September 21, 2014

Tombstone Tuesday: The Wilkersons of Pleasant Grove, Iowa

Headstones of Joshua, George and Amanda Wilkerson

Back in 1995, Jim and I thought we hit the jackpot when we found this cemetery at Pleasant Grove, Iowa.  It’s located at Shinar Cumberland Presbyterian Church not far from the now deserted town of Pleasant Grove where so many of Jim’s Wilkerson, Whitmore, DeSpain and other allied families settled in the 1840’s.  These three headstones are in what they call the ‘old’ section of the cemetery which runs alongside the road to the church.  Further along that road was the old town.

The reason we thought we hit the jackpot was that we were looking for Jim’s GG-Grf Joshua Wilkerson and we didn’t know it at the time, but the George Wilkerson was ‘our’ Joshua’s younger brother, and the headstones for Amanda and Joshua are for George’s children.

Using Census Records To Trace Family Migration

Joshua Wilkerson (Sr.) was born in Delaware in 1812. We don’t know when he married, but he left DE with his brother George b. 1814 and George’s wife Margaret (Lamar) (both also born in DE) most likely in the mid to late 1830’s and settled for a time in Indiana.  We know this because later Iowa census records show some of George’s children having been born in Indiana.  Checking census records is a good way to trace a family’s migration patterns.

Joshua Goes To California To Look For Gold

George and family settled in Washington Township in Des Moines County and stayed there for the rest of their lives.  Not so with the elder Joshua Wilkerson! Looking in the 1850 census for Iowa in the Pleasant Grove township there was no trace of Joshua.  It looked like he had perhaps helped George and family move to Iowa when the state opened up for settlement and then he was called by the lure of Gold.

Our family story is that Joshua, as a single man, went off to California to find his fortune.  His descendants that still live in that part of Iowa tell of Joshua coming back with thousands of dollars, but that over time he made bad loans and ended up with a chest full of IOU”s.  We know there was a ‘fortune’ because his daughter’s sued for a portion of it.

In looking at some old Hawkeye newspapers for that time frame I found that two of the DeSpain family also were on a train to the gold fields.  In 1856 Iowa had a special census and I was able to find Joshua again, this time living with the Bedwell family who also happen to have been born in Delaware and two of their older children were also born in Indiana.  The really surprising thing in that census record was that Joshua was listed as a widower, age 44.

I’ve not established yet whether or not Joshua and the wife of Samuel Bedwell, Mary, were related, or just someone Joshua might have known in Indiana.  Either way, he was single with no children and we were just shy of the beginning of the Civil War.  I don’t think that Joshua served in the war, and he married his second wife Sarah Jane True 22 March 1860.  Their first child, Elizabeth was born eleven months later in 1861. Eight more children were born to Joshua and Sarah Jane, the last in 1875.

That day in the cemetery we searched in vain for headstones for Joshua and Sarah Jane.  Knowing we were wrong to think the others mentioned at the beginning of this story, it wasn’t until we got to know a descendant that lived there, Jim’s cousin Anita, did we find out they had no headstone.  Soon after, we began asking Jim’s family to chip in to buy one and the result is the stone you see above.

If you would like more information on this family, please visit Ancestry and search for Wilkerson and Allied Families or try this link to the tree.  Visiting trees on Ancestry is FREE.

 

 

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