Old Cemeteries Offer Glimpse of Area's History

Article excerpt

Byline: Elizabeth Harmon Daily Herald Correspondent

When Elaine Obenchain moved to McHenry County in 1980, she decided she wanted to learn a little something about the area's history. One of the places she found most helpful was a little off the beaten path.

"I found out the best way to learn about it was to look at the cemetery," Obenchain said.

It was from old headstones that she learned names, dates and ethnic origins of the county's earliest settlers. The graves told stories of forgotten battlefield heroics and local tragedies - years before public records or mass media were around to record them.

Before long, Obenchain realized that rural McHenry County is home to dozens of small burial grounds, some of them neatly cared for by townships, churches or families; others weed-choked and forgotten.

Her interest in history and in cemeteries led her to join the McHenry County Illinois Genealogical Society and get involved in the society's cemetery project, an ambitious task devoted to documenting all of McHenry County's gravesites. Members record who is buried in a given cemetery, when they died, as well as any other information contained on the stone.

"I felt it was a terribly important thing to do," said Obenchain, who today chairs the project.

To complete the census, the group divided McHenry County into fourths then concentrated on the townships within each quadrant.

Volume one, published in 1990, covers sites in the northwest quadrant; volume two, 1995, focuses on the southwest quadrant, including Grafton Township. volume three, published last year, documents sites in northeastern McHenry County. Recently, Obenchain and her committee began work on the final volume, which documents burial sites in Algonquin and Nunda townships.

Obenchain calls the work a race against time.

"There are abandoned cemeteries all over the county, but in the eastern half, because it's more populated, they're either protected or they're gone for good," she said. …