnson and Ziba (Tompkins) Johnson.

Prairie and Ziba Johnson

These two people fall in the same generation as John Foulk, the builder of our house. And as with that generation on the other side of my mother's side of the family (if you can parse that sentence) things start to get sketchy when one tries to go further back. Written records get harder to find, making a record of these grave sites much more important. Thanks to my uncle's family tree research the Johnson side of the family can be tracked further back, but the same is not true for the Foulks and the Comptons, among others. There the work is more involved.

I do know from this that I want to know more about these folks - what occurs that causes a man to get the nickname "Prairie" in the first place? And what is the derivation of the name "Ziba"? Is it short for Elizabeth? Because Ziba is the only version of that name I come across. And she was born in 1809 and died in 1873. It doesn't seem like folks from back then were terribly interested in keeping enduring written records as a part of their priorities while coping with life on the prairie. Wolves, coyotes, panthers, growing enough food to survive - they may have had other things on their minds.

Also present at the Fisk Cemetary is Calvin Johnson and his family.

Calvin and Mary Johnson

Calvin Johnson Family

Calvin and Mary (Williams) Johnson would be, by my estimation, my Great-great Uncle and Aunt, respectively. As is true of many living in the turn of the century they experienced tragedy with respect to building their family. They lost all of their children early - one at 3 months (Jennie), another at three years (Lafayette). The third and first-born, Eugene, lived to 23 years of age. He did better than his siblings, but all three were outlived by their parents.

This is not, of course, an uncommon story for the times. Still, it illustrates the reality - and the pain - of the era.

The folks three generations back - John and Martha Foulk, Smith and Ziba Johnson, John and Nancy Compton - come to Illinois from the East. The Foulks came by way of Pennsylvania, with a stopover in Ohio; the Johnsons came out from Vermont and New York. We can see from the gravestones they were here, but finding more on them has been challenging.

The Other Melugin Grove Cemetary

Melugin Grove Panorama

This has been a bit of a quest.

Back when I wrote about the Melugin Grove Cemetary I noted that i had become aware of it because my uncle had told of it. As I mentioned then, it was a bit of a goldmine of former ancestors, and provided helpful technical information - birth and death dates and, in at least one case, allowed me to identify a marital partner for a cousin of a couple of generations back.

When I told my uncle about it he laughed a bit and said "that's not it", and noted that the one he meant was down a hidden path, lost behind the trees. I've been looking for it since, all along Shaw Road - lots of miles logged on the bike in that search, and many hours in the satellite view of Apple and Google Maps. I'd begun to think he must be mistaken about the road it was on, and that he was perhaps remembering a different place - something like Inlet Cemetary, which is a registered Cemetary not that far away that also happens to be in the middle of a field, behind some trees.

I should not have doubted him.

To say that this cemetary, which contains the final resting place of Zachariah Melugin, the man after whom the grove was named, is "down a hidden path" strains the definition of the word "path". But it is here, and it has the appearance of being maintained still, thanks to Boy Scout Troop 85.

Zacharia Melugin's Gravestone

The graves are old, with some dating back to at least the 1850's. At least, because the majority of them are at least partially illegible, and many completely so.

Hard to Read


There are perhaps two dozen graves visible. One of the sources I used to locate the site indicates that several of the graves had to be uncovered. What is visible makes one wonder if there might be still more here - the clearing it occupies is much larger than the space in which the stones appear.

And those sources? How did I find it? I think this one I'll keep close to the vest. It seems like a thing this hard to find wants you to work to find it - nothing this special should be casually obtained, or revealed such that it would seem easy prey to vandals.

Family Trees

The long weekend offered by the Fourth of July has provided an opportunity to address a number of little projects that have been sitting, waiting. Among these is making a digital copy of the family tree that my uncle had put together.

Constructing a physical family tree is a bit of a logistical nightmare because of the way the tree fans out away from whomever your starting person is. My uncle is decidedly, and unashamedly, a man of physical media, which is why his solution involves paper and tape:

Paper and Tape

I am, of course, taking the opportunity to photograph and take scans of this document so I can have a digital version both for my reference, and for preservation. My uncle's work on his tree has been entirely non-digital, and so it provides a valuable verification source against which to compare my online research.

Much of my homework on the family tree has been done through Ancestry.Com. Anyone who has used this source is almost certainly aware of the amount of metaphorical heavy lifting it completes for you in terms of research. Being plugged into a huge library of census and other records is a huge boon, and the fact that others are also often researching parts of your family tree means that there is an uncoordinated group effort which can be very helpful.

So why the paper version? While I'm a fan of technology in general, I am well aware that the accuracy of the information gathered online is only as good as the expertise of the people putting it together. The reality is that neither I, nor many of the other people putting their trees together, am really expert in constructing a tree. For many people, myself included, it's an activity undertaken in fits and starts, when a large enough bit of free time presents itself to allow for the extended time sink that is family research.

The digital versions offer ways to manage large volumes of information relatively easily, and to provide reports on that information in attractive and interesting ways. has an app for the iPad, for example, that lays out your entire tree in multiple views, and provides background information that you've assembled for each person on the tree. This is great, and again makes it easier to put this information together. But because of the time and effort this all takes, I periodically worry about the information I've gathered in that spot because it is essentially held by that company.

While the company is functional and healthy, it's in its financial best interests to ensure that one has easy access to one's records. This isn't the part that concerns me. But what happens if and when the company is no longer functional and healthy? What happens when goes out of business?

For this reason I actually maintain two family trees, one through Ancestry and one on private geneology software. And even that is vulnerable to the perils of obsolescence.

All of which makes it clear that the paper and tape solution also has its advantages.

Mother's Day

Mother's Day in our Homestead makes me think about my mother, of course, and it also brings me to think about family and lineage and all that entails.

Many generations of family lived here in the homestead, and that's been nearly a continual thing since the 1940's. My Grandparents moved in to the homestead in that era, and left their stamp on the place. Going back through records and pictures we came across this picture of my Grandmother - Marie (Foulk) Johnson:

Oodles of Love

It's in a little folding paper frame, and on the facing cover she had written "Oodles of Love - Marie".

I suspect the picture comes from a time period before she lived in this house - she grew up in a house just down the road. But I love the tiny window it offers into her personality. I had the good fortune to spend a great deal of time with Grandma Marie growing up, and I have very fond memories of her - cooking in the kitchen, working in the garden, talking about family and family history, and chasing away the cats - the many farm cats that she professed to hate - who were perpetually trying to get into the house. She'd swipe at the cats with her feet or broom and shout ”Here now!" (though "here" was pronounced "hair" for this particular task).

When frustrated she never swore, but would utter oaths in German - I remember heil ich Miona and ach du Lieber Strosak. She didn't speak German - as I understand it, her generation was encouraged to learn English, perhaps to better assimilate, perhaps so that adults could speak freely without being overheard by children, perhaps a bit of both.

I am blessed that I got to know her very well, and this due to a clearly strong relationship between her and my own mother, who grew up in this very house.

Julia and Joel by the Bell

This is a picture of my mother and her brother, Mom striking a jaunty pose, he looking dapper in his uniform, just outside the back porch at the bell post.

We lived for several years in a house a mile across the field from this one. I have enduring memories of my mother talking with hers on the phone - our wall-mounted kitchen phone, with the cord (that had to be twenty feet long if it was an inch) stretching across the room, ear piece cradled on her neck - while preparing breakfast, writing checks, or what have you. I always knew, if I'd heard the start of the conversation, that it was Grandma that my Mom was talking to, because the call would start out with Mom saying "Ma'am? Sam here".

In fact, I have a received memory - one I don't recall directly, but retain from the story being told again and again - of my mother catching fire (briefly) while on the phone with her mother while working in the kitchen, and my toddler-age response being "telephone hot, mama"...

These memories are often on tap, and I firmly believe they remain stronger still with the surrounding homestead to help keep them in focus. On this Mother's Day I find them in sharp focus, and that makes me very happy. My mother did a fantastic job raising us, and the close relationship between her and her mother was a wonderful model to see.

Thanks Mom - I Love You!

Melugin Grove Cemetary

My journey down the road of researching family geneology comes in fits and starts. It occurs when I have some free time (often a rare commodity) or when I see or hear something that sparks my interest.

At a family gathering a few weeks ago my uncle mentioned a small cemetery in Melugin Grove, hidden behind some trees. This piqued my interest and so, a few days later, when the opportunity presented itself, I decided to see if I could find it.

Melugin Grove cemetery Sign

It was easier to find than I expected, aided in part by the fact that it's early spring, and the trees that would typically hide it were still bare.

As I suspect is true of all places, there are many small regions in the area that carry obscure, nearly forgotten place names that were probably more sensible and useful when travel was done on foot or via horse. When you are moving through the countryside at four to eight miles an hour it makes sense to give distinct names to locations that are a few miles apart. A trip from Shaws to Melugin Grove - about 9 miles - would have been a two-hour walk or ride, perhaps trimmed to an hour if your horse was willing.

We lose that now, when the same trip takes about 10 minutes. Rather than learning about the landscape and making note of it to tell where we are, it becomes a thing to move through, an obstacle to endure, or perhaps to enjoy briefly as scenery, but not much else.

Melugin's Grove (pronounced "Ma-lew-jin", according to my uncle, who I suspect is right, this being an area about which he knows a great deal, rather than a variation of "Mulligan", which is how I've always pronounced it) is of interest to the Homestead because it's the place name given to the area just outside the town and area of Compton, Illinois. And Joel Compton was my Great-Great-Great (or "3rd Great" in the parlance of Ancestry.Com) Grandfather on my mother's side.

So this meant the cemetery might yield some interesting things:

Joel Compton Grave

Joel Compton has always been sort of a minor mystical figure in my mind. The Village of Compton is, and always has been, a relatively tiny place - a little over 400 people at its peak in 1900, considerably fewer in current day. Regardless, it's a bit of something to have a place named after an ancestor and, for me, that abstract fact was the only real information I had on Joel Compton. A gravestone is, however, a solid, tangible thing, making his existence somehow more real.

Also present were grave sites of several of his family members, and others, including my Great-Great Grandparents on my mother's side, Benjamin F Johnson and Arilla (Compton) Johnson:

Benjamin F Johnson Gravestone

Arilla Compton Johnson Gravestone

It's a sign of the era that Benjamin's marker has his full name, and Arilla's says "Arilla His Wife"

There are lots of these cemetaries in the area - larger ones, like the ones you find on the outskirts of town, and smaller ones, little municipal cemetaries like Melugin Grove. There are also private cemetaries in local churchyards, and sometimes family plots, often with a dozen or two grave sites, or sometimes fewer, moldering away on small back roads. At Melugin Grove Cemetery I found these specific sites on my first pass through, and saw many other family names that are familiar - some because I know them from living in the region, but some because I believe I have seen them in the family tree. I'll be back here later on, when I've had a chance to look back through those records and see who else I can find.