Monday, December 28, 2009

Smith Cemetery

During my genealogical explorations, many of my relatives spanning three generations ended up being buried in Smith Cemetery in rural Clinton county Iowa. One rainy day, my daughter and I decided to track it down using GPS coordinates that I obtained from a couple verbal descriptions of its locations and following along on Google Earth. Since the family cemetery was in the middle of a field and not along the road, it was not visible to wayward travelers and using GPS coordinates was my only shot, if they were in fact correct.

As I got close, I came upon a farm with some historical looking buildings on one side of the road and a gate to a farm field on the other. The GPS told me to turn into the farm field but before I did, I paused to look over the farm and noticed two words painted on the side of an old barn. Smith Farm. I knew I was in the right location. I turned into the gateway to the field and drove up and over a hill on a grass strip bordering it and came to my destination, the Smith family cemetery pictured above.

Unlike many family cemeteries of this age and one I would visit just an hour later and a mile down the road, this one was still being maintained. In fact, many of the original gravestones had been replaced with newer ones right beside them. Since it was a small cemetery and not one documented by the Iowa Gravestone Project, I quickly photographed all the stones so that I could later enter it into the system for other future researchers to find. Among those photographed were one set of 3rd great grandparents, two sets of 4th great grandparents and my 5th great grandmother. The two sets of 4th great grandparents are the beginning of a small loop in my family tree that I blogged about earlier. I have also blogged about my 3rd great grandfather and his journey to Iowa in this post as well.

As my daughter ran around, I paused at each grave comparing what was written on the stone with my book of research that I take with me and also just to hold a silent conversation with that person or persons buried beneath. I also took time to gaze around me at the terrain on what was certainly fertile ground in the day and the old farmstead that I had driven by at the bottom of the hill and next to the river flowed in the bottoms below. It was a good place to raise family which is why I suppose three generations died there and two more generations grew up there and are buried nearby.

I visited another cemetery down the road a mile that was an offshoot of this line and where another 5th great grandparent is buried. I was hoping to find out information about his wife whom I only know as Rebecca since she wasn't listed in the burial records. Unfortunately, the tombstones were in such a bad state of decay that I could only read two of the dozen or so there and neither of them were the Peter Thomas I was looking for. Fortunately, a month ago someone wrote me an email from an inquiry I had made on a board about his wife letting me know she was actually buried halfway across the state in Greene county though there still was no more information on her maiden name or ancestry. That email prompted me to search my blog archives only to realize I had never blogged about this trip as I had planned. Better late than never I suppose.


R. Sherman said...

Family cemeteries are so important, especially west of the Mississippi, because of the wide distances between churches. Missouri has a law which allows the county to take them over to provide perpetual care if there is no one left in the family to do so. Does Iowa have something similar?


Sage said...

Wow, so many of your grandparents buried in the same place--we have a few churches with a lot, but not the family kind of cemeteries. There are those too, but most of them had wooden markers which have long weathered away. I remember going to a few with my grandmother when I was younger--even then you couldn't read the headstones and we wouldn't have known where except my grandma remembered going to these locations as a girl.

Ed said...

R. Sherman - I think there is something similar but unfortunately, that mostly means they chop the weeds down once in awhile. Those oh so important gravestones just continue to topple over.

Sage - Fortunately, everyone I have found has had a tombstone (I assume Peter mentioned in this blog also had one and that I just couldn't read it) once I have found out where they were buried, even back to the early 1800's. I'm not sure how much further I will be able to count on that. With my research, I take exact GPS readings at each grave to give future grave seekers some extra help. It is my way of giving back assuming they find my research notes.

Vince said...

Are the roads in Clinton Co. really at each and every mile. Or is Google earth showing up farm tracks.

R. Sherman said...


If it's like north Missouri, it would not be unusual. The land west of the Mississippi River was divided into Townships of 36 Sections. Each section was one mile square and consisted of 640 acres. These were then sold to Easterners heading west. (The settlement of the American west was accomplished one mile at a time.)

Roads followed township lines (E/W) and Range lines (N/S) which divided the sections at one mile intervals. The farther west one goes, the less frequent the roads so that one might see them every six or twelve miles or more.


Vince said...

But surely R, Sherman, this does not mean that all are paved roads and therefore a draw on the family income for their upkeep.

Beau said...

Very cool... I always wondered about this trip you referred to. So glad you found the cemetery, and it must bring a sort of generational closure across the years in some way. Nice going :)

Ed said...

Vince - Yes it is really so along with most of Iowa. One of the advantages of having relatively flat terrain and being a younger state that was divided up before being settled.

R. Sherman - Thanks. That is a very good description. It is interesting reading old deeds and reading how sections have been divided up over time.

Vince - The upkeep for all our roads does indeed come from our income for upkeep. Local roads under the jurisdiction of county or city taxes and state roads under state taxes. This included everything from four laned paved interstates to a low maintenance two track dirt road.

Beau - You should have reminded me as I had forgotten that I hadn't blogged about it. My mind is like that more and more often... unfortunately.

Bryan said...

I love visiting cemetaries and tracking genealogy. It is always an exciting day trip for my family.