Finding Family

On our way back to Missouri last week, Suzanne and I stopped in St. Clair County, Illinois, just outside St. Louis about twenty miles or so. My brother Jim has been doing some study of our Hill family ancestry, using the wonderful online resources along with countless binders and boxes of family history. In the process Jim learned of an old country cemetery in Illinois where three generations of our family were buried. So on this trip back to Missouri, I was the first person from my generation to visit this site.

We pulled off the interstate into lots of suburban sprawl, all kinds of shopping and subdivisions of new homes. But traveling just five miles south brought us to the edge of the city and acres of corn and beans. Spotting a grove of trees in the midst of the tall corn, I knew that had to be the place and sure enough it was. It appears that no one has been buried in this cemetery since about 1929. The stones are not in great shape, several are broken, and a couple of them were left leaning against a tree. Suz and I walked around with a printout of our family tree in hand, circling those names whose graves we found.

As a pastor I have been in cemeteries more often than most people. And, being a history buff, old cemeteries have always been a source of interest and intrigue for me. But this was different. This wasn't just history, it was my history, my family's story, my children's heritage. Even though I never met anyone who was buried in this place, it still felt personal.

I found the broken headstone of Peter Melvin Marion Hill, my great, great, great, great grandfather. The top was broken, leaning against the base, and nearly buried itself with the passing of time. I pulled up the broken piece and read the date of my ancestor's death, November 16, 1820.

It was a strange and potent moment standing there before his broken stone. This man was my great grandfather's great grandfather. I could hardly get my mind around that fact. This man was born in New Jersey before the revolution, older than the United States. I couldn't help but wonder. What kind of man was Peter Hill? What did he do with his life? Was he a person of faith? He and his wife, Elizabeth, had five children. Do you suppose he ever dreamed that some sunny day his descendant six generations after his own would stop by to pay his respects?

Probably not, I surmised. Before this afternoon in Illinois, I never really considered who might stop by my own grave some day, generations down the road. As I pulled back on the highway, I thought about the old psalm:

Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. . . . Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. . . . Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days. (Psalm 90:1-2, 12, 14 NIV)


Roger Hatfield said…
We share a common interest, and I was excited to read about your discovery. Our grandson is now sparking some of that as well. I too wonder as you do about their lives even when I know a little about them. Great blog....

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