Montgomery County Illinois History

Extra-Curricular Genealogical Projects in a Public High School

By: Walter Ray Sanders, Head Social Science Department, Community High School, Litchfield, Illinois

     Three years ago in the senior American history classes of the Litchfield Community High School, the question arose as to whether or not the county (Montgomery Co., Illinois) had any Revolutionary War soldiers buried in any of its cemeteries. A search of county histories revealed six and one of the students knew of another which was not recorded.  This incentive, plus the findings of an earlier searcher of the county in regard to the same question, led to a group of boys wanting to check the old cemeteries, those "forgotten" burial grounds located in the woods, in the corners of the plowed fields, in the middle of bramble thickets or sassafras groves.  In their checking they were shown how to bring out the faint dates and names by rubbing grass or chalk or moist dirt across the face of the stone which would color the upper surface and leave the carvings plain.  Locations of all burying grounds were noted and plotted on county maps by the students; they talked to farmers and many more cemeteries which were not shown on the maps were located.  Most of these little cemeteries were private grounds with only a family group buried on the home-place years ago.  Too many times it was found that the stones had been neglected and cattle allowed to roam at will over them; in one place the stones had been collected and buried, in another they had been removed and used to make a walk to the barn, in yet another we were told that some of the stones had been used to stop gully erosion.  Numerous incidents of this nature made us realize that there wee many of these neglected burying grounds which would soon not be known.

     As we finished the year we had typed-written copies made of our findings, locations and travel directions; then a copy was sent to the Illinois State Historical Library at Springfield.  A second copy was kept on file at school.

     During the second year this extra project was continued; indeed, it was called for by a number of senior students.  The field was then broadened to the widest extent of the county and included the rural church cemeteries and a few of the town or city cemeteries still in use.  At the same time a few students wished to work on their family histories in place of term themes, a phase of history which I have encouraged for years.  Now our cemetery records began to come into use; some student would inquire whether this or that cemetery had been checked, if not, a delegation would be sent on some weekend to check that particular one and perhaps another in the same neighborhood.  There was always a waiting list to do this work.  From September through the school year checking of new cemeteries was done and re-checking of those of the previous year was begun.  By the end of the second year we had accumulated data on fifty county cemeteries.

     At the beginning of the present school year, records of six cemeteries which had been obtained through the summer were turned in by one junior who wished to begin early for his senior work.  Twenty-two seniors wanted to begin work on their family histories.  So, this past year we organized part of the class into groups; one group could do good work typing and it typed our accumulated data; another went out into the country, "cemetery hunting"; a third group wished to begin work on county records, so each student here was assigned five hundred marriage records to copy faithfully and accurately.  If any question arose as to a name it was to have a question mark beside it until re-checked by me.  The fourth group was made up of the embryonic genealogists.  A fifth group of four senior students used the newspaper files of the Civil War period and began building up a directory of business houses, hotels, merchants, etc., which were in Litchfield during the years 1862-1866.  This will probably be continued and extended.  All in all, during this part year (1946-1947) sixty-five students have taken part in this program.  They have accumulated forty-two years of marriage records, wills, and settlements of estates; they have added to our cemetery records until at present we have data of eighty-seven; they have found four unknown Revolutionary War soldiers, have noted veterans of all wars and have made a record of them.  This has all been accomplished outside the regular class work, though at intervals, some class time has been taken by announcements or suggestions.

     Is this any importance in history?  There will be those who say this is non-essential to the classroom work; there will be those who will say we are contributing much valuable information to the state archives.  However, the last five or six weeks of the year are always taken up with a study of the development of the State of Illinois and the growth of Montgomery County from its pioneer days to the present.  In this work we take up the migration of the southern and eastern peoples into our county and for those who have been working on these added projects names and locations mentioned in our studies are quite familiar.  Too, the use of our many records by those working on their family histories has made it worthwhile.

     In the coming year I hope that we can finish re-checking the cemeteries, branch out a few miles into the adjoining counties and thus finish up this one project.  There will be those who will begin work on family history and some will continue searching after graduation.  There is a centennial for Litchfield coming up in a few years; perhaps we should begin work on a suitable history for publication.

Source:  National Genealogical Society Quarterly, September 1947

Posted in: Illinois
Actions: E-mail | Permalink |

Post Rating