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Roads taken can sometimes lead to unexpected detours resulting in surprising revelations, which was the occurrence for me this week, as I traveled to the Federation of Genealogical Societies' conference in Springfield, Illinois. When plotting our travelogue toward Illinois, I stared at the long, winding highway from Tulsa to Springfield. To my surprise, the journey would take us directly through the Missouri villages of one of my ancestral homes- a gg grandfather, Henry Clark, who established a farm in central Missouri in the late 1870's.

This particular homestead has special meaning to me; multiplying in acreage throughout each decade, and eventually becoming the childhood home of my grandmother. And so, with a mutual decision with my husband, we would take a little turn toward the village where the old farm had been.

Just a quick look-over; then be on our way.

The week for the conference was rapidly approaching and my schedule was prepared. With various e-mail notifications from the Illinois Historical Society the week before, I began to excitedly anticipate my first genealogical conference; catching glimpses of and listening to presentations of the best-of-the-best in genealogy.

The first of our off-road detours, while driving to the conference, lead us onto a meandering county road with sparkling brooks crossing little low-lying bridges. Closely watching the GPS as we edged our way around, we eventually stopped as the road came to an abrupt end. And as I peered upward through the windshield, there it was; the densely weeded cemetery of my ancestors.

Uncertain if the tombstones of my ancestors would be hidden underneath the tall brush and worry of what might be slithering within the weeds, we both perused the cemetery with trepidation. But as I glanced over the hillside, my husband yelled:

"Here they are; the Clarks"

Drawing away the tall weeds, three large tombstones stood, appearing surprisingly untouched by time; and I smiled. There they were, names of ancestors I had stories about, tucked away within my memories-told by my mother throughout the years.

Leaving the little cemetery behind, we had one more stop: The search for the old homestead or at least the area where it might have been. Reprogramming the GPS toward the village, our SUV took us back up the one-lane county road and as we passed the small lots, I felt a sting of disappointment.

"This can't be it. They had a farm-a large farm. This just isn't it," I blurted out as we passed. But the GPS claimed our location was correct, although I felt otherwise.

Driving back onto the main highway, we passed the local electrical cooperative and we whipped our vehicle into a quick u-turn. "They may have a more detailed map," my husband announced, sensing my frustration.

Stepping into the little building, an employee reviewed our 1930 plat, comparing it to a current one. Providing us with the guidance on where the old farm might have been, we hailed our "thank-you's" and took off.

Taking a different route this time, it was obvious we were approaching the large acreage of my ancestors by observing the GPS. My  husband pointed back to the old and current plats and stated: "Look, this is the same road running through the old farm. We are sitting right on the property."

Pulling the car to the side and stepping outside, we stood to scan our eyes across hundreds of acres of beautiful rolling hills and valleys. Turning, we saw a wood frame house, peering toward the spectacular landscape. "This house is not old enough to be the original homestead, but I'm going to knock on the door anyway," I impulsively said.

After a few knocks, an elderly woman strolled outside and we provided our introductions; explaining the purpose for being on her property and describing our genealogical hunt.

"This was my husband's parent's property. We built this house in the 1950's," she remarked, not certain we were at the correct location.

"That's fine," we stated, "we just know the property was somewhere around here."

As we turned back toward our car, the woman yelled: "Seems like the name of the previous owners were Clark."

Turning to each other with a look of astonishment, we both stumbled on our words: "That was my ancestor's last name: Clark," I responded. She nodded her head, and agreed that her late husband's family purchased the large farmland from my ancestors. It was a brief chilling moment that only happens by chance.

Driving away, I stared back toward the stunning rolling landscape, feeling I had captured a small moment of my history from 130 years ago.

Oh, did I say I went to the Federation of Genealogical Societies' conference with week?

It was really good too!

Keep searching for answers,

Cheryl
 


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