A half-dozen people gathered in a graveyard Tuesday to pay their respects to a family member.
He died in 1868.
“Today, we are celebrating and honoring the patriarch of our clan,” Frances McGill said to the small group before reading a poem at the Clover graveyard.
No one in the McGill family cried during the ceremony or told sentimental stories. They knew their ancestor Capt. William McGill was born on Christmas Day in 1775 and served in Congress and as a York County magistrate. He was known as a peacemaker in York County in the 18th and 19th centuries, and he once caught a neighbor in an animal trap after the man stole some corn.
Marking the grave site of this pillar of the community was a bare spot.
Rows of McGill family members are memorialized with tall, weathered and barely readable headstones inscribed with names and Bible verses. Capt. William McGill’s headstone laid in pieces as someone’s stepping stones in a garden.
No one knew where it was. An email and an obscure invitation to a family reunion changed that.
Ann Whaley, whose late husband was a great-great-great grandson of Capt. McGill, received an email from a man whose friend found the broken headstone. That friend stumbled across the headstone while clearing the property of a monument company that went out of business.
“He said, ‘This is too precious ... it needs to be returned to their family,” Frances McGill said.
The man researched Capt. William McGill on a genealogy website and found Whaley’s name as a descendent.
That was in 2008. Whaley packed up the headstone and stored it in her garage.
“The real miracle is that my grown son Mike received, strangely, an invitation to the McGill reunion in 2015,” even though he did not know the family, Whaley said.
Ann Whaley decided to go to the reunion and told Frances McGill about the headstone in her garage.
“She was more than delighted,” Whaley said.
The family voted to repair the headstone and install it during the ceremony on Thursday at the family cemetery at Bethany ARP Church.
Tracy Kimball: 803-329-4072