Search billions of records on


Madison County Genealogical Society

Minutes of the Meeting - September 13, 2012

The September 2012 meeting of the Madison County Genealogical Society was held at the EdwardsvillePublic Library on Thursday, September 13, at 7:00 pm.

President, Robert Ridenour, called the meeting to order.

The following is the Treasurer's report for the month of August:


Do you have a family member that is interested in (or even obsessed with) genealogy? A membership in the Madison County Genealogical Society would be a very thoughtful gift. A gift card will be sent to the recipient of any gift membership.

The following memberships are available:
Individual/Family Annual Membership $20.00
Patron Annual Membership $30.00
Life Membership $250.00

Contact our Secretary, Barbara Hitch, at, about a gift membership.

September Meeting

On September 13, 2012, Dawn Cobb, Human Skeletal Remains Protection Act Coordinator, Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and Hal Hassen, Archaeologist, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, made a presentation titled Guide to Understanding Illinois' Historic Cemeteries.

Dawn discussed the concepts of prehistoric burial grounds. Burial grounds and cemeteries did not just start when the white man moved into the area and brought in their customs. The prehistoric people who lived here disposed of the bodies of their loved ones in very similar ways. This has been going on for the past 12,000 years as documented through archaeology. There were different cultures classified based on their technology and how they lived their lives.

The Archaic period (10,000 to 3,000 years ago) people were in a hunter-gatherer way of life. They lived in hunting camps, not permanent villages, and moved with the wild game upon which they fed. Many of these hunting camps were built at the base of the bluffs where caves and rock shelters were present. These people tended to build small burial mounds on the bluffs, but they occasionally buried some of their deceased in the living area of the rock shelters.

The Woodland period (3,000 to 1,250 years ago) people also tended to bury their dead in mounds on the bluff top overlooking the rivers. The Middle Woodland period saw the construction of large mounds on the bluffs overlooking the Mississippi River. Everything was very elaborate - the items buried in the graves came from great distances and showed large amounts of labor involved. The Middle Woodland period lasted only about 500-600 years and stopped abruptly. The reasons for the beginning and ending of this period are not known. It almost appears to be a cult of the dead or a belief system. The late Woodland period saw things calming down, but the mounds were still built along the major rivers.

During the Mississippian period people lived in large cities and villages along the Mississippi River- Cahokia is a prime example of this. The Mississippian period still has mounds, but they are starting to designate burial areas separate from their habitation place. These appear to be planned communities with strict rules about how they are going to lay out their lives and their death.

The Post-Contact (after 1673) culture started being affected by contact with the European missionaries. The European culture brought the concept of church or family cemeteries, which would eventually grow into large community cemeteries. Now instead of mounds, there are individual grave markers.

The pre-historic mounds were built to be seen. They are high above the rivers - the main mode of transportation at the time - and can be seen from a long distance. The mounds may have been decorated; there is no way of telling now.

Hal discussed the evolution of cemeteries and grave markers during the 18th and 19th centuries. Obviously, every cemetery starts with the burial of just one person and grows. If you are observant, you can see changes in the cemetery: marker materials, types of markers, positioning of markers, folk art, etc. A marker is not only a snapshot of one point in time and one belief system, but it can also show a transition of that belief. Burial grounds transitioned into cemeteries and the cemeteries changed form and format over time. We looked at seven different types of burial grounds: pioneer burial grounds, churchyard burial grounds, rural cemeteries, lawn cemeteries, memorial park cemeteries, military cemeteries, and institutional cemeteries.

When Europeans first settled in Illinois, those who died had to be buried somewhere and there were no formal cemeteries. People were buried on the farms where they lived and worked. There were very few towns and very few churches. People buried on the farms were usually buried on a hilltop overlooking a stream. Over time, the Pioneer Burial Ground, which was immediate family, changed to extended family through marriage. Eventually, non-family members are going to be buried in those burial grounds as well.

Eventually, churches are built and with the churches came the Churchyard Burial Grounds. Not all churches have burial grounds. Today you will find church burial grounds with no church. The church building is gone for some reason.

Towns started to be built in Illinois and the people were living in towns and not on the farm. Those that die in town have to be buried somewhere so a lot of communities had burial grounds within the town and city limits. There was no church associated with these burial grounds, and we have what is called the "secularization of death."

In Illinois, these burial ground changes occurred from 1673 up to the early 1800s. In the east, where people have been living since the early 1600s, the cities have larger populations. More people are being buried in burial grounds inside cities. The large burial grounds inside the cities fall into disrepair and are becoming eyesores because no one is taking care of them.

At the same time, people are becoming disenchanted with city life. There is a lot of crime, a lot of poverty, a lot of disease, and people are living very close to one another. People are not really happy in the big city. A lot of people feel that the decaying burial grounds in the city limits are a cause of a lot of illness. At the same time, the burial grounds in the middle of large cities represent prime real estate and economic opportunity is being stifled because the burial grounds are there.

For these two reasons, they want to relocate the burials from the city. They move the bodies out of the city and encourage people to bury their loved ones in the future in what's going to be called the Rural Cemetery. They will be very different than the type of burial grounds that people are accustomed to - the pioneer and small town cemeteries. The word "cemetery" was first used in conjunction with the "new" rural cemeteries.

The rural cemetery encourages individual families to buy a family plot with stone coping and one large central monument. The rural cemetery movement wanted to assure that, in death, everyone was going to be treated equally. Even though there were status differences in life, at least when we die, we are all the same.

The rural cemetery movement brought about a change in how we bury people. Fraternal organizations were prominent in the beginning of the rural cemetery movement. The markers in rural cemeteries show membership in all types of fraternal organizations. People joined these organizations in part to facilitate the expense of a funeral. Life insurance was started to help pay for funerals.

In a burial ground or cemetery, everything you see is meant to be seen by the living. It has very little to do with death. Everything above ground is there for a reason - people want you to see it. Unfortunately, a lot of what you see is status and people want you to see how wealthy they were or how important they were in society. The rural cemetery movement tried to move away from that and treat everyone the same.

The family plot with one marker soon gave way to a central marker plus individual markers. Status was again being transported to the cemetery - the idea of everyone being equal did not work out too well. Human nature is such that we do not want to be equal; we want to show people that we have a higher status. The idea of having a family plot with one marker is falling apart; the markers are getting bigger and bigger.

The idea was that you would come into the rural cemetery and picnic, walk around, commune with nature, and have a good time. Since the markers were getting bigger and the trees have grown, you could longer see very far into the cemetery. In Cincinnati, the architects decided to do something different. They came up with the concept of a Lawn Cemetery. They shrank the markers down in size, they opened it up with shrubs, took away the trees, did away with the family plots; it is just husband and wife. But, even the lawn cemeteries have different sized markers that show an indication of wealth or status.

In the 20th century, in Forest Lawn, California, they came up with the concept of a Memorial Park. The intent was that everyone would have a marker that is the same and the memorial park would supply the statuary and the decoration.

In some cemeteries, you can see all these types - rural, lawn, and memorial park. The burial ground has changed over time

In Military Cemeteries, all the markers look the same. A lot of the Civil War areas in cemeteries have a large statue of a soldier and the soldiers are buried in circles around the statue.

In Institutional Cemeteries, all the markers are the same - everyone is equal. The marker contains their name and the date of death.

The changes that occur in burial grounds are reflections of changes in the community and social attitude.

Graves are marked with what is available. The earliest markers were made of wood. Some early graves are marked with fieldstone - whatever was available from the creek. The fieldstone may not be carved, or it may be carved with the name and the date. Sandstone markers were cut and carved by people who had the skill. Sandstone is native to Illinois but many areas of Illinois do not have access to sandstone, so you will not find sandstone markers in those areas.

Markers were changing at the same time as the burial grounds but markers do not change very much. The engraving is usually always the same: Name on top, followed by dates, and epitaph at the bottom.

The early markers do not have a lot of folk art. The language on early 19th century markers is fairly uniform - In Memory Of.......... It is very simple, a Puritan approach to death - fatalistic and unsentimental.

There is no marker style or shape in Illinois that originates in Illinois. It all comes from out east.

Marble markers became popular during the Civil War because the marble could be transported from its source in the east by railroad.

If the marker is marble, most of the time it will be facing west, i.e., the writing to the west. The body is behind the marker with the head facing east - the Resurrection - the rising sun is Christian symbolism. Granite markers usually reverse those directions. With a granite marker, you are usually standing on the grave to read the marker. Marble footstones will have the writing facing east. Footstones are not used any longer. There are exceptions to these rules of thumb but most of the time the directions are as mentioned.

Markers have changed over 150 years from wood and fieldstone to elaborately computer carved granite markers. These represent changes in consumerism and social changes, along with technology.

This was a very interesting presentation and generated questions and comments from the audience.