I’m Calling It Campbell Cemetery
Death, the unconkerable king of Terrors, is committing his ravages every few weeks in every neighborhood, calling off the most fair and flourishing, as well as the middle aged and the old. –from the Collection of Edward Taylor of Maryville, Tennessee, 25 June 1841.
I always try to find the gravesite of the people in my genealogy research. So much can be learned from the cemeteries–about the individual, the family, and the community. It first started to dawn on me that there was a glaring “missing” cemetery in the Flat Branch Twp., Shelby Co., Ill. area after years of searching for my 3x great grandfather’s gravesite, Preston Denton. It was while looking for Preston’s gravesite in about the year 2000 that I became familiar with all of the cemeteries in Flat Branch. I looked for him in every possible cemetery, and I convinced myself that he wasn’t anywhere to be found. Preston Denton died a poor man, and he also seemed to be somewhat on the “outs” in his family. I could accept the idea that perhaps he was buried on a site off by himself on one of his brother’s farms, the grave marked with a wooden marker that no longer existed, or even not marked at all. For years I accepted that scenario as the most probable, and I moved on from my search for Preston’s grave.
Then a couple of years ago I got the idea that it would be useful to have a document that put the deaths of the people of Flat Branch and others in Shelby County into chronological order. It was another way of looking at the data that might reveal information that simply looking at one cemetery doesn’t reveal. It’s a good exercise, and I recommend it to anyone working in a community with multiple cemeteries. One of the things that I found when making this “death timeline” was that Preston Denton wasn’t the only one in the community who was “missing” from the graveyard records–there were many others who I couldn’t place. Was it possible that these people were in a cemetery that no longer existed?
I knew of a set of Cemetery Books for Shelby County that were published by a man named Ed Boedecker, sometime in the 1970s. Researchers familiar with this area call them the “Boedecker Books.” In the early 2000s, these books were hard to find. They’re out of print, and the libraries that owned copies of them often found that these books would “walk off.” Fortunately, my genealogy mentor, Doris Denton, had these books and could send me copies of the pages I needed. These copies were some of the last records that Doris sent me.
I should note that these Boedecker Cemetery Books are not the books put out by the Decatur Genealogical Society. Those books are easily found and they were published later than Ed Boedecker’s–around the 1980s.
There’s a quotation I found at find-a-grave.com, posted by someone creating a memorial for someone in Shelby County, one that could be said over and over about the gravestones in Shelby County:
This stone has weathered badly but fortunately it was identified by Ed Boedecker when it was in better condition.
In the case of Campbell Cemetery, fortunately it was identified by Ed Boedecker before it was completely destroyed. I want to make the case here that this cemetery did once exist, a lot of people were buried there (and I’ll name names of those I know were buried there and also suggest other probable names), and although the cemetery was well on its way to destruction when Ed Boedecker first saw it in 1971, by 1979 when he went back to see what was left of the cemetery, there was very little trace of it left.
Where Was Campbell Cemetery Located?
In his cemetery book, Inscriptions of Shelby County, Illinois Cemeteries, Vol. I, Ed Boedecker says this about this cemetery, which he calls “Name Not Known”:
This cemetery is located in Sec. 9, Flat Branch Twp., on the Floyd Suppes farm. It is in a small grove of trees on the north side of the road, and about 100 yards east of a house on the south side of the road, now occupied by D.W. Suppes (117).
Boedecker goes on to quote a letter he received in 1967:
In a talk with Otto Bryson today, he said that his parents told him some of their people were buried in the cemetery across from the Doug Suppes farm. He couldn’t remember any names. He thought the name of the cemetery was Suppes Cemetery, but was not certain.
Otto Bryson, born in 1875, later told Boedecker that it was a “pretty fair-sized cemetery” back when he was a kid. He said the road was widened and some graves were graded over, and maybe some of the stones “were piled somewhere.”
In an interview with another long-time resident that same year, 1967, Boedecker says that Ida Casey told him the name of the cemetery was “Campbell.” The interview with Mrs. Casey sent him to talk to Roy and John Portwood, who told him this about their mother, who was Laura Isabell Gorden [that’s the way Boedecker spelled the name, but in the records her name is “Gordon”]:
Laura Isabell Gorden was the daughter of _____ and Mary Gorden. Laura had a sister, Mary (____Bell) Gorden who died young and was buried in a cemetery across the road from the Doug Suppes farm in Flat Branch Township.
Boedecker reports that both Roy and John Portwood told him there hadn’t been any burials there for “60 to 70 years,” and that the grave of Mary Gorden had “washed away.” When Boedecker visited the cemetery location in 1971, he found a grave for Martha A. Gordon who died in 1866 and also a stone for “Campbell,” who was 17 years old.
All of these families of the Flat Branch area of the 1830s-1870s were so intermarried, that it didn’t surprise me to find a family connection to this family of Mary Gordon. Mary Ann Larkin (1832-1915) was married to Levi Edward Gordon. She is my 2x great grand aunt, the daughter of my 3x great grandmother, Elizabeth Traughber, and step-daughter of my 3x great grandfather, Preston Denton. Prior to reading about this cemetery in Ed Boedecker’s book, I had come to the conclusion that there must be some “missing” cemetery where Preston and others in the family were buried. This report of a grave belonging to the daughter of Mary Ann Larkin Gordon and Levi Gordon is another piece of evidence that leads me to believe I’m on the right track about this cemetery.
Ed Boedecker returned to this cemetery in the summer of 1979. Here’s his report, found on page 141 of Vol. VII, under ADDITIONS AND/OR CORRECTIONS TO PREVIOUS VOLUMES:
The stone below was found one Sunday afternoon in the summer of 1979 when I stopped to see what was left of the cemetery after some bulldozing had been done around it. It is now almost covered by a large pile of trees and brush pushed up near where the stone is located.
? ? J & E.J.
Nov. 5, 1859
Aged 3 Ys 6Ms & 19 Ds
? dau of J. & E.J.
Jan. 14, 1864
Aged 3 Ds
The evidence from Boedecker and his long-time resident interviewees plus the two pieces of stone he found on his second visit suggests that Campbell Cemetery was one of those “inconveniently” placed cemeteries that was no longer active sometime around 1900 or possibly earlier, maybe as early as the 1870s. The 1875 plat map for Sec. 9 of Flat Branch Twp. does not show a cemetery in Sec. 9. What it does show is the land owned by John Suppes, also located in Sec. 9. Here’s a comparison of land owned by Jeremiah Campbell, c.1850, and the land owned by John Suppes in 1875, remembering Boedecker’s earlier quote:
This cemetery is located in Sec. 9, Flat Branch Twp., on the Floyd Suppes farm [emphasis mine].
By 1875, Jeremiah Campbell’s land in Sec. 9 had been taken over by John Suppes. And it also seems to be that by 1875, the cemetery in Sec. 9 that old-timers called “Campbell Cemetery” was no longer in use. My hypothesis is that those two facts are related–that the cemetery was no longer active once John Suppes took over the land. Another owner of a portion of Jeremiah’s land is “R. Meryman”–Roland Meryman (1835-1892), married to Harriett Campbell (1848-1931), daughter of John Campbell (1823-1854), oldest son of Jeremiah Campbell. John Campbell is buried in Tolly Cemetery which is east of Sec. 9 and associated with the Union Baptist Predestinarian Church. Tolly Cemetery still exists, although there has been a good amount of vandalism through the years. Harriett Campbell’s mother was Mary “Polly” Armstrong Campbell (1829-1900). Mary is buried at Masonic Cemetery, located in Sec. 4, although not designated in this 1875 map.
J.M. Scribner owns land that once belonged to Jeremiah Campbell. This is probably John M. Scribner (1835 – Unknown), first married to Rebecca Armstrong (her dates 1839-1865). Rebecca is buried at Tolly Cemetery.
1895. James T. Duncan has taken over the Scribner land. Roland Meryman and John Suppes remain.
Not too much changed in this area between 1895 and 1914. John Suppes bought the 40 acres that joined the rest of his land. Roland Meryman had died in 1892, and his land is owned by “H. Merriman,” who is very probably Roland’s widow, Harriett Campbell Meryman/Merriman (1848-1931). Harriett, we recall, was the daughter of John Campbell, oldest son of Jeremiah. It would seem that Harriett would have had an interest in the Campbell Cemetery. She was buried in 1931 in Masonic Cemetery, the one in Sec. 4. That’s also where her husband, Roland Meryman was buried in 1892. I haven’t followed John and Harriett’s nine (or perhaps more) children to see what happened to them, born between 1865 and 1880. My focus has been on John Suppes and his land because of Ed Boedecker’s cemetery book that indicates the Campbell Cemetery was located on his land.
So the land went from Jeremiah Campbell (1797-1851) to [someone] to John Suppes Sr.(1832-1923) to John C. Suppes Jr. (1863-1955) to Floyd Suppes (1908-1978), and was “occupied by D.W. Suppes” in 1971 when Boedecker published his book. A check of the land records for John Suppes Sr. to see who he bought the land from might be enlightening. And while the cemetery may not have been deliberately destroyed by the people farming this land, it can be said that it was definitely not cared for–to the point that someone felt that the stones being “piled somewhere” was perfectly acceptable: a cemetery located “in a small grove of trees on the north side of the road and about 100 yards east of a house [emphasis mine] on the south side of the road, now  occupied by D. W. Suppes.”
Out of curiosity, I checked to see where John Suppes Sr. is buried. I found him at find-a-grave.com in Salem Cemetery. He and his wife Elizabeth died within months of each other at the age of 91. The map at find-a-grave shows the cemetery to be in Sec. 17 of Flat Branch, probably within sight of the earlier “Name Not Known” cemetery of the Boedecker book. Salem Cemetery is very much intact and obviously cared for–no graves “washed away”; no graves “graded over”; no stones “piled somewhere.” Lucky John and Elizabeth Suppes and their descendants. The 126 graves in the cemetery have been enumerated and photographed. The earliest grave shows a death date of 1865, although the stone appears to be much later than that. The next earliest burial was in 1873. I would add that although I’m familiar with many surnames in the Flat Branch area, none of the surnames in the cemetery are names that I’ve come across in Flat Branch or the surrounding area. I have no doubt that had this land been sold to one of the pioneering families of Flat Branch–Campbell, Denton, Tolly, Armstrong, Gordon, Hill, Portwood, etc., so many of whose descendants live in the area still–Cemetery “Name Not Known,” or, as I prefer to call it, Campbell Cemetery, would still be intact today.
Who Was or Might Be Buried at Campbell Cemetery?
Sometimes a cemetery or gravestone is the only death record available. I don’t have death dates for Elizabeth Traughber, my 3x great grandmother, Susannah Conlee Denton, my 4x great grandmother, Preston Denton, my 3x great grandfather, Jeremiah Campbell, my 2x great grandfather, or Hannah Stone Campbell, my 2x great grandmother. All of these people lived most of their adult lives in Flat Branch Twp., Shelby County, Ill. All of them died there (with the possible exception of Hannah Campbell–but she probably died there). Where are they buried, if not in Campbell Cemetery?
All burials are speculation unless otherwise indicated.
1848 | Sep. Elizabeth Traughber Denton, age 35. She was the wife of Preston Denton, d. 1860. It’s significant that Elizabeth isn’t found in her family cemetery, Traughber Cemetery, in Shelby County.
1849 | Susannah Conlee Denton, age 74. She was the mother of Preston Denton, d. 1860.
1850 | Jonas Denton, age 51. He was the brother of Preston Denton, d. 1860.
1851 | Jeremiah Campbell, age 54
1859 | 5 Nov. Child Simmons, age 3, child of Isom and Eliza Jane Simmons. Stone documented by Ed Boedecker, 1979.
1860 | 18 Jun. Preston Denton, age 48.
1864 | 14 Jan. Infant Simmons, age 3 days, child of Isom and Eliza Jane Simmons. Stone documented by Ed Boedecker, 1979.
1866 | 4 Apr. Benjamin Gordon, age 46. He was the second husband of Eliza Jane Campbell Simmons Gordon. Two of his small children were buried in this cemetery, so it seems likely that he was buried here as well.
1867 | Apr. Reuben Denton, age 46. He was the brother of Preston Denton, d. 1860.
1868 | 12 Oct. Nancy Jane Marts, age 3, daughter of Jacob Marts and Emeline T. Denton Marts, daughter of Preston Denton.
c.1870 | Hannah Campbell, age approximately 70. She was the wife of Jeremiah Campbell who died in 1851.
1870 | 13 Jun. Felix Adolphus Marts, age 2, son of Jacob Marts and Emeline T. Denton Marts, daughter of Preston Denton.
1873 | Nov. 7. Albert Perry, son of A.P. and O.J. Perry. Age 8 years, 3 mo., 27 da. Stone documented by Ed Boedecker, 1971. [I don’t know who this family is.]
c.1874-1877| Mary E. Gordon Bryson, age about 21-24. She was the wife of Albert Bryson (who remarried in 1878) and the daughter of Mary Ann Larkin and Levi Gordon. Burial confirmed by Ed Boedecker, 1971.
At some point, apparently the mid-or-late 1870s, burials stopped at Campbell Cemetery. Why? Was it because the land ownership had changed hands, and the owner was not “friendly” about continuing this as an active cemetery on his land?
Can Anything Be Done at This Late Date?
Obviously a cemetery once existed on land belonging to John Suppes. The gravestones may have been destroyed, but likely enough the graves themselves still exist. Can the cemetery be found, and can anything be done about it now? The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency (IHPA) may be the place to start to find some answers. From the Introduction to their handbook:
The IHPA is responsible for protecting non-registered Illinois cemeteries that are more than 100 years old. . . . Based on inquiries made to both the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, there is a strong need to address such problems as weathering, vandalism, neglect, agricultural activity and development associated with abandoned/neglected rural Illinois historic cemeteries (Handbook, ii).
The “more than 100 years” seems to be key. Any human remains accidentally uncovered that appear to be 100 years old or more are within the jurisdiction of the IHPA. If less than 100 years, then the discovery is under the jurisdiction of the county coroner. Additionally, any cemetery restoration work, including cleaning or repairing, requires a permit from IHPA (Handbook, 1).
Successful cemetery preservation, suggests the IHPA, involves “research, identification, documentation, and assessment, maintenance, rehabilitation and restoration” (Handbook, 3).
I’ve made a start, but more research needs to be done on this cemetery. Some of the questions I have:
1. Why is there no “cemetery” designation found in Sec. 9 of the 1875 Flat Branch family ownership map? Normally on a map of this vintage, a cemetery is designated with a small cross and sometimes the letters “Cem” if there is enough room:
There’s nothing like that for any cemetery in Sec. 9. Why not?
2. Exactly where did Boedecker find this cemetery in Sec. 9–“on the north side of the road and about 100 yards east of a house on the south side of the road, now occupied by D. W. Suppes”?
3. Land records need to be checked to create a narrative of ownership. Jeremiah Campbell died intestate in 1851. Hannah Campbell and also her son John Campbell owned a considerable amount of land, according to the 1860 census. John Campbell’s land was probably the land that was later owned by “R. Meryman,” John’s daughter Harriett’s husband. What happened to Hannah Campbell’s land in Sec. 9? Is that the land John Suppes bought? Is there anything in the land records regarding a cemetery?
4. Two related questions: Who might have been buried there? During what years was the cemetery active? –See the list, above.
5. One obituary–that’s really all I need–one obituary that mentions Campbell Cemetery. That really shouldn’t be so much to ask. A good place to check for newspapers in the area would be the Decatur Genealogical Society & Library, located in Decatur, Illinois. They publish a newsletter (Central Illinois News) and a quarterly (Central Illinois Genealogical Quarterly).
Laws Governing Illinois Cemeteries
I don’t want to get too far into the weeds here, but it might help to record how Illinois defines pertinent terms. This next is from the IHPA handbook:
Abandonment, or the assumption of abandonment, of a cemetery occurs when no interments have been made for thirty years and the cemetery has been exempt from real estate taxes during that period. A cemetery is also considered abandoned when there is no cemetery authority to care for the land.
Cemetery authority is the legally authorized owner or operator of a cemetery. The cemetery authority may be an individual or an organization with some members serving as trustees. Trustees of a cemetery association sometimes hire a cemetery caretaker (Handbook, 28).
Family burial ground is any cemetery that restricts the interment to a group of persons related by blood or marriage (Handbook, 28).
Privately operated cemetery is any burial ground other than those defined as fraternal, municipal, family, or religious (Handbook, 29).
A great resource for anything that can be known about old cemeteries is found here: Links to Other Sites Relating to Cemeteries and history. This is a link on the website, Indiana Pioneer Cemeteries Restoration Project. Anyone with descendants who are buried in Indiana should know about this group–they do amazing work and should be a model for other Midwestern states.
It was through the Indiana Pioneer Cemetery Restoration group that I first heard about grave dowsing. Most people have heard of water dowsing for a well site. Grave dowsing uses the same technique. A genealogy blogger tells his story here (“I Believe in Dowsers“) about finding lost family graves by grave dowsing. It’s a thought.
Boedecker, Ed. Inscriptions of Shelby County, Illinois Cemeteries, Vol. I. (I have never seen these books. I believe there are a total of ten volumes. Some of them–maybe most–were published in 1971. These books used to be for sale by the Shelby County Historical and Genealogical Society, although I don’t know how active they are or if they still have the books in 2015.)
Boedecker, Ed. Inscriptions of Shelby County, Illinois Cemeteries, Vol. VII.
Illinois, State of. Illinois Dept. of Natural Resources; Illinois Historic Preservation Agency. Illinois Historic Cemetery Preservation Handbook: A Guide to Basic Preservation. http://www.dnr.illinois.gov/NaturalResources/cultural/Documents/ILHistoricCemeteryPreservationHandbook.pdf
I will continue to post here anything I find about Campbell Cemetery once I’ve had a chance to search the records.