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Article published: Apr 29, 2009
Little girl's tombstone headed back to family

MARION — In Marion, Julie Bissell Tupker continually ran into dead ends as she shook the leaves on the proverbial family tree.

In Joliet, Ill., Gina Wysocki's search for a long-lost cemetery dug up a tombstone belonging to Jenete Bissell, who died at less than 2 years on March 2, 1852, during a cholera outbreak.

Through the miracle of the Internet and family genealogy sites, the two have pieced together this missing link in Julie's family.

Come May, subject to Illinois state approval, the tombstone should be relocated to its rightful place beside Jenete's older brother and Julie's great-grandfather, Richard P. Bissell, in the Massena Cemetery in western Iowa's Cass County.

"The big deal about this, for us," Julie says, looking at a picture of the tombstone, "is the fact that the family has researched the Bissell lineage for so long and run into brick walls."

In Joliet, Gina had run into similar walls trying to convince local officials a long-ago cemetery lay buried under decades of dirt on the city's east side. Not until March 2008 did people believe her. That's when workers installing a playground dug up a pair of old tombstones.

Gina, an archaeologist and author of "Digging Up the Dirt: The History and Mysteries of the Will County Poor Farm and Potter's Fields," thought someone out there might be searching for Jenete. She posted information on Roots Web and Julie found it.

When they connected, the story came together.

In Will County, Ill., around 1830, a man by the name of Stevens donated land for a cemetery. In 1855 another cemetery opened, and many of those graves were moved to it. That is, if family was still around. Jenete's family had moved to Iowa, meaning her grave was left behind.

Soon those few remaining graves were forgotten, lost to the ravages of time.

Meanwhile, Pierce and Sarah Bissell, who had lived in Scott County, Iowa, before relocating to Joliet from 1849 to 1853 to be near his sister, returned to Iowa with their five surviving children.

Among the family mysteries is that the father, Pierce, disappeared after 1860.

But the brother, Richard, married Frances Cloud in the Swisher area. In the 1870s the family moved west to Cass County, where Julie grew up.

In this area since the early 1970s for work, Julie now decorates cakes through her business, Julie Ann's Cakes.

When you see weddings take place, knowing that families continue to change and evolve, it heightens your interest in your own family.

So, for her father, Eldon "Keith" Bissell, Julie has spent years assembling the family history.

The discovery of Jenete's tombstone (born June 12, 1850, and died March 2, 1852) is a small but important leaf on the family tree.

"We are sure her bones are still there, under the park," Julie says. "At least we can bring the tombstone home."

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Page Last Updated: 2009-05-02 22:18:39
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