Illinois Ancestors: Genealogists interested in cemeteries — and witches — year-round

Illinois Ancestors: Genealogists interested in cemeteries — and witches — year-round

Thoughts of Halloween often conjure up visions of cemeteries, witches and ghosts. Genealogists welcome evidences of these entities; they are often the sources of clues to family information.

For example, cemeteries where family members are buried can provide clues because often the inscriptions on old tombstones provide data not found elsewhere. When a date of death is recorded on a tombstone, a search for a probate file in the county courthouse usually results in additional family information; a search for a newspaper obituary can also lead to family data.

It is suggested that researchers record personal data found on any tombstones adjacent to or close to stones of known kin; that information may prove relevant with further research.

The persecution of witches in the American colonies is a shameful part of our country's history. Nevertheless there are organizations today consisting of descendants of individuals who were punished as witches. A Google search for "Salem Witch Trials" (use quotation marks) provides links to many websites having information on that activity.

At under "registry," one can view a lengthy list of "notable descendants and relatives" of known witches, including several U.S. presidents: John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, William Howard Taft, John Calvin Coolidge Jr., Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Gerald Ford and George W. Bush.

"Ghost towns" often provide monumental obstacles — their locations must be determined to search local records. The Internet makes such searches easier today, but some continue to be elusive.

Personal ghosts may also be documented in some families. For example, Rhode Island court records confirm that Rebecca Cornell's ghost appeared to her brother, John Briggs, telling him that she had been murdered by her son, Thomas. Elaine Foreman Crane's book, "Killed Strangely: The Death of Rebecca Cornell," published by Cornell University Press in 2002, documents all the ghostly details.

This Halloween column would be incomplete if it did not mention ghost hunter Troy Taylor. He has conducted ghost tours and has written "Beyond The Grave: Haunted Cemeteries in America" and has an interesting website at

Danville book signing

The Illiana Genealogical & Historical Society will host a book signing by noted Chicago author, Stan "Tex" Banash, on Nov. 9 at the Illiana Genealogy Library, 215 W. North St, Danville.

Following a barbecue pork luncheon at noon, Banash will discuss his third book, "A Roadside History of Illinois," and offer a question-and-answer session.

According to the preface notes, this book is "designed to help both visitors and residents discover and savor the historical, cultural, and natural opulence of this great state."

Banash was raised in Niles, graduated from Niles Township High School, served in the Air Force and then obtained his bachelor of philosophy degree in political science from Northwestern University and a master of arts degree in urban studies from Roosevelt University.

Reservations cost $15 per person (which includes lunch) and can be made by calling 431-8733 or by sending a check along with name, address and phone number to IGHS c/o Illiana Genealogy Library at the address above (ZIP code 61832).

More solutions

GenealogyInTime Magazine has posted a most helpful article, "More Great Genealogy Brickwall Solutions — Part I" at

Some "less obvious" places to look pertain to maiden names, translated family names, the use of "junior" and "senior," double families, and land tax records. Be sure to click on the link to "Part II" for additional Brickwall solutions. (For example: Item No. 18, Not Everyone Dies at Home; Item No. 21, Ignore Family Names; and Item No. 23, Barely Legible Gravestones. They provide new approaches to old problems.)

City directory abbreviations

This online publication also provides a helpful reference list of the most common abbreviations found in old city directories at The website also provides a link to a list of first name abbreviations.

Queries, genealogical questions from researchers and genealogical materials readers would like to share will be printed in this column free. Joan Griffis may be reached via email at or by sending a letter to Illinois Ancestors, c/o The News-Gazette, P.O. Box 677, Champaign, IL 61824-0677.

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