My hometown is Vandalia, IL, which is the former state capital and the terminus of the pioneer National Road. U.S. 40 follows the National Road’s pathway. About eight miles east of Vandalia, you can discover the site of the first post office in Fayette County’s Cumberland Township (later called Otego Twp.), and the site of two pumps—-one for people and one for horses—that had existed in pioneer days.

My friend Mary Burtschi (1911-2009) was a devoted local historian of Vandalia. She was one of the major reasons I became interested in local history. In her book Vandalia: Wilderness Capital of Lincoln’s Land (1963), she writes:

“In 1828 the mile stretch through the bottom land east of the Kaskaskia River [at Vandalia] was still heavily timbered. It was a tremendous undertaking clearing the sixty-six foot strip through underbrush and forest trees of such gigantic size. The roadbed itself was only thirty feet wide. Both oxen and horses were used to pull the huge stumps around which chains were fastened. The workers grumbled; it was too much physical exertion and they felt they were poorly paid. A song or rhyme that has been handed down describes the wretched condition of the pike:

“The roads are impassable—Hardly jackass able:
I think those that travel ‘em
Should turn out and gravel ‘em.

“Past the Statehouse square rolled the wheels of Conestoga wagons carrying settlers into a new life and hauling freight into a frontier territory and stagecoaches carrying travelers who would view the new land and then return home to sing its praises or to disparage the glowing accounts that had been written about it. A parade of critical visitors wanting to see the new democracy at work on the frontier cam through Vandalia. Many were convinced that the emotional religion at the camp meetings, the insolence of servants, and the free-for-alls in the grog-shops were too much for the educated man to tolerate. The impressions of the road and of the town recorded by these travelers is a part of Vandalia history.”

Mary quotes according from the German writer Frederck Gustorf, Edmund Flagg, and William Oliver, the latter noting an execrable well along the road. She continues:

“The ‘execrable well’ of which Oliver speaks was probably not the Twin Pumps on the Cumberland Road, located six miles east of Vandalia. Ezra Griffith, who came to this area in 1830, built the first frame house in Cumberland Township. The building, erected in 1835, contained the Cumberland Post Office, a store, and living quarters for the Griffith family. Across the road on the north side stood the wooden Twin Pumps with a horse trouble, hewn out of logs, at each one. The pump on the inside of the fence was used by the Griffith family for stock; the other on the outside of the fence was used by the traveler. Mr. Griffith maintained the pumps and provided a tin cup for the traveler to use. On the south side of the road for a quarter of a mile extended a line of shady locust trees. Here the traveler stopped to water his horses and to rest under the shade.” (pp. 145-146, 148)

Not long ago, I was over in my home area, Fayette County, IL, to take photos for the cover of an upcoming poetry book, and to photograph a few tombstones for the Find-a-Grave site. I visited the Pilcher Cemetery and the Griffith Cemetery, both in Otego Township; the two cemeteries represent much of my mother’s side of the family. My grandmother Crawford was a lifelong resident of Otego Twp. (and is buried in the Pilcher); she was friends with members of the Griffith family, like Chester Griffith who attended her church (and was a source for Mary’s history above). I think Ezra Griffith may have been a brother of my 3-great-grandmother Esther Washburn, but I’ve not proven that; the Griffith and Washburn families settled the area at about the same time.


Coming back out onto U.S. 40 from the Griffith Cemetery road, I took a picture of the little area that had been the site of the Twin Pumps. But I also photographed the memorial to the site had been erected across the highway on the south side. It’s been there a few years but I’d not taken the time to photograph it.


It was a beautiful, sunny summer morning, and I remembered again why the summer of 1974 was so important to me. I was a teenager and driving the seen-better-days ’63 Chevy that had been Dad’s stepfather’s. I was completing two genealogy projects: a family history of the Mom’s family, and also a record of all the tombstone inscriptions in the Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, IL, where much of my mom’s side of the family are buried. (I write about my hometown roots and genealogy projects in other essays on this blog.)

To do the work, I started in the morning. I put on shorts and tank top but I figured that solitary hours spent walking in the grass didn’t require shoes, so I didn’t even bring them along. A visitor to the cemetery one day didn’t expect to see a barefoot, longhaired young man examining tombstones and carrying a clipboard.

One morning, driving down IL 185, I had an emotional experience of belonging, a sureness that I would always feel a deep connection to this place: my hometown Vandalia and the surrounding Fayette County. (My main blog has a photo of the area of that highway.) During the ensuing years, my home area has been (to use Frank Zappa’s phrase) a conceptual continuity for me. All the history teaching and writing that I’ve done connect to the summers I did local genealogy projects. And all the Bible-related and religious work that I’ve done (including most of my eighteen books) relate back to my grandma Crawford (buried in that cemetery), who inspired me to do genealogy and first got me interested in the Bible and spirituality in a very preliminary way that bloomed a year or two later.

Places like Twin Pumps are important for local history and for all my own modest efforts during the past forty-some years.



Visiting friends over this past weekend, I stopped by a favorite bookstore between visits and purchased the Spring 2015 issue of Tikkun magazine. I need to subscribe to this magazine because I enjoy the articles and the overall perspective of “healing/repairing the world” (tikkun olam). A particular piece that I have thought about in different contexts appeared in Tikkun.

This Spring 15 issue contains a series of articles on the theme, “The Place of Hope in an Age of Climate Disaster.” I appreciated the complementary and interfaith perspectives on what is, to me, a very depressing problem. The ordinary person doesn’t know what to do, and the lachrymose tone of many writings on the subject (who are, after all, environmental activists who see what is happening) can be distressing. Too, we are all beneficiaries of a economic system that contains injustices, and environmental destruction is one.

It would be amazing if we had more political leaders who inspired people to action on this issue. To use Ronald Reagan as an example of a very inspiring leader: had he been an environmentalist, how many Americans would have been inspired to step up!

The nature of science, too, can be a source for impatience. Scientists observe present phenomena and make predictions based on models suggested by the evidence, and the observations may change based on additional evidence, as was the case last week when predicted solar activity suggested a near-future cooling of the earth. These aspects of science–ongoing study, and the refinement of predictions–contributes to two popular responses to the science: scoff at it, or just wait and see what happens.

But for now, on this subject of climate change, I recommend to anyone interested in this subject to pick up a copy of this issue of Tikkun and read the articles, which are:

Michael Lerner, “It’s time to get serious about saving the planet from destruction” (pp. 18-19, 60-61).

Whitney A. Bauman, “Facing the death of nature, environmental memorials to coiner despair” (pp. 20-21, 61).

Charles Derber, “Hope requires fighting the hope industry” (pp. 22-23, 61-62).

Julia Watts Belser, “Disaster and disability: social inequality and the uneven effects of climate change” (pp. 24-25, 62-63).

Vandana Shiva, “Limiting corporate power and cultivating interdependence: a strategic plan for the environment” (pp. 26-27, 63).

Ana Levy-Lyons, “The banality of environmental destruction” (pp. 28-29, 63-64).

Janet Biehl, “Reducing auto dependency and sprawl: an ecological imperative” (pp. 30, 64-65).

Arthur Waskow, “Prayer as if the earth really matters” (pp. 31-33, 65-66).

David R. Loy, “A bodhisattva’s approach to climate activism” (pp. 34, 66-67).

Rianne C. Ten Veen, “Looking to the Qur’an in an age of climate disaster” (pp. 36-37).

Parth Parihar, “Dharma and Ahimsa, a Hindu take on environmental stewardship” (pp. 38-39).

Matthew Fox, “Love is stronger than stewardship: a cosmic Christ path to planetary survival” (pp. 40-41, 67-68).

Anna Peterson, “Climate change and the right to hope” (pp. 42, 68-69).

Peterson writes, “Most people in the United States genuinely care about the environment, and yet collectively we are still filling landfills with plastic, guzzling gas, supporting factory farms, investing in unsustainable companies, and electing officials beholden to energy lobbies.” In other words, we have values but our practices are different, in part because we lack a genuine hope, she writes. Amen! But using TIllich’s theology, she discusses genuine (as opposed to utopian) hope to build confidence in the possibility of incremental improvements.

Her article is a good complement to Levy-Lyons’ article that draws upon Hannah Arendt’s famous phrase “the banality of evil” in order to discuss the fact that ecologically damaging practices are normal for our culture, and that is how we are accustomed to living.

Derber puts blame on both liberals and conservatives. Republican leaders are one source of the denial message, and unfortunately 40% of Americans buy into this message. (In fairness, I do have a conservative friend who criticizes the science based on his own study of the topic.) But liberals have another kind of false hope: that the problem can be solved within our current political and economic system.

The pieces together develop ideas that could help change attitudes but also suggest different economic practices—the later of which are scary for those of us (like me) who though concerned live comfortably each day.

All the articles have some spiritual component, even if more general, but the pieces by Waskow, Loy, Ten Veen, Parihar, and Fox clearly bring in religious traditions on this subject.

The Mahon Schoolhouse in Otego Twp near Brownstown, IL. My mother attended school here in the 1920s and early 1930s. This photo from the 1990s has hung in my office for a long time. The schoolhouse has since collapsed.

The Mahon Schoolhouse in Otego Twp near Brownstown, IL. My mother attended school here in the 1920s and early 1930s. This photo from the 1990s has hung in my office for a long time. The schoolhouse has since collapsed.

A few years ago my family and I visited Ireland. At the Blarney Castle gift shop (yes, we all kissed the stone!), I purchased keychains for myself and Mahon relatives in Illinois. I asked the clerk, “How would you pronounced that name?” She looked at me puzzled but said, “MAY-on.” I explained that I was from the states and we said it, “ma-HON,” but I hadn’t been sure if that was the Irish pronunciation.

The Mahons are my only Irish family—handy credentials when I first met one of my best friends, who is Irish Catholic to his bones. My great-great-grandmother was named Caroline (Mahon) Crawford, 1844-1921; I write about the Crawford family here. She is buried in the Pilcher Cemetery, beside her husband Andrew, and also among most of his siblings and not far from her (Caroline’s) brother Jacob Mahon (1856-1877). One of my hometown friends is a fourth cousin via Jacob and half-second cousin through the Strobels!  Family connections are always fun to make.

I actually have a lock of Caroline Crawford’s hair. Grandma Grace (the source of nearly all my information about and appreciation of family history) said that it was saved when Caroline died.

Caroline’s parents were John and Eliza (Lansford) Mahon. John lived 1806-1880, and Eliza lived 1820-1911. She and

Baby Harold Crawford (my  mom's brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon

Baby Harold Crawford (my mom’s brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon

Caroline sat for two five-generation photos in 1909, although Grandma said that Eliza didn’t want to pose very badly. John and Eliza are buried in the German Reformed Cemetery, on IL route 185 southeast of Vandalia. Grandma said that John only wanted a rock for his grave because that is all Jesus had. But several years ago, Mahon relatives helpfully placed a dated marker on their graves. Among their children were Caroline and Harriet (who married Crawford brothers), and Jacob.

(The rest of this material comes from Mr. Robert Mahon, a St. Louis cousin whom I met in 1974 and who had traced a lot of the family.) John Mahon’s parents were Doctor and Dolly (Lansford) Mahon. Doctor lived 1786-1860, Dolly from 1787-1860. Eliza was a daughter of Dollly’s brother Isham; so she and John were first cousins. Mr. Mahon told me that Doctor and Dolly were probably buried in Wilbertown Township of Fayette County but no one knows where.

Doctor had five brothers, James, Thomas D., Pleasant, Barrett, and Dennizen. (I know: some of these are unusual names!).

Lawn of Fayette Co. IL Courthouse. Thanks to my Facebook friend Gloria for taking this photo.

Lawn of Fayette Co. IL Courthouse. Thanks to my Facebook friend Gloria for taking this photo.

According to Mr. Mahon’s notes, “John’s six sons were in the Cascade, Virginia, area by 1790. James may have settled near Bowling Green, Kentucky. Doctor and Thomas came to Illinois. Pleasant stayed in Virginia but his son, Wesley, came to Illinois and raised a large family there. Little record of Barnett and Dennizen.” Thomas was a veteran of the Revolutionary War. My high school classmate (and sixth cousin) Sherry has done a lot of research about this, her ancestor. Thomas is honored in Vandalia with his name on the memorial to locally-buried Revolution veterans (which includes one of my Carson ancestors). Thomas Mahon’s Find-a-Grave page is here.

Those six brothers—Doctor, Thomas, James, Pleasant, Barrett, and Dennizen—were the children of John Mahon and his wife, Jane Byrd (or Dial). John Mahon was our Irish immigrant ancestor. He settled near Fredericksburg, VA in the early 1700s. According to Mr. Mahon’s notes, “John was killed when he resisted British as they ransacked his home.” I wonder if that’s a story, similar to my other ancestor Paul Crawford supposedly being killed by Indians, especially since Doctor was born after the end of the war. But it still makes a good family story.

Another 1909 photo of Eliza Mahon and her daughter Caroline Crawford, with Caroline's daughter Alice Rush, Alice's son Andy Rush, and Andy's daughter Ruth.

Another 1909 photo of Eliza Mahon and her daughter Caroline Crawford, with Caroline’s daughter Alice Rush, Alice’s son Andy Rush, and Andy’s daughter Ruth.

In another post on this blog, I tell the story of how I became interested in genealogy as a junior high and high school

Baby Harold Crawford (my  mom's brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon

Baby Harold Crawford (my mom’s brother), grandfather Josiah Crawford, great-grandfather John Crawford, great-great-grandmother Caroline Mahon Crawford, 3-great-grandmother Eliza Mahon. 1909

student in my hometown, Vandalia (Fayette County), IL. My grandma, Grace (Pilcher) Crawford, who lived out in the country from Vandalia in Otego Township, had been inspired by her cousin who compiled the Pilcher family genealogy, and so Grandma considered writing up the history of the Crawfords. She had a wonderful collection of family photos, clippings, and information. I hoped to help her with the work. After her death, I carried on the work and dedicated the family history to her.

That history consisted of the descendants of my 3-great-grandparents, Paul and Susan Crawford. We knew little about Paul; family tradition indicated he was killed by Indians in Ohio (surely a legend; most Indians were gone from Ohio by that time). Susan brought their eight children to Otego township —which is the location of several of my mother’s ancestral families (as I wrote about elsewhere on this blog) like the Pilchers, Mahons, Williams, and Washburns, Grandma had great information about seven of the eight children except for #6, Jacob Crawford, who had settled in Brown County, Illinois.

As it turned out, a genealogist named John Denhalter contacted me in around 1974, as I was putting the finishing touches on the “family tree.” He had information about Paul Crawford and his father, and also information about Jacob Crawford’s family. But he had little concerning the rest of the family. So we were able to supplement each other’s research!

I typed up the material as best as I could. I was seventeen in 1974 and not a very good typist. I also finished copying all the inscriptions in the Pilcher Cemetery. I still have the manuscripts, current only to 1975, but they are still handy for remembering the relationships of various cousins. While working on the material, I became interested in the history of Fayette County generally, and thus I embarked on research about Vandalia’s period as state capital, which eventually became my first published book.

But the summer of 1974 shines in my memory. I had my own car, such as it was; I was enjoying the hobby of genealogy; I tried to go barefooted as much as possible (figuring that copying inscriptions in a country cemetery didn’t require shoes); and I felt a fresh, meaningful sense of place that has remained with me throughout the years, becoming (as Frank Zappa put it) a kind of “conceptual continuity” for all my subsequent work.

Back to the Crawfords. As Mr. Denhalter informed me, my 4-great-grandfather was William Crawford, who was born January 3, 1785 in New Jersey, and died March 19, 1853 in Waldo, OH. Where’s Waldo? It’s a tiny village in Marion County, on U.S. 23 north of Columbus.  A man named James Crawford was probably his father. William is buried in Waldo: here is his page. His wife was named Mary (b. 1788 in Pennsylvania), and they had children:

1 Priscilla (b. 1804 in PA), m. Andrew Straub on March 3, 1825

2 Jacob, b. 1806 in PA, m. Julia Ann Miller on Dec. 10, 1829

3 Hanna, b. 1807 in PA. Married John Powell on Dec. 29, 1829

4 Paul, b. 1809 in Ohio, m. Susanna Straub

5 Ebenezer, b. 1810 in Ohio. Married Catharine

6 William, b. Oct. 6, 1812. Unmarried.

7 Peter, b. 1814. Married Hanna.

8 Margaret, b. 1816, married Stephen Curren on April 7, 1836

9 Calvin, b. 1818, married Elizabeth Moses on April 5, 1839

10 Elijah, b. 1820. Married Elizabeth Claypold on June 7, 1854.

CrawfordPaul Crawford, my 3-great-grandfather, was born March 16, 1809 in Marlborough (Delaware Co), Ohio and died April 16, 1847 in Waldo, OH. Mr. Denhalter told me that the blank, white stone beside that of William Crawford in the Waldo Cemetery is the grave of Paul Crawford. He married Susan (or Susanna) Straub, my 3-great-grandmother who brought their eight children to Fayette County, IL, thus establishing our Crawford family in the Vandalia area.

Based on Mr. Denhalter’s research, I wrote in the Crawford history: “Susanna’s great-grandfather, Andreas Straub, was born along the southern border of Germany. He attended Catholic schools to become a priest, according to hsi parents’ wishes. BUt in early manhood, he left Germany for America, arriving on the brigantine Mary on August 25, 1742. He sttled at what later became Columbia in Lancaster Count, PA, where he purchased land and became a successful farmer. The History of Northumberland Co., PA, indicates, ‘He was a good neighbor and true friend, and was on very friendly terms with the Wright brothers, the founders of Columbia and Wrightsville.’ His children were Andrew, Valentine, and daughters Mrs.  Hougendobler and Mrs. Merkle.

“Andrew Straub was born Feb. 14, 1748 in Columbia, and died Aug. 2, 1806 at Milton, PA. He married Mary Eveline Walter on May 1, 1787. As a boy, he was bound out to Mr. Bashore to learn the millwright trade. Bashore, however, made him work the trade in the day and split rails at night. After four weeks of this, Andrew took up the trade with the wrights. Before the war, Andrew built his first mill on the Chillisquaque creek above Northumberland, bringing iron from Columbia by canoe. He also built a mill on the White deer creek, in teh present Union county. He enlisted in the Continental Army and after he war, he moved to MIlton and in April 1784 to Columbia. Andrew donated much land in Milton for churches and schools. His philanthropic gestures significantly advanced businesses there.”

Here is the Find-a-Grave page for Andrew, with a link to Mary—my 5-great-grandparents. According to Mr. Denhalter, the children of Andrew and Mary Straub were:

1 Andrew, d. after Aug. 20, 1827. Married Barbara

2 Joseph, b. Feb. 10, 1793. Married Elizabeth Follmer

3Abraham, b. Dec. 9, 1794, d. Aug. 21, 1864. Married Nancy Billiet on Nov. 29, 1821.

4 Isaac, b. Dec. 9, 1794, d. Dec. 17, 1875. Married Harriet

5 Susanna. Married — Rhodes

6 Esther. Married — Lawrence Rachel, married —Jodon

7 Mary, married — Smith

8 Christian, and also three infants

The children of Andrew and Barbara Straub were:

1 Andrew, b. 1798 in Northampton. Married Priscilla Crawford on March 3, 1825

2 Joseph, born 1800

3 Susannah, born 1809. Married Paul Crawford.

I continue: “The 1850 census for Marion County, OhIo lists Susannah Crawford with children Mary Ann, Andrew, Susan, Sarah, Jcob, Martin, and Calvin; apparently Barbara [the second child, after Mary Ann] was already in Fayette Co., IL and married, since her first child was born there in April 1850. They are all found in the 1860 Fayette Co. census save Jacob, who was living in Brown Co., Illinois.”

The rest of my material was from Grandma. The traditional date of the Crawfords’ arrival in Fayette County is 1852 or 1853, and traditionally, Susanna is said to have settled in the area of Otego township south of what is now the Agronomy Research Center of University of Illinois. Later she moved a mile or two northeast, to what is called the Mahon District

Susan Crawford 1809-1875. Grave in the Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, IL

(around section 14). “It is said that Susan attended a quilting one day, took sick, and soon died. Her death was not recorded in county records, which begin in 1877.”

My family “tree” consisted of the descendants of the eight children of Paul and Susanna. The eight were:

1 Mary Ann, born Sept. 30, 1825, Died March 1, 1856. married Martin Scrote. Children: Adaline, Dvid, Tabitha

I tell the story of Martin Scrote here. Here is Mary Ann’s Find-a-Grave page.

2 Barbara, born March 9, 1829, died January 25, 1873 married Edmonson M. Williams, who was born c. 1824 and died in Kansas, place and date unknown. Edmonson was my great-great-grandfather Josiah Williams’ brother, as explained here. Children: Susanna, Marian, Andrew, Ada, Morris, Barbara Ann,

Andrew Crawford (1831-1880)

Andrew Crawford (1831-1880)

Sarah Jane, Paul Ira, May, John

3 Andrew, March 11, 1831 or 1832, died Sept. 30, 1880, married Caroline Mahon, who was born April 4, 1844 and died in1921. Children, John, Alice, Rosella, Paul, William, Andrew (Andrew and Caroline are my great-great-grandparents; their

John and Susan Crawford, sons (l to r) Marvin, Josiah, Charlie, and daughters (l to r) Adeline, Ruby, Mary. 1899

John and Susan Crawford, sons (l to r) Marvin, Josiah, Charlie, and daughters (l to r) Adeline, Ruby, Mary. 1899

son John is my mother’s paternal grandfather. John married Susan Williams, whose father was Josiah Williams, just mentioned. Susan’s mother was Margaret Brown Williams, and I discuss the Brown family here.) John and Susan’s children were: Josiah, Marvin, Charles, Adeline, Ruby, Mary, Nell, and Ruth. I never knew my grandfather Josiah, nor his brother Marvin (who died young in 1909), but the other six children were my beloved great-uncle and great-aunts, very dear people to my growing-up years.

4 Sarah, August 19, 1833, died November 26, 1911, married David Washburn (who was my great-great-grandfather George Washburn’s brother; that family is discussed here). David was born Feb. 15, 1825 and died January 30, 1893 Adopted children: Charles, Jeanetta

5 Susan, born April 19, 1836 and died March 5, 1898. Married Leroy Washburn (David and George’s brother), who was born Nov. 19, 1836 and died Dec. 16, 1908 Children: T. S. (Toltin Sylvester), Ira, Roselma

6 Jacob, Aug. 30, 1839, died Dec. 21, 1924. First married Ann Elizabeth Parks (1847-1864). Their child was named Charles. Jacob then married Isabella Briggs (1848-1932) married Isabel Children: Louisa, Myrtle, Emma, Eva, Lula, Ona, Bessie, and Lewis. Jacob was the only one of the eight children not to live in the Vandalia area, and the only one not buried in the Pilcher Cemetery. He was a minister who lived in Brown County, Illinois. His Find-a-Grave page is here.

7 Martin Van Buren Crawford, born May 18, 1841, died Feb. 26, 1904. He first mamarried Elizabeth Bolt (1849-1893). Their chilren were Frank, Paul, Elta, James, Andrew, and Grover. Martin then married Mary Lennie (Apple) King (1862-1938), and their children were Martin and Floyd. Frank Crawford’s son was Cecil C. Crawford, a minister and teacher whose theological writings were influential for me: I write about Cecil and his family here.

8 Calvin (1844-1916), married (1) Harriet Mahon (1853-1884). Their children were: Barbara and Jacob. Calvin’s second marriage was to Rosetta Bolt Mahon (1855-1927). Their children: Bessie, Lewis. Lewis was the first Vandalia-area casualty in World War I; I write about him here.

More interrelationships: Rosetta and Elizabeth Bolt were sisters. Rosetta had been married to Jacob Mahon, who was the brother of Caroline Mahon Crawford, and also of Harriet Mahon. So Calvin was related to Jacob Mahon by being married to (1) his sister and then (2) his widow, and (3) because Calvin’s brother Andrew was married to another of Jacob’s sisters.)

Although I assume it was not intentional, Paul and Susan’s children (except for Jacob, #6) are buried in the Pilcher Cemetery in a more or less straight line (though not always next to each other), in chronological order of birth. If you visit the cemetery, there is a kind of lane through the middle of the small cemetery. On the north part of that lane, on the right (just beyond the place where a great tree once grew), is Mary Ann Scrote, the oldest child, and then to her right (moving south) is Barbara Williams, the second child. Their mother Susan Crawford is buried nearby. Then Andrew (#3) and Caroline, then still moving south, Sarah (#4) and David, and then Susan (#5) and Leroy. My grandmother told me that Martin Van Buren Crawford (#7) is buried in an unmarked grave just to the south of Susan and Leroy’s stone. And last in that line is Calvin (#8) and his family. Across from Calvin and his family are my grandparents, great-grandparents (Crawford and Pilcher), and other close relatives of mine.

One more connection: my great-grandfather John Crawford kept his canceled checks and bills in an oatmeal box. At this end of this essay, I tell how John helped get me interested in Bible study, fifty years after his death. I already acknowledged the role of cousin Cecil Crawford in inspiring me toward religious work.

Finally: isn’t “Martin Van Buren Crawford” an awesome name? He also had a son named Grover Cleveland Crawford. Were they democrats? My Crawford grandparents were very strong FDR democrats. So there is another influence in my professional work, connected back to Otego Township: my grandma wanted me to be interested in Bible study (she gave me a Bible dictionary that I still use in my freelance curriculum writing) and she had an interest in linking faith with social topics, which remained with me, too.

After a busy semester that included a book deadline, I’m getting back to posting my old genealogical notes onto this blog.

This is a picture of my great-great-grandparents, Josiah and Margaret Williams. They are my mom’s paternal grandmother’s parents, buried (along with so many other of my maternal relatives) in thScan 16e Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, Illinois. I tell the story, here, of exploring that cemetery during my high school years and recording the inscriptions. I tell the story of the Williams family here.

Josiah was 20 years older than Margaret, and was first married to her older sister Winnaford. The sisters’ birth name was Brown—and the Browns are an interesting family in my ancestry.

In my genealogy files I have Brown family notes from another genealogist, Glenore Cole, but I don’t remember when Glenore sent these to me. (The pages are yellow, so I’m assuming it was back in the 1970s, when I did so much genealogy.) According to the notes, James and Eliza (Baldwin) Brown are the early ancestors of this branch—my 6-great-grandparents.

They were the parents of: James Brown, born Apr. 29, 1708 in Middlesex Co, VA, died March 3, 1784 in Culpepper Co., VA. Married in c. 1736 to Elizabeth Poole, born April 1719 in Gloucester Co., VA. Her parents were George and Elizabeth Poole.

The children of James and Elizabeth:

1 Hezekiah, born 1738 in Spotsylvania Co., VA, died Aug 29, 1821 in Frankfort, KY. Married to Anne Stubblefield, second marriage to Mrs. Sarah Long.

2 James, born April 19, 1742 in Mansfield, near Fredericksburg, VA, died June 24, 1825 in Bourbon Co., KY Married to Ann Davis on Nov. 15, 1764. Mary (c. 1740-Nov. 29, 1764). Married James Michael Rice George Henry (c. 1745 – after 1821). (Glenore Cole’s notes indicates that James’ and Ann’s son William Brown was an early settler of Sangamon Co., IL—as were my dad’s ancestors whom I discuss here. Did these families on my dad’s and my mom’s side of the family know each other during early 1830s? As with my dad’s ancestors, William Brown has a nice history in John Carroll Power’s 1876 History of the Early Settlers of Sangamon County, Illinois, pp. 146-148.)

3 Elizabeth

4 Sarah

5 Ann

Hezekiah Brown moved to Frankfort, KY in c. 1799. His first wife, Anne Stubblefield was born in c. 1747, possibly in King George Co., VA, and died before 1784. Her parents were Thomas and Ellen (Hackley) Stubblefield. Hezekiah and Anne’s children:

Ellen (Nelly), born April 22, 1764, died Sept. 1856, married to Matthew Newton Clarke

2 Mary (Molly), born c. 1766, died beofre 1819, married William Waters

3 Frances (Frankey), born Feb. 27, 1768, died Nov. 12, 1835. Married Rodham Priest Thomas, born c. 1770, died before 1819.

4 Jael (Jaly), born c. 1771/2, died before 1805.

5 Hezekiah, born c. 1773 in Culpepper Co., VA, died in 1845 or 6 in Fayette Co., IL. His two wives were – — Danks (or Daniels), and Delilah Currance. So Hezekiah, my 4-great-grandfather, was the pioneer of Fayette County, IL., but so was his sister Elizabeth:

6 Elizabeth (Betsy), born c. 1774. Married to Allan Thompson. I’ll talk about them below.

7 Ann, born 1775, married to James Mason and then Matthew Templeman

8 Lucy, born Feb. 10, 1782, died Oct. 3, 1863, married John D. Richardson

9 Henry (Harry), born c. 1783. Married to Mary Fitzgerald

Hezekiah (II) and Dorrance Currance’s children:

1 William D. (9/6/1798 to 4/26,1859), married Mary Hunter Currance

2 George D. (9/7/1803 to 12/17/1847, married Nancy Carneal

3 Henry (born 1809, probably in Logan Co., KY died 10/16/1856 in Fayette Co. IL, married Susan Pilcher (on May 3, 1832) and then Ann (Austin) Nichols (1819 – March 20, 1899) on Nov. 22 1841. He served in the Black Hawk War in Illinois.

4 Two daughters.

Henry and Ann Brown’s children:

1 Winnaford Ann (born 1834, died before March 1858), married to Josiah Williams on Dec. 5, 1852 by Rev. Benjamin D. Mahon.

2 George, born 1836

3 Margaret Adeline, born 1838, died July 28, 1893. Married on March 25, 1858 to Josiah Williams, who had been married to her older sister.

So we’re back to Josiah and Margaret Williams, my great-great-grandparents, whose daughter Susan married John Crawford—and they are my mom’s paternal grandparents, buried beside my own grandparents in the Pilcher Cemetery near Brownstown, IL.

Josiah and Margaret are buried in the same cemetery; I always wondered if Josiah’s first wife, Margaret’s sister Winnaford, is buried there, too, but there is no grave marker to know.

This is the line of my direct ancestors, but I need to back up and talk about my 4-great aunt, Elizabeth (Brown) Thompson, who was sister of my 3-great-grandfather Henry Brown’s sister. The 1878 History of Fayette County, Illinois mentions Elizabeth twice, though not by name, but rather as the mother of Vandalia pioneer Benjamin Ward Thompson (pp. 25, 60). The history indicates that the Thompsons moved to Fayette County in 1819 and settled a mile and a half south of Vandalia, in township section 29. 1819 was the year Vandalia was founded! Thompson, who was 13 that year, lived the rest of his life in Vandalia and was considered one of the beloved “old settlers.” The history indicates that “Mr. Thompson’s father died when his son was twelve years of age; consequently he was thrown entirely upon his own resources. He struggled alone, and the fact of his having so repeatedly been elected to important positions is the best commendtar that can be passed upon his life and character as a man and citizen” (p. 60).

B. Ward Thompson married Susana Bayle in 1828. Although Thompson is buried in the old Vandalia cemetery, Susanna is buried among my Pilcher and Gatewood ancestors in the Winslow Pilcher family cemetery. Nearby is Susanna and Ward’s daughter, Elizabeth, who married a son of Rev. Benjamin Mahon (my 3-great uncle in that family), whom I mentioned above as the pastor who married Winnaford and Josiah.

Back to Elizabeth Thompson. Her son was a notable Vandalian, and two of Elizabeth’s daughters married notable Vandalians.

One, also named Elizabeth, married John A. Wakefield, another early settler of the Vandalia area—and the first white settler of Otego Township, where most of my mom’s side of the family settled. WakefiIMG_1084eld wrote a history of the Black Hawk War which is still considered an important primary source for that tragic conflict. His Find-a-Grave page provides some of his interesting life.

Another of Elizabeth’s daughters, Margaret, married Frederick Hollman, a German immigrant who was a key person in the establishment of Vandalia in 1819-1820. He was a member of the Ernst colony, a group of impoverished Germans under the leadership of Ferdinand Ernst, who settled in Vandalia in late 1820. Although Ernst died young and Hollman moved away, other members of the colony became important figures in later Vandalia history. My first book, High on the Okaw’s Western Bank: Vandalia, Illinois, 1819-1839, had an entire chapter devoted to the Ernst Colony, and I also wrote two articles on the colony, including this one.

So these two important early Vandalians are related to me by marriage: nephews-in-law of my 3-great-grandfather Henry Brown.

I haven’t posted to this blog for a while, because of other commitments. Now that things have gotten a little easier, I’m back to posting some things. Here is another installment of my family history: the Strobel family.


John and Emma Strobel, c. 1930. My dad said he took the picture.

When I was a teenager, I traced my mother’s side of the family, and then I hoped to write up a Strobel family tree. But then I went to college, became involved in other things, and drifted away from genealogy. Also, all my Strobel great-aunts and -uncles were deceased by 1961, when I was 4, and so I lacked that whole generation to interview. Such interviews had been crucial when I traced the Crawfords.

But I did trace my grandfather’s generation (he is number eight below) and the names of my father’s generation. Why is my name “Stroble” and all these people are named “Strobel”? Because my grandfather spelled the name both ways, and that was the way he spelled the name for my dad’s birth certificate. Grandfather’s tombstone has Stroble and his obituary has Strobel. In those days, you could spell your name as you wished, I suppose.

Here are my great-grandparents: John Strobel, b. Jan. 1, 1840, d. Aug 26, 1932. He married Emma Hotz,  b. July 7, 1846, d. July 7, 1937. They married June 20, 1865.

Their children: Mary, Lena, John, Ann, George, Charles, Amelia, Andrew, Gustave, Edward.

1. Mary Elizabeth (Lizzie) Strobel, Dec. 31, 1866, d. Aug. 30, 1904, married Frederick G. Schaefer, May 3, 1863 (in Germany), March 7, 1922: Children: Fred, Lady, Karl, Margaret

2. Lena Strobel, b. Oct. 18, 1868, d. 1955. Married Frank Hoffman, who lived 1864-1924 No children

3. John William Strobel, Dec. 12, 1870 to May 5, 1942. Married Sadie Durban. Children: Mary, Angeline,

4. Ann Strobel, b. May 11, 1872, d. Sept. 24, 1872

5. George Strobel, b. Nov. 13, 1873 Married Mamie Philips. Children: Lena, Lillie, Blanche, Emma,

6. Charles Nicholas Strobel, Nov. 5, 1876 till Nov. 27, 1961. Married Lillie E. Watkins, May 7, 1886 till Jan. 20, 1949. Their children: Tina, Leta, Jesse, Evalena, Donna, Delmar, Fred, Charles, Virgil, June. I want to add here that Dad was close to his first cousins in this family branch.

7. Amelia Strobel, August 20, 1880 till Sept. 7, 1961. Married Charles Holman, Oct. 11, 1877 till Oct. 1, 1951. Children: Van, Ethel, Paul, Leo, John, Mildred, Lucille, two infants, Gwendolyn and Leonard (twins, surnamed Holdman), Helen Mae (surnamed Holdman).

8. Andrew Christian Strobel, born Aug,7, 1882, died May 7, 1935. Married Permelia Jane Carson, March 22, 1890, d. Oct. 30, 1991. Her family, the Carsons and Colburns, are described elsewhere in this blog. Andy and Janie’s children: Paul (my dad) and Mary Gladys.

9. Gustave Strobel, Nov. 24, 1884 till Nov. 22, 1885.

10. James Edward Strobel, Oct. 12, 1887, Jan. 27, 1961. A World War I veteran, he never married, and was known locally for his horses. A person on the “Vandalia Memories” Facebook page wondered if I was any relation to Ed Strobel, because he was such a nice person and he let her ride his horses when she was little.

Around 1970 or 1971, my parents and I visited the St. Joseph’s Cemetery in Highland, IL. We found Gustave (“Gussie”) Strobel’s grave. Now that we’re in the era of the internet, there is that awesome site called Find-a-Grave, which identified a grave in Highland as my great-grandfather John’s father, Andreas Strobel (1804-Jan. 31, 1863): http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GSln=strobel&GSbyrel=all&GSdyrel=all&GSob=n&GSsr=121&GRid=20406248&df=all&

Here is John’s page: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=25252546

Gustave’s: http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=116669941

My great-grandmother Emma Strobel’s parents are also buried in that cemetery—which I didn’t realize when my parents and I visited it in the 1970s. They were Christian Hotz (Dec. 19, 1817, from Oestringen, Baden and came to America in 1841), died Feb. 22, 1902 in Highland. He married to Maria Eva Weber, who lived Feb. 22, 1822 till July 7, 1898. They married July 28, 1840. http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=93228685

Here also is my blog post about John Strobel, including the text of his 1932 obituary. http://paulstroble.blogspot.com/2009/05/my-civil-war-ancestor.html

I always liked my ancestry, although it is almost wholly British, Irish, and German, not untypical of central and southern Illinois. As I’ve described elsewhere on this blog, I’ve a family branch that began with a Mayflower passenger, a branch in colonial Virginia (which, unfortunately, included generations of slave owners). One branch (which I still

Andy and Janie Stroble, c. 1908

Andy and Janie Stroble, c. 1908

need to write about for this blog) includes a historian of the tragic Black Hawk War in 1832. Other branches from Scotland, Ireland, and Wales arrived before the Revolution. The Strobel branch, however, came much later, in the 1840s, reflecting that great emigration from the German states in the mid 19th century. They were also German Catholic, not a popular immigrant group among some Protestants at the time, which makes me wonder what kinds of experiences they had in Illinois. They were the last of my family groups to arrive in America. Though they first settled in Madison County, Illinois, John and Emma eventually moved over to Fayette County, IL, in time for my grandfather to be born there in 1882. And so by 1882, all of my family groups were in place in Fayette County, where I was eventually born and raised.

I’ll think about my grandfather this coming May 7th, the 80th anniversary of his death. He and my dad (who was 22 in 1935) walked together among the stores on S. Fifth Street in Vandalia, and Andy “just caught the door handle and fell,” in Dad’s words. He died of a stroke, age 52. “Everyone knew Dad, and liked him,” my father would say wistfully, and I’ve always wondered what nice times Andy and I missed because our lives did not overlap.


I was chatting on Facebook with three different people, all of us in a kind of post-Advent slump.

Traditionally viewed, Advent is a time of longing for Christ. We symbolically anticipate his birth but look toward his second coming. Then at Christmastide, we celebrate and honor his birth as well as the revelation of his divinity (Epiphany, or Theophany in the eastern churches).

But in actuality, we expend our celebratory energies during Advent, culminating in the multiple Christmas Eve services. Afterward, many of us begin to take down and box up our holiday decorations, and many pastors (at least in my own circles) take well-deserved time-off during some portion of Christmastide.

Rather than feeling guilty about not keeping Christmastide more festive, I wonder if we should simply recognize that our holidays have evolved to this point. Advent and Christmas are, already, a complex assortment of traditions: Christian, non-Christian religious, and secular/economic. The Christian liturgical year begins on the first Sunday of Advent with the anticipation of a big, festive season, and then we can move into our new year with a fresh sense of Christ, even if we’re a little tired for a while.


My previous post had to do with the grief and tragedy evoked on Holy Innocents’ Day. Looking through some of my books for blog ideas, I found some good thoughts in a favorite text, The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality by Ronald Rolheiser (New York: Doubleday, 1999). In one section, Rolheiser talks about the grief of recognizing life’s unfairness.

We know that life is unfair, but sometimes we have to “process” that fact. We had dreams but they didn’t work out, we’re disappointed, we don’t feel as valued as we’d like (p. 163). The prodigal son’s older brother is an example. His circumstance is not dire like the younger son’s. The older brother’s life seems pretty good! Yet he feels bitter, let-down, and left out. He feels no joy (p. 163).

How many of us can sympathize with the older brother! Life is unfair, but it is unfair in different ways for different people. We wish things were different in the way life has been unfair for us, while someone else may wish he/she had our lives!

Rolheiser suggests that we go ahead and grieve, because grieving helps us eventually to let the old things go. He calls this “letting the old give us its blessing” (p. 164). “We face many deaths within our lives and the choice is ours as to whether those deaths will be terminal (sniffing out life and spirit) or whether they will be paschal (opening us to new life and new spirit). Grieving is the key to the latter” (p. 164).

In John’s gospel, when Mary Magdalene encountered the risen Jesus, Jesus tells her not to cling to her. Rolheiser suggests that Mary is trying to cling to what she has known and loved about Jesus–to cling the past. When she can grieve the Jesus she has known and open herself to the new circumstance, then she can receive a new spirit (pp. 164-165). (My own thought: you can see similarities of these ideas with the Buddhist teachings about attachment and non-attachment.)

I’m a very slow griever, unfortunately. But letting the past bless us, even the painful and/or abusive experiences, is to recognize that what has happened has happened, to accept the unfairness, to grieve, and then, hopefully, “to “attain the joy and delights that are in fact possible for us” (p. 164).