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.

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 findagrave.com, 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.