Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Back from Parke County, Indiana...

and it was your typical research trip complete with both pleasure and pain :)

The bad news was that two out of the three cemeteries I visited had fairly disappointing results. At West Union Cemetery, a medium-sized township cemetery, I was looking for the stone of Perry Williamson. His 1913 death certificate and obituary both say that he was buried there but after about an hour and a half of walking around and dodging bugs I was unable to find it. If he ever had a stone, and it's very possible that he never did, it's gone now or among the many broken and worn stones that are stacked up against two large trees on the cemetery grounds. Despite the fact that it was a public cemetery, no known documentation regarding lot purchases and/or lot maps exists so for now we'll just have to be satisfied with the belief that he's there somewhere. That doesn't really work for me but there isn't a whole lot I can do about it short of hiring someone to do one of those ground surveys to tell us where the people are...so yeah, if there's anyone out there who would like to donate the funds for that be sure to let me know :)

So then I moved on to Causey Cemetery. Causey, unlike West Union, is a small family cemetery located on a very narrow gravel road and I went to the grounds armed with a copy of a photo of the stone I was looking for. So one would think I knew what I would find. You'd like to think that anyway. I was looking for the stone of the earliest confirmed Gilkeson ancestor-the one who first came to the Midwest from the East. John Gilkeson died in Parke County in the 1850s and his stone was photographed for a local transcription project that fizzled out before accomplishing very much, many years ago. I was estimating that the photo I had of his stone was about 10 years old, maybe slightly less. In the photo, the stone is in great shape, standing straight up, and is well readable. After two walk-arounds not finding it on my own, this is what I found





The stone is now about to fall forward, onto the writing. I don't know anything about cemetery restoration right now, but you better bet that I'm going to get to know a heck of a lot about it very soon. As a private family cemetery, the thought of lot maps and anything written down about who is in this cemetery is almost laughable so the thought that once that stone goes down no one will be able to know where on the grounds he is really makes me itch. At the rate this thing is going down, my son won't even be able to find it if he decides he'd like to see it a little later down the road. And that is not good. So I'm going to be trying my best to save this one and to get a project going to maybe get a full cemetery map done in the event that other stones go down.

So that covers the disappointments for the cemetery day. My final disappointment of the trip came the following day in the Courthouse. I spent the bulk of the day in the Clerk's Office going through the Probate records, doing inventory for the NGS HSC as well as looking up records for my own research. Parke County is fortunate to still have the complete probate packets dating back to the 1830s (though the county was formed in the early 20s, a serious fire around 1830 destroyed those precious early records) and they are in the back room in wall drawers. Did you catch that? "Wall drawers". This means that the packets were placed in the drawers decades ago and obviously the office has accumulated additional modern file cabinets over the years. Those new file cabinets need space somewhere in the room and guess where they went? Yep, about 1/3 of the old probate drawers are completely inaccessible because there are new metal file cabinets, filled with new case files, parked right in front of the drawers. They're filled, that means they are not able to be moved without a dolley and/or some very strong moving guys. And they're filled with NEW cases which means there really isn't any motivation for the staff to arrange any kind of help with moving them just to reach some old stuff that they don't use.

Remember Perry Williamson who I was searching for at West Union? He died in 1913 and I thought it would be great to take a look at his probate packet. Perhaps there would be a cemetery receipt included since several of the packets I viewed that day were filled with final receipts. Well, can you guess where the 1913 drawer is? If you guessed behind the file cabinets, you guessed right. It's on the bottom row all the way over to the right, directly behind the file cabinets. And to make matters worse, these probate packets have not been filmed, abstracted, indexed, nothing so they are basically dead to the world. They're obstructed and inaccessible with not much hope that they will be made available, at least not anytime soon. I'd love to say that some grad students could make it a summer project or something, but without a local genealogical society to back it up I don't see that happening.

And on that lovely note, I'll end the bad news. I'll post about the good news next...

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