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When I was growing up in Illinois, my father occasionally took us to cemeteries to honor our deceased loved ones. I was petrified to enter a cemetery. The horror stories about neighboring cemeteries my friends and I shared, especially around Halloween and during slumber parties, didn’t help the situation much.

During the summer, the movie theater matinees became a babysitter while my parents were at work. My brothers preferred horror movies, which included scary cemetery scenes. So, I spent a lot of my summer days in a movie theater closing my eyes and plugging my ears while my brothers laughed at me. Things certainly have changed. Now, I love to enter cemeteries because there I have discovered many fun ancestor reunions.

On April 22, 1997, my family, including my husband’s parents, flew to Illinois for the celebration of my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. We included a visit to the Oakridge Cemetery in Camargo, Illinois, to show my in-laws where four generations of my beloved ancestors were interred. I photographed all the tombstones of my ancestors, so I could share the pictures, except for James Brewer. I knew my third-great-grandfather, James Brewer, 1794-1862, was buried in the Oakridge Cemetery, because I had visited his gravesite during Memorial Day weekend three years earlier in May, 1994. So with a plat map of the cemetery which I had purchased from the nearby cemetery office, we continued to look.

After a half hour looking, I became tearfully frustrated because I knew where he was buried, but there was no tombstone. James Brewer was buried in the oldest part of the cemetery. I was ready to leave, but my father-in-law, Clyde Porter, noticed several broken and barely readable stones laying on the ground several yards away from where the plat map identified the original place of James’ tombstone. He suggested we do tombstone rubbings. With hankies and water, we carefully wiped off the stones to clean them the best we could. I had plain white paper and a pencil with me so we laid the white paper on the headstone. While one of us held the paper in place, another gently rubbed the stone with a pencil.

After about 40 minutes, voila, we had success and I shed happy tears. We could read James Brewer, 1794-1862. Before we left, Clyde carefully laid the three pieces of stone on the ground where the plat map identified James’ original burial plot.

As we drove back to my parent’s home, I was angry about the destruction in the cemetery and thought “Who or what would destroy old tombstones?” In discussing that with my father, he told me that in 1996, Illinois had a lot of tornadoes. I decided to do some research and I am certain that I discovered the source of destruction in a newspaper article that said, “On April 19, 1996, Illinois recorded its largest tornado outbreak on record. A total of 39 tornadoes were observed across the state. Overall, there were 74 injuries in central Illinois with one fatality, and damage estimates were in excess of $100 million.” Regardless of the destruction, we were still able to have a happy cemetery reunion with my four-generations of ancestors.

A world-wide reunion/family history conference has been planned for Feb. 25-27 at RootsTech Connect 2021. This year, this event is free and online. It is a global event unlike any RootsTech conference before. Keynote speakers this year include Erick Avari, a 30-year veteran of television, film, and stage; superstar footballer Diego Lugano, and Sunetra Sarker, an English actress and director. Registration is free at rootstech.org.

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