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.

Roadside History Lessons


I suppose it’s a bit of a truism to say that, despite how much you think you know, there is always more to learn. Still, new information insists on presenting itself, and sometimes in unexpected ways.

There is a site a few miles from home that I have ridden by many times, both since moving out here to the Homestead, and back when I lived here as a child. It’s a small plot of land at a very rural intersection that has always been mowed and tended, despite the appearance of there being virtually nothing there.


Now, nothing is not an entirely accurate description. Part of what made me take notice of the site riding past it in our recent occupation is the fact that something is missing from it. When I was younger, I distinctly remember this site having a storm cellar on it. These, for the uninitiated, are concrete bunkers set low to the ground with the intention that one will get inside when high-wind storm events (think tornados) appear to be imminent. I remember this distinctly because I can remember that, as a child, I desperately wanted to go in to that storm cellar and I was, of course, also terrified to do so.

This is a distinct feeling of childhood, I think, and one that I can recall feeling over and over and over again. It usually involved choosing to do something that was likely inadvisable at best - walking across a railroad trellis, riding the rail system in the hay mount, climbing up the tower at the grain elevator late at night... (how did we not die doing these things?)

The storm cellar was dark, and indeterminately deep when viewed from the outside. And since one could not see in, one could only imagine what might be living inside - might we encounter snakes? Raccoons? A hibernating bear???

I did finally screw up enough resolve, as well as the foresight to bring along a flashlight. The outcome was... disappointing. There were no bears, no raccoons, no snakes. There was, in fact, nothing. Nothing but a muddy floor, and it was far less deep than it seemed it should be, suggesting it had probably been slowly filling in with mud flow over the years.

I always assumed this site was a former home site, with the house no longer present - either torn down or moved. Still, this did not explain why someone was continuing to maintain the site, nor why it also had what looked to me like the remnants of a bit of playground equipment set to one end.

Lilliputian Monkey Bars

So it was the recollection, and the notable absence, of the storm cellar that initially made me take notice of the site as I rode by it. I also noticed that there was a large stone there, with what appeared to be a plaque set in it. I was curious about this, but I’ll admit that I rode by it many times without stopping, always figuring that I would check on another ride, more concerned about getting my miles in.

This summer I did go ahead and stop to look, and thereby to learn the something new:

In honor of Immanuel Ev Lutheran Church

The Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church that I know - that I attended throughout my childhood - is a mile to the west of this site. I knew that it was old, and established by settlers to the area, including my ancestors - the stained glass windows at the church still display wording in German, the language those early settlers spoke. But I did not realize that the church was not always at its current site, that it had been first established further down the road. Nor did I realize when. Establishment in 1864 would set it only three years after our own Homestead was built, and place it at a time when the settlers were likely still carving their lives out of the prairie.

And the Lilliputian monkey bars? I wonder if this perhaps wasn’t a hitching bar...

I have no notion at the moment as to who decided to place the stone and the plaque at this site, it being well off the beaten path. However, I do very much appreciate that decision, opening up as it does yet another opportunity for discovery, and demonstrating that there are others about who truly care for the history of this place.

Melugin Grove is a Place

Finding and exploring the back roads in the region seems to have stimulated my appetite for information about the geography of the area, and led to some wondering as to what it must have been like to live here during that time.

I realized - not for the first time, but this time it must have sunk in - while looking at a map of the area this morning that, as far as that map is concerned, Melugin Grove is still a place. This may be an odd thing to say, I suppose, but I believe I come by it honestly. There are dozens of place names on the area map that no longer correspond to anything that people traveling today, at 60 miles an hour in a car, would consider a separate place. The towns of Compton and West Brooklyn, for example, tiny as they are still contain a small arrangement of streets and houses that make it clear that they are places - self-standing entities, of a sort, a thing, a village or town.

But as you look on the map there are other "places" that appear in the area, with names - The Burg, for example, at or near the intersection of Shaw Road and Rt 251, or Shaws, at the intersection of Shaw and Inlet roads - where it is difficult to understand, even when one goes there, how these were considered a place worthy of a name. Sometimes, with practice, you can begin to see what might have led to it. Shaws, for example, has a a few houses in closer proximity than typically seen along a country road, a former church, a decaying gas station at the intersection, and the tumbledown remnants of what appears to have been a one-room school house (there are more of these out here than you'd think). The Burg, alternately, provides nothing to suggest anything was there, no visual hint to why it would have a name.

There are similar peculiarities - running through the area is Beemerville Road, which one might expect would be part of the straightforward naming strategy seen in the area of naming the roads after the places they go. West Brooklyn Road goes to West Brooklyn, Compton Road leads to Compton, Paw Paw Road... You get the idea. But Beemerville road? No sign of a "Beemerville" on the map anywhere along its approximately five miles of length, not even as a forgotten place name, an atavistic map icon. Was it a place once? The Melugin Grove Cemetery has has its fair share of Beemers laid to rest, so one suspects it may have been. But apparently no longer.

But Melugin Grove is still a place, at least according to Apple Maps, falling in an oddly-shaped territory framed by Carnahan Road to the west, Richards and Melugin Grove (natch) Roads to the east, Shaw Road to the south, and Butler Hill Road to the north.

Melugin Grove

In the grand scheme of things it's a small place - a little over 650 acres - but at the slower, smaller scale of moving through it on the ground, in my case on a bicycle, it feels substantial. Like so much of this little area, it's heavily wooded to a degree that can make one feel pleasantly separated and, when looking in toward the area identified on the map one sees a far higher proportion of trees and grassy clearings to crops than in most parts of the region. It has the feeling of a different place - more central Wisconsin than Northern Illinois. It becomes easy to imagine why an early settler, particularly if he or she did not fancy themselves future farmers, would choose to stop here.

Melugin Grove from the North

Melugin Grove - beyond the bean field - from the North.

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.