About Me

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Lake Mathews (Perris), CA, United States
I am a native of Illinois and grew up in Wilmette, a northern suburb of Chicago. I have one sibling, an older brother. After dropping out of college, I moved to California in 1973 with my first husband. I married my present husband, Butch, in 1977 and got 4 children in the deal. They have gone on to make me a grandmother 25 times over and a great-grandmother of 19. Three years after I married Butch I returned to school. I got my bachelors and masters degrees in speech communication and was a professor in that field for 13 years. I retired in 2001 to return to school and get my doctorate in folklore. Now I meld my two interests - folklore and genealogy - and add my teaching background, resulting in my current profession: speaker/entertainer of genealogically-related topics. I play a number of folk instruments, but my preference is guitar, which I have been playing since 1963. I work in partnership with Gena Philibert-Ortega with Genealogy Journeys where we focus on educating folks about Social History. More about that can be found at http://genaandjean.blogspot.com and more about my own business projects is on my Circlemending website.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Tombstone Tuesday - 17 August 2010 - Remembering a forgotten grave, Nathan W. Wilcox

A slightly different "Tombstone Tuesday" - about a tombstone that has been a long time in being placed and properly adorned.

Once upon a time, a Yankee, born in Oswego, New York and relocated to Jefferson County, New York, married the girl next door. That Yankee, Nathan W. Wilcox, son of Peter C. Wilcox and Mary Youker, moved with his bride, and later joined by the rest of his family, to Van Buren County, Michigan, where he commenced to work at his trade, the same one his father taught him many years before: carpenter, joiner, and architect. Michigan provided a wonderful frontier for his efforts, but this Yankee soon wanted a wider territory, where there was a great need for people with his skills. He moved his little family (wife and 2 children) to New London, Henry County, Iowa. There 2 more children were born, though one was buried almost as soon as she came into the world. And, within a couple of years, another child was on the way. Also on the way: the splitting of a nation! So Nathan W. Wilcox went to see the recruiting officer who came to New London and signed up, at the ripe old age of 33, to be an engineer in Lincoln's army. He also recruited about 20 additional men, though probably not all experienced builders. He sent the recruits on ahead while he awaited the birth of his latest daughter, bade goodbye to his young family, and joined the troops in St. Louis, MO - Nathan W. Wilcox became 2nd Lt. Wilcox of Col. Bissell's Engineering Regiment of the West out of Missouri.

In the regiment, Nathan distinguished himself as being one of the few who really knew his trade. He often was sent to other companies to teach and help the men in their efforts to build bridges, railroads, and roads; and then, when the battle was over, destroy those same transportation options to thwart the enemy's advances. (Meanwhile, back home in Iowa, another of Nathan's children died - only three remained of his five babies.) Nathan was advanced to 1st Lt. after the successful building of the canal to advance Union troops around New Madrid, Missouri and Island #10.

Nathan continued to be effective in his duties as an engineer and soon was promoted to Captain. But the war was nearing a crucial point and the Engineering Regiment was joining up with an Infantry regiment, meaning that the engineers would see more battle action and there would soon be a surplus of higher officers. Nathan requested discharge and it was granted, largely due to his poor health from the canal building (causing the men to stand in waist high swamp water at all hours of the day and night).

Nathan was in Nashville, Tennessee when he was discharged and he promptly went to work under contract to the government, doing surveying work. He drew battle lines for the upcoming Battle of Nashville and, later, he relocated to Knoxville where he helped to rebuild the university campus, virtually destroyed during the war (his brother came down from Michigan to help, too).

This is how a New York Yankee became a Tennessee resident. He sent for his family. Lost another child (to cholera symptoms) and fathered another. He designed homes. He helped rebuild the south, but not as a carpetbagger; as a member of the community. He lived in Nashville, Clarksville, Knoxville, and all over Franklin County. His youngest son followed in his father's footsteps, being involved in various aspects of building, and took him in during the Captain's old age. Nathan W. Wilcox died in Nashville in September 1891; he was buried in the "single graves" area of Mt. Olivet Cemetery where whatever grave marker he received disappeared a long time ago.

Enter me, ready to give this man, my g-g-grandfather, the recognition he deserves. On Aug. 14, 2010, with a small group of dedicated folks (it was about 105 degrees that day), we celebrated the life of Nathan W. Wilcox. His tombstone was provided by the Veterans' Administration and the good people at the cemetery placed the stone earlier in the summer so that we could gather around it and dedicate the grave.

In attendance: Capt. Wilcox's g-g-g-granddaughter, Sandra Dodge; his g-g-g-g-grandsons, Tyler Dodge and Brad and Drew Schmidt; his g-g-grandson-in-law, Lynn Hibben; me (his g-g-granddaughter); Abraham Lincoln (portrayed by Dennis Boggs); Kraig McNutt, a local historian who blogged about the event; historian Jim Swan; and, from Ft. Donelson Camp #62, Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, bugler Chad Gray and Cpl. Nelson Hughes .

We began with the presentation of colors and flag salute by boy scout Tyler Dodge and, after an opening prayer, learned about the man we honored, sang "Tenting on the Old Campground,"

placed the GAR marker and flag by the stone (thanks to the Ft. Donelson Camp #62 SUVCW and Cpl. Hughes, above with me),

heard some moving remarks by Pres. Lincoln, and witnessed the grave dedication by Lynn Hibben, followed by the playing of taps, courtesy of Chad Gray. It was a moving experience and I am grateful to all those who came to honor my great-great-grandfather.

Sam Gant, of the Ft. Donelson Camp #62, SUVCW, sent me this email:

"Dr. Hibben planned and presented an excellent program for her ancestor, and, in doing so, remembered and honored a soldier of the Grand Army of the Republic whom we of the Fort Donelson Camp # 62 have pledged to perpetuate his memory. Capt. Nathan's basic military information and burial location shall be entered in the SUVCW Graves Registry."

All I can add is "Wow"!

(photos courtesy of Jim Swan & Kraig McNutt)


  1. Double WOW!! Brought tears to my eyes and he's not even mine.

    Well done, oh good and faithful great-great-granddaughter!

  2. Wow indeed! Very moving :-)

  3. A beautiful tribute to your ancestor, Jean. Very moving. Thank you for sharing this special ceremony with us via FB and your blog.

  4. A great story, Jean. I see so many gravestones now in poor condition, in some cases all that's left is the base of the original stone.
    I'm glad Nathan and the rest of your family
    to see that his resting place is properly

    Thanks for sending this to the Challenge.