Cemeteries are Primary Resources for Genealogists ...
"Museum Minutiae," Paris Beacon-News, 2005
By Teddy Day
There are 168 known cemeteries in Edgar County. From the 1950s to the 1970s members of the DAR read the tombstones in almost all of these burial places. In recent years members of the Edgar County Genealogy Society have reread almost all of them, some for the third time, and then recorded information from 51,160 gravestones which is now in a computer data file and printed out, township by township.
Now why would anyone tackle a chore which meant hours spent kneeling in the sun, wind or cold to get the information from each gravestone? The answer, any genealogist would give, is that these cemetery records are the number one resource for people searching family records. Probate records reveal death dates, and guardianship records for minor children give birth dates, but since birth and death records were not recorded in Edgar County before December, 1877, the cemetery records are the best place to find those early dates. The printed records are available through the Edgar County Genealogy Library in the Edgar County Historical Museum.
Some of these cemeteries are small, family-owned sites. The Blackman Cemetery is one of these. Here from the Vermilion Road north of Route 150, you can see a tall stone back in the field where Remember Blackman, one of our first settlers, was buried in 1841. Others of his family members lie in twelve graves nearby, two of whom were killed at the same time by a falling tree. The Blackman Cemetery is just one of several cemeteries in Hunter Township, one of the earliest settlements in the county. Bright Cemetery with ten graves, Bruce with 47, Cook or Nolan with 72, Old 16 with 48, Stafford – stones are now down and unreadable, Quinn with 3 graves, McKee with 45, Horsley with 2, and Jordan (Steam Point) with 6 plus unreadable stones and several foot stones, are the remaining graveyards.
The largest cemetery in the county, of course, is Edgar Cemetery in Paris. The cemetery officially got its start when a committee was formed to purchase property for a new graveyard. In 1858 twelve acres in the northeast part of Paris were purchased. Leander Munsell served as chairman of the Edgar Cemetery Association. In December of that year, Jonathan Young donated two acres of land south and adjacent to the cemetery, keeping forty square feet for his family’s use.
By 1884, plans for building a vault on the east side of “the hill” were being considered. That hill is believed to be the highest point in Edgar County. In 1903 the city council ordered, because of neglect, the removal of bodies from the Presbyterian Cemetery which was located where the now vacated Vance School stands (at the northwest corner of Main and Blackburn Streets). A second removal to Edgar Cemetery was the Shaw Cemetery which was once on Crawford Street, where the Shaw home is located just east of the old Paris Hospital (at the southeast corner of Crawford and Shaw Streets). And the third is the Mayo Cemetery which was located near the intersection of Milton and Wilcox Streets. Approximately 10,500 graves dot the hills of Edgar Cemetery.
Other cemeteries, or course, are located in Paris Township. Two are fairly large – St. Mary’s contains over 1,500 graves, and the Memorial Gardens almost 1,000. The Pinson Cemetery, a burial spot for Aaron Pinson, a Revolutionary War soldier, is now covered by the third lake. Moke with 3 graves and McConkey with 11 are also small, but Baldwin (Conkey) has 187 burials and Redmon (Green) has 48.
Several tours and programs of Edgar County cemeteries have been sponsored by the Edgar County Genealogy Society. Interesting stories emerged during these programs. One told by the late Lee H. Hamilton concerned a black baby buried outside the fence at the O'Hair Cemetery in Symmes Township where there are 9 graves. The child belonged to Israel Freeman, a mulatto from New York, who was employed as a furniture maker with the O'Hair family, and an escaped female slave. When Federal troops came looking for the slave, she hid and had to muffle the baby to prevent its cries from exposing them. The baby was smothered to death. Other cemeteries remaining in Symmes Township are Asher with 5 graves, Brown with 2, Cassady (Brown, Cassity) with 69, Cronic (Chronic or Croaddy) with 23, Davis with 3 (2 unreadable), Elledge (Holley) with 177, Jones with 5, Knight (Quinn) with 76, Laufman with 79, Lycan with 17, Meeker with 2 and several broken stones in a pile, Morris with 5, New Hope with 99, Ogden with 130, Stephens (Stevens) behind Bell Ridge church with 82, Swango with 85, Walls with 77, another Walls? with 3, and Zimmerly with 27. Some of the stones have been used as sidewalks on different farms.
There were once 17 cemeteries in Elbridge Township, but 5 have been destroyed. One of the largest of those remaining is the Vermilion Cemetery, with over 1,000 graves, located just outside the village of Vermilion. Another is the New Providence Cemetery with approximately the same number of graves which is close to the Presbyterian Church of the same name. The old Baptist Cemetery with 150 graves is near the northeast corner of the township, close to the Indiana state line. About 10 of the remaining cemeteries are named for families which probably established them: Cockcroft with 3 graves, Cummins with 17, Guymon (Guyman) with 119, Nevins (Sims, Rhoads, Franklin) with 187, Patton (Sturgell) with 5, Roll with 10, Wilkins with 90, and Wilson with 422.
Like Vermilion, Grandview has a cemetery bearing the town's name. About 1,500 graves with about 752 stones are in this six-acre site. Not counting 7 destroyed graveyards in the township, there remain 14 other cemeteries. One small cemetery on the north edge of Grandview is a small burial ground called the Cholera Cemetery because all buried there died of cholera about 1833. The Gill (Bethlehem) Cemetery has about 130 graves with 100 stones, and the graveyard is still in use. The Baber Cemetery is private. Other cemeteries in this township, named for families but not private, are Augustus with 211 graves, Barr-Johnson with 67, Beatty with 21,Boyer with 7, Deem with 16, Goshen (Cale, Claypool, Gale) with 11, Hickman (New Goshen) with 96, Hinds with 54, Johnson with 23, Rudy (New Conlogue or Rhudy) with 156 and Tate with 97.
In Brouilletts Creek Township, there are 11 cemeteries remaining. According to the late Ed Hiddle, caretaker for years, the Reed Sugar Grove Cemetery near the Sugar Grove United Methodist Church was started in 1838 on land that was originally homesteaded by Jacob and Elizabeth Reed. Those buried here include 3 Native Americans, 2 Confederate soldiers, and over 140 veterans (35 Civil War). This is the largest cemetery in Brouilletts Creek Township with over 1,400 graves. The Light-Carmel (Mt. Carmel) Cemetery has 324 graves, Adams (Bush, Legg, Adams) has 34, Camerer (Watertown) has 86, Houston (Stratton) has 23, Littlefield has 29, McCaulley (Moore or Moorefield) has 62, Newcomb has 11, Newton has 38, Scott (Stearns) has 11, and Wyatt (IGO or Musselman) has 4.
Only 7 burial grounds remain in Embarrass Township. The Shields Cemetery with 473 graves is in the southwest corner of the township straddling 2 counties: the western half is in Coles County, and the eastern half in Edgar. Two other cemeteries are adjoining, one located north of Borton, south of Brocton, and lie east of State Route 49. The cemetery is also known as Catfish Cemetery and has around 130 graves. Families who started the McReynolds Chapel are buried in both Catfish and Zimmerman cemeteries, according to Edgar County genealogist Joyce Brown. Three graveyards were destroyed long ago: Burt, Green, and Smith. The Embarrass Church is adjoined by a cemetery and a park which was established over 100 years ago. The cemetery has been in existence since the church was built, about 1871-2 and has around 1,550 graves. Housel (New Athens) with 5 graves, Milburn (Catfish Point) with 28, and Scott with 10 are other cemeteries in the township.
Eight cemeteries remain in Kansas Township, one of which is the Taber, a private cemetery. Seven former graveyards have been destroyed through the years. Three graveyards are fairly large: Fairview with almost 2,000 graves, Pleasant Hill with over 1,000, and Harmony with over 600. The Harmony Church no longer stands. The remaining cemeteries are named for families: Boyars (Boyer) with 6 graves, Cornwell with 8, Pinnell with 2, Poulter with 5, Snyder with 3, Waite with 38, and Wilhoit with 10.
Prairie Township or Friends Chapel is also called Ingram, Scott, Scottland or Wesley Chapel Cemetery. It is located near Scottland on land donated in 1840 by the Ingrams. Those stones in the cemetery marked in the 1830s were transferred from another cemetery. During World War II, because of the unavailability of regular tombstones, flat concrete stones were used. In all, there are over 2,400 graves at Friends Chapel Cemetery, including 3 Confederate soldiers and 1 unknown black.
Ross Township's main cemetery is the Woodland or Chrisman Cemetery at the NE corner of Chrisman. Over 1,500 are buried here. Gaines Cemetery is NW of Chrisman near the county line. It was formed in 1877 and has 20 graves. Summe (Rose Hill or Ross), SE of ... Gaines has 67 graves. Bacon Cemetery, north of Chrisman and west of the high school, has 12 graves, the earliest being 1850.
Out of the 15 townships in Edgar County, Buck is the only township without a cemetery. Young America Township has one cemetery which is called Young America or Hume Cemetery. There are over 1,300 graves here. Shiloh Township also has but one remaining cemetery with records. It is the Payne Cemetery with over 800 graves. You may have noticed that the townships with the largest number of cemeteries are in the eastern part of the county, which was the first area settled. One reason for the lack of cemeteries in the western part is that the land was swampy until it was finally drained.
To protect cemeteries from livestock, many have fences surrounding them. While it is permissible to fence in a cemetery, unless a cemetery is private, it is illegal to lock the gate to visitors. Accessibility is sometimes a problem, however, because the visitor has to get permission to go through private property, but theoretically one has the right to visit all but private graveyards. Many are beautiful, serene places with trees, hills and winding drives.
If your curiosity concerning the burial places of your ancestors has been piqued, you might visit the Edgar County Genealogy Library at 408 N. Main. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Lined up on one of the shelves is a row of white notebooks, one for each township, including the cemeteries and the names of those buried in each. While the most recent burials are in the computer data base which Linda Cary keeps up-to-date, they aren't immediately entered in the notebooks. For this reason, the figures used in this article are approximate, but I hope this gives you some idea of the treasure available to researchers.