For me this is difficult because I have quite a number of “favorite finds”. I will start my very first favorite find in the early years of my research. When I was a child I asked my Grandfather, Everett Smith, where he grew up and he said “Roanoke, Indiana.” So logically when I started my research for my Smith Ancestors, I started looking in Roanoke. He had a picture of his High School and it was indeed in Roanoke.
I spent six months or more researching and they all came up as dead ends. It just did not make since. Little did I know that they were hiding all of 8.6 miles away in another county. They lived in Nine Mile, Indiana which is located in Allen County, Indiana. When you are researching “Smith’s” , 8.6 miles away in a different county is like being a world away! Roanoke was a good size community in Huntington County compared to Nine Mile which was a crossroad farm community with a couple of churches.
When I began my research I was living in Illinois. Every fall I would take a few days off from work and go visit my Grandchildren who were living in Michigan. On this day I decided to take a more rural route to Michigan by way of a side trip to the Fort Wayne area. I took a US Highway 30 through northern Indiana from the southeast suburbs of Chicago to Fort Wayne. The fall leaves were beautiful. The sun was shining and I traveled the whole distance with the window rolled down absorbing every second of the fall ride. My first stop was at the Methodist church at Nine Mile, Indiana. I had found records which indicated that my Smith Family had likely lived nearby and that the father, James and some of the children maybe buried in the cemetery at this church.
I found a section of the cemetery in the northwest corner which seemed to have the oldest stones. There was a pile of broken stone pieces stacked on a base. When I moved them, I was thrilled to discover that they were the Smith stones I was searching for.
I would learn later that all these pieces are actually one stone. The church burial records which I would later obtain from a cemetery trustee would show that James, Charles, Kisiah and a baby name Barberry are all buried in this plot and listed on this stone. Susannah is also on the stone but the church has no record of her being buried here.
The remaining Smiths’ buried in the Nine Mile Cemetery are in the plot to the south of the broken stone. I noticed the stone that day but I did not record it. I noticed it because the stone looks like it is growing out of a tree. I thought to myself, “what a shame” that a tree has grown in that woman’s grave. I took a picture of it and read the name on the stone but thought nothing of it. After returning home and obtaining burial records from the trustee of the cemetery, I realized that Mary Ann Kimble and her daughter Susanna, who are buried in this grave are the daughter and granddaughter of James and Susannah Smith.
I had been wandering this cemetery for nearly two hours now and I needed to get back on the road again to get to Michigan for my visit with my Grandchildren. I decided I would stop again on my way home and see if I could find out anything more.
When I returned from Michigan after my visit, I had the better part of an afternoon to see what I could find out about my these people who seemed to be related to me. After arriving at Nine Miles again, I knocked on the door of the the house directly across the street from the church. I hoped that it was the parsonage but now days you just can not be sure. I hoped that maybe I could talk to the minister about church records. It was a nice brick home much like the homes that my Grandparents had lived in while Grandpa Everett was a minister. The brick looked like the same as the bricks the church had been built with.
A lovely middle aged woman answered the door. She was dressed in a nice pair of dress slacks with a very pretty blouse. I explained who I was and what had brought me to Nine Mile Indiana. The reaction on her face showed a bit of surprise followed by a large warm smile. She offered her hand to me in a warm welcome. We chatted about the church a bit but she did not know much about its history. At this point in my search I could not be certain if this was my family or not. I had hoped the find out that the church had lots of old records and they would be able to answer all my questions! For a Family historian this is the equivalent of hitting the lottery!
She was a very nice lady and as it turned out she was the minister. It brought a smile to my face. Oh much had changed since the days that Grandpa Everett was a minister. In their day, Grandma Lillian would have been answering the door. She would have had a dress on with her apron wrapped around her waist careful to wipe her hands before opening the door and inviting you in. The parsonage door was always open to visitors.
My sensed that she was on her way out the door when she answered the doorbell and that turned out to be true. She was headed to the hospital to visit with a church member. She asked if I wanted to see the church. “I’ll unlock it for you and when I return in an hour or so I’ll close it up then.” I told her that would be wonderful. We walked across the street chatting about the church and the quaint cemetery which surrounds it. She unlocked the door and opened it for me. Inviting me in, she said “enjoy your visit and I hope you find what you are looking for.” “I’ll be back in an hour or so to lock up”, she said. I went into the church and she walked back to the parsonage getting in her car and driving away. I thought to myself that it is a shame that we must lock our church doors these days. In Grandpa’s day, the church was always open. You never knew when someone would need to have a few minutes with God.
The church looked very much like the churches of my childhood. In the vestibule there were stairs leading up to the sanctuary or down to what I imagines were Sunday school rooms and a nursery. As I walked into the sanctuary, my thoughts turn to Grandpa Everett, wondering if he had ever been here. Could this have been his church? As I sat in the back of the church in the pew, I took in the beauty of this sanctuary. It is arrange much like a Theater, the pews fanned out with the focal point being the alter. It was not large but very warm and inviting.
I sat there in the peace and stillness of this beautiful church, with God, Grandpa Everett and other family members who I had not met yet but was certain that I would meet them soon. I was disappointed to find out that there were no Church records to speak of. “Oh we have a dusty old box in the corner of the Office downstairs which might have a few things in it” the minister had stated, “but probably nothing that will help you much.”
I decided that a trip to the wash room downstairs would be necessary before I got back in the car and headed to Chicago. The basement was dark. They had a nice fellowship hall, a kitchen, a nursery and restrooms. When I came out of the rest room, I was thinking about the church as I walked toward the stair way to leave. To the right of the stairway hanging on the wall, was a quilt. I was at first startled but soon intrigued by it. It become the most exciting find for me in my family history search in my early years of research. It was my winning lottery ticket!
I snapped on the lights so I could see it better. This quilt was made by the Ladies Aid Society in 1906. It was a turn of the century Crazy Quilt block design. On each of the pieces of fabric, a family member embroidered a name of each family member who belonged to this church. In 1906, my Grandfather and his parents still lived in the area at that time. I was certain that there would be family members names on this quilt, if the man named James Smith who is buried in the cemetery was indeed my 3 times Great Grandfather.. So I quickly took a picture of the quilt as a whole and each of the blocks thinking that I could have family members on this quilt. There were so many names and I did not have time to write them all down. I had no idea when I would get back her again.
I returned home to Chicago and spent the next few weeks (after work) trying to transcribe the names correctly from the embroidered names on each block into a spreadsheet. Then I spent some time researching the names in an effort to verify them. There are 313 names of church members in the Nine Mile United Methodist Church in 1906 listed on this quilt. This is a Genealogist’s Winning Lottery Ticket. My Great Grandparents and my Grandfather were not among the families listed but several cousin were..
I have not looked at these names for a while. Now that there is so much more data available online and I am retired, I need to resurrect this project and work on it ! This was part of the reason that I started Blogging when I did. It has been a long time since I have looked at these families. This was the first of my many favorite finds! Oh I might add that my other hobby is quilting!