In 1994, when I first began doing our family genealogies, my father-in-law sent us some copies of old pictures he had of his Bean and Whitmore families. He knew more about the Beans than he did John Whitmore, but we were anxious to find out more about all of them. And so began the search.
During one of our visits to Iowa in 1995 I had an opportunity to talk to my father-in-law about his family history. He being the oldest of ten children, and having a memory like a steel trap, I knew that he would be the one to ask about what he knew of the earlier generations of Jim’s Wilkerson family. Loren did tell us that his father Wesley had been born in Des Moines County, Iowa, near Yarmouth, but he also said that there were no more Wilkersons living in southern Iowa “as far as he knew”. That always sends up a red flag to a family genealogist, and so during that visit we made a point of going to Des Moines County to see if we could find out what happened to the family.
We were looking for Wilkersons, Whit(t)mores, DeSpains and any other connecting family names when we pulled into the parking lot at Shiner Cumberland Presbyterian Church at Pleasant Grove in order to walk the cemetery. When we drove up we noticed an older pickup truck parked near the church, but we were intent on finding headstones and so we got out in the misty rain with paper, pencil and camera in hands and began our search. Almost right away we were finding all the names we were looking for, but not quite the specific older family members. After scribbling down as much information as we could glean from the headstones, we decided to ask inside the church about where the church records were kept.
This is rural Iowa where most of the people are warm, welcoming and friendly, as we were about to find out. After opening the door at the side of the church and calling “hello” a couple times, a very nice lady came to the bottom of the basement stairs to answer our questions. She had been painting one of the restrooms, but stopped right then and there and let us tell our “story” and the names we were looking for. After a bit, she got on the phone and called the church sexton, Mr. Stucker. His wife said he was “out in the fields” but that she would give him the message when he came in for lunch.
It seemed like just minutes later that another older pickup truck rolled into the gravel parking lot, and down the stairs came Mr. Stucker, farm boots and all, with his sexton’s book in hand. After introducing ourselves again and explaining our quest, he very willingly and generously handed his book to me, and I hurriedly copied down names, dates and grave locations while Mr. Stucker and my husband talked. As Jim and Mr. Stucker talked, Mr. Stucker said that his best friend was “Toad” Wilkerson and lived next door to him. (“Next door” means the next 80 acres or so close by!) He encouraged us to stop by and see “Toad” on our way home.
At one point, when Jim said that we were looking for John Whitmore, Mr. Stucker perked right up and told us that John Whitmore was a Medal of Honor recipient in the Civil War, and that there was a Medal of Honor Society looking for living family members! We had no idea of John Whitmore’s Civil War service at that time. (to be continued)