I told the first part of the story below and you definitely need to read that first. So go, go go.....
You're back? Okay! So now.....The Rest Of The Story.
Anywayyyy.......after finding Margaret's name in the Wilkin cemetery plat, other research tasks spurred by its discovery caught my attention. Realizing that Samuel likely wasn't buried next to Margaret had disappointed me even through my giddiness at finding her on the Wilkin Cemetery plat records. To help ease the disappointment I set about trying to find out who Olen was. It didn't take long to learn that little Olen (1853-1856) was the son of Samuel and Margaret's ninth child Asbury Taylor Browning and his wife Minerva Corderman.
The discovery did inspire me to begin tracing all of Samuel and Margaret's children, one by one, in the hopes that by doing so I would learn more about who Olen had been. This was when I finally learned the benefits of researching one family exclusively. By the time I'd been at it for a while I began to feel like I "knew" each and every one of them like the back of my hand. That familiarity is essential to good work and without it you may miss vital pieces of information that would have no context otherwise. Never let anyone tell you that hunches borne of familiarity aren't valuable tools. Follow them.
Anyway, the time and opportunity for a visit to Crawford County finally came. I flew down to Crawford County in July 2001 with Patricia O'Connor, a cousin that I'd been working with since the late 1990s. She and I had never physically met but we'd formed a solid bond during our researches. I was so excited to finally get to meet her! Her ancestor, John Wesley Browning (b. c1837) was Samuel and Margaret's 11th child while my ancestor, James (b. 1815) was their first.
Pat and I spent nearly a week in Robinson -- the county seat of Crawford County -- and during that week we got together with Cliff and Linda and took a trip out to the Wilkin Cemetery. They led me to Margaret's grave -- what there was of it -- and during the obligatory picture-taking/wandering the cemetery, a man drove up and got out and eventually approached us.
He introduced himself as the cemetery caretaker and when he noticed we were staring at Margaret's grave he pointed to the giant overgrown stump a few rows forward from Margaret's stone. "See that stump?" he said. "You want to know what probably happened to that grave there? About 50 years ago or so that was a huge tree that got hit by a stroke of lightning. Sent it crashing down into the middle of the cemetery and from what I hear, a lot of the stones in its path got busted up pretty good."
My heart sank to the pit of my stomach and everyone else looked like they were feeling the same. We thanked the caretaker and after a few more minutes we decided to take the last pictures and go ahead and go. It was July, the Illinois humidity was brutal, and everyone else was wilting. We all started back to the van to start the air conditioning but I was dragging my feet. I just kept thinking that there was something I was missing.
I turned back and told them to give me five minutes. They gladly cooled down in the van while I went back up to the cemetery, thinking to myself about what would have happened in the aftermath of that damaging lightning strike. Tombstones scattered everywhere, tree limbs all over. I noticed a large number of big branches thrown over the barbed wire fence around the perimeter and it started me wondering if they'd carted the stones towards the perimeter as well. I walked the perimeter and looked through all the underbrush with no results. I had about given up in frustration when something drew me back toward the stump in the middle. I looked at it a moment and then thought, "Well....surely they'd have propped the stones against the stump?"
Except there really wasn't too much of a stump anymore, just the remnants of one. So I bent down and started digging through the undergrowth -- which incidentally I recognized as poison oak! -- with my bare hands. I saw a flash of white and grabbed it, pulling it out into the light. Emblazoned on the face was a single word.
and below it, faintly:
Wife of S Browning
died January 19
I don't really remember it but I know I let out a yell of triumph because Cliff came running out of the van. He said later he thought I'd been snakebit. I laid it down, shaking, and reached in again to pull out another part of the stone. This one showed a hand pointing to heaven. I laid it next to the part of the stone bearing her name and the two pieces fit like a glove.
I had to sit down then because I was weak, laughing and grinning and shaking like an idiot. It was easily the most exhilarating genealogical experience of my life.
To this day I recall the feeling I had standing in that cemetery and I can't help but wonder if Margaret herself wasn't calling me over to where her stone had fallen. Having been propped against the stump, had it toppled into the hole left as the tree decayed? It was the only logical explanation, of course. But the feeling of serendipity remains.
After a time I felt able to stand and the discoing commenced in earnest. All the cousins there were discoing that day! After we'd calmed a bit we lifted the stones and placed them on top of what was left in the ground. A perfect fit! I stood back and took the picture on the left. Cliff told me then that he was going to repair the stone. It took him a couple of years but he did it. The stone as it appears today is shown on the right.
Of course we still hadn't found Olen's stone. Margaret's stone had been busted into three pieces. At the time it seemed reasonable to assume that Olen's stone, sitting to the right of Margaret's like it had been, had caught the worst of the tree as it fell. I believed we'd never find it.
But that's.......not quite the the Rest Of The Story.
Part III, coming right up!
4 hours ago