By Bonnie Samuel
Sadly, cemetery grave markers disappear. Finding an ancestor’s burial is further complicated by an inconsistent or even nonexistent system of burial records. Here in central Iowa, the township clerk is the person charged with maintaining cemeteries and the records. Some do, some don’t.
In July 1979, my family and I travelled to McLean County, Illinois to do a bit of ancestor sleuthing. My Gillan branch lived in the area 1865 till James Gillan’s death in 1907. Stopping by the post office in this small midwest town, I was told the old home still stands and that there was a cemetery on that property as well. Directions in hand, my patient husband, young sons and I drove to the Gillan home in Martin township, then on down the road to the cemetery.
Sarah Gillan’s Gravestone
James Gillan had given a corner of his property, establishing a small cemetery, called Plymouth, in 1880. When his wife Sarah died in August of that year, she was buried there. One hundred years later, I showed up. In 1979, Plymouth Cemetery had fewer than ten gravestones, most broken, some unreadable. It was overgrown, obviously not maintained. We did find the grave stone for Sarah Gillan, broken from its base, but with chalk and paper deciphered the inscription.
Recently, I discovered that Findagrave.com has no listing for Sarah Gillan. Plymouth Cemetery is listed with nine burials including “Gillan unknown,” and this note left by the Findagrave.com submitter:
We found this broken tombstone in this remote cemetery in Martin Twp., McLean County, Illinois 4-2-2009. As I researched the Gillan name, I have learned the Gillan family owned property 4-5 miles south of Colfax, that is just about where this cemetery is located.
I contacted the person who submitted the information about Plymouth Cemetery to Findagrave.com and told her of my visit to the cemetery in 1979, when gravestones were there, sent her my photos and the documentation for Sarah Gillan’s burial.
Adding to the picture proof of Sarah’s burial in Plymouth Cemetery, I have a copy of her death certificate which states where she was to be buried. Then there’s the Centennial edition of the history of the area, picked up at the local library in Colfax, Illinois which contained a newsy entry on James and Sarah Gillan. Since I was kinfolk, the librarian honored me with a copy!