Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Is There Such a Thing As Revisionist History?

Worthy Lee Christy, ca 1901, courtesy Mary Cervantes

Anybody who has studied history at the collegiate level has heard this question: Is there such a thing as revisionist history? Answer "no" to that question and fall quickly into the trap that discredits new research and new conclusions drawn from such research. Revisionist History gets a bad reputation when an historian rewrites certain events to prove a question not previously asked, such as, Are white European settlers responsible for building New York City when it was actually built by slaves? That gets a lot of people's goats. I don't know why. We can't deny that slavery existed even in the Yankee north. We can't deny that history was written by the educated and affluent, the victors, if you will, and those people were not slaves. Well, duh, guess who got the credit.

Revisionist History is necessary. The big picture will remain the same, but that which was witnessed from ten feet away is subject to change. That which is seen with a jeweler's eye will show many facets, and those facets keep history from being static.

I had a boss once who refused to hear me when I offered history as to how certain issues arose and why. He only wanted to know what the issue was and how to fix it, claiming the rest was wasted time. Then when he would go ahead with his idea of the solution to fix the problem, he often found himself digging a much bigger hole, exacerbating an issue that might have been mended by a needle and thread if he had only understood the nuances that would have come from knowing history.

All this being said, I bring you to an example drawn from my genealogical studies. I have been researching my husband's family. His father was orphaned when he was twelve years old. He and his siblings were farmed out to relatives, friends and orphanages. Their mother, Etta Poe Christy died after childbirth in 1932. Their father, Worthy Lee, for some reason gave up the children, remarried and started a new life. The presumption of Etta's family was that Worthly Lee was worthless, a drunkard, a lazy low down rotten scoundrel void of any redeeming qualities. Research, however, has revised the circumstances in which Worthy Lee Christy was weighed in the balances and found wanting.

Remember this was the height of the depression. The stock market crashed in 1929. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected President of the United States in November, 1932 and didn't take office until January, 1933. History shows that sometime between 1929 and 1932, Worthy took his family out of the rolling hills of Kentucky that offered little for a city man trained as a freight hauler. Worthy and Etta settled their family in Cincinnati, where he took what work he could get and Etta took ill during her pregnancy. When Etta died, how was Worthy to rear a family?

There is no evidence that Worthy became a drunk. There is evidence that he became a diabetic later in life and lost both his legs. He died in the Drake Hospital in Cincinnati of complications of diabetes on December 18, 1962. It is true that he died indigent. Hamilton County took him back to Bracken County, Kentucky, to be interred next to his first wife, Etta. The only "mourners" were his son, Bernard, and his wife, Lucille.

We know now that Worthy Lee was not totally estranged from his children. One child, Bert, was adopted out of the Methodist Children's Home in Versailles, Kentucky. Evelyn went to live in California. Patty was adopted by Oakley and Pauline Poe in Brooksville. The other boys remained in touch as much as possible. We know now that Worthy lived with each of his children from time to time, but we also know that wasn't the optimum situation whenever he did. He did seem to have trouble keeping employment even after the depression.

We don't know if Worthly Lee suffered from mental illness, although I think he did.. We don't know what was on his mind or in his heart when his family was broken apart, but it isn't hard to surmised that a man whose own father died when he was 7 would have been a tad dysfunctional and rightfully so. The point is - he wasn't the man of ill repute the Etta's family made him out to be. He wasn't a one dimensional man.

The Poes were well to do even by depression standards. Why is that only one of Etta's siblings stepped up to give her children a home? Why is they didn't want Etta's children? Is it possible that their history of Worthy Lee was written to masque their own ineptitude toward their sister and her children? Could it have been easier for them to point the finger at Worthy Lee rather than step up to the plate with Christian charity and do what they should have done?

The Poe family cannot be written as one dimensional either. We haven't yet delved into that family history, but these are questions for the revisionist historian. They may never have answers, but they have to be asked none the less.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Leave It to the Professionals

Once upon a time I went to an NGS conference with a very bad attitude. Having a bachelor's in history, I thought I already knew how to do research. I knew my way around courthouses, libraries and archives, so what could they possibly teach me that I didn't already know? OMG! Was I ever wrong?

With the first seminar hosted by Barbara Vines Little, my eyes were opened and I felt like Alice stepping through the looking glass. There were more possibilities than I had even imagined. Class after class, my enthusiasm for my amateur sleuthing was growing to the point I thought I just might burst. Traipsing through libraries and courthouse vaults has now become a passion.

I do, however, have one little bone to pick with about three genealogists and I'm not sure if they will know who they are. Somebody suggested on Facebook that if she never heard another story about the research of an amateur it would be too soon.

Wait! Weren't you supposed to be a teacher? Isn't that why you teach conferences, to inspire and nurture the novice? Look, I know you're tired. I know you've been doing this a long time and a beginner's little escapades mean nothing to you, but do you have to make it so obvious? Are you truly the professional you claim to be?

Madeleine Albright once said, "There is a special place in hell for women who will not help other women." Well I think that might be true for anyone who is in the position to help someone and chooses not to do so because she thinks the person needing the help is somehow beneath her.

Barbara Vines Little is AMAZING! Her enthusiasm is infectious, and I hang on every word she utters. She is a GREAT teacher! She is great because her students become great at what they do.

Are you a great teacher like Barbara Vines Little? Do you inspire? Do you encourage? Do you stay and answer each and every question no matter how benign? If you answer no to any of these questions, please don't teach anymore. You're a waste of time and oxygen. Leave it to the professionals.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Found Poe Creek

It was easier than I thought. It is off Cumminsville Road, close to where I was when I took the previous picture. In fact, I was right - that is the creek, but Poe Creek was (or is) an actual place and not just a tributary to the Ohio River.

This is still going to require more legwork to the PVA office, and probably the county clerk's office to view tax records and deeds. This part is loads of fun, and actually getting to Poe Creek might require a horse. I know I'm from Kentucky, but I'm afraid of horses. This might be an assignment for my daughter, Miranda. I'll let her use my camera!

Could This Be Poe's Creek?

It's a mystery, really. Where is Poe's Creek in Bracken County? Most people think it is south from KY 1159 going toward Cumminsville, but nobody knows for sure. It's an opportunity to explore some historical, or do I dare say, hysterical maps to see if I can find exactly where it is.

Clues: According to family lore, the Poe family, along with the Cummins family, donated land to Concord Methodist Church for construction of a church and cemetery. This is why most people assume that behind the church is the likely site.

Some people I've talked to think it could be behind the Christy house on KY 1159. There used to be a horse path beside the Christy property that is mostly covered over; but just in front of the creek is the footprint to an old log house. Is it possible that this was the place where George Harvey Poe and Stella Cann reared their family? This requires a trip to the Bracken County Property Valuation Administrator's office.

This is the fun part of genealogy research. Next week we shall embark upon what is shaping up to be a very interesting journey.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Worthy Lee Christy

Having hit another brick wall while researching my own family, I decided to work on my husband's side of the family. Phil's father was orphaned at eleven years of age and sent to live with the Askins family on the Belmont Road in southern Bracken County. For all of my husband's life, he only knew who Bernard Christy's parents were. He knew very little about them until now.

Bernie's mother was kind of easy because she was a Poe, and anybody from Bracken County knows that Poe is a very common name in these parts. Christy, however is not a name that goes back centuries in Bracken County. The best I can deduce is that the name Christy was introduced to Bracken County when Etta Poe married Worthy Christy.

Worthy Lee Christy was born on December 18, 1896 in Huntington, West Virginia to a James W. Christy and Frances Priscilla Bush. He is listed in the 1900 and 1910 U.S. Census for Huntington's Ward 4. By 1920, however, Worthy resided in Brooksville, Bracken County, Kentucky, according to the U.S. Census for Bracken County, Kentucky. He is also in the 1930 Census for District 7, Bracken County.

At this point in my research, it is not known where or when Worthy Lee Christy married Etta Nevada Poe. It is unknown why he migrated from Huntington, West Virginia to Brooksville, Kentucky. The Census gives James W. Christy's (Worthy's father) occupation as "Teamster," and if that means in 1900 what it means today, Worthy's father would have been among the first in the country. Given the violence of the early labor movement, could Worthy have left West Virginia to avoid it? He would have had to come west on a train. Did he get off at the old depot in Brooksville, meet Etta, fall in love and decide to stay? These are questions that cannot be answered given present research.

Worthy and Etta had six children, Harold, Chester, Bernard, Royce, Walter and Patsy. Etta died in 1932, leaving Worthy to finish the child rearing. As history has recorded the children were farmed out to relatives, friends and orphanages.

Worthy was a diabetic and in his later years became an amputee, losing his right leg to the insidious disease. From the time Etta died, however, Worthy was in and out of hospitals. Unable to hold gainful employment, Worthy lived off and on with his children, but ultimately, they'd get tired of him and put him to the street.

Worthy died at the Drake Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio on December 18, 1962, from complications of mental illness and diabetes. He is interred next to Etta in the Concord Methodist Cemetery in Bladeston, Bracken County, Kentucky.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Foster's Chapel Methodist Church

This is a picture of Foster's Chapel Methodist Church. It is a new old church nestled in the hills of Robertson County, Kentucky. The significance of the church is not the structure or the beautiful woodworking within; nay, it is the story of theresilience of its members.

On May 15, 2009, miles away from a water mainline, let alone a volunteer fire department, nearby residents stood in anguish and watched their beloved 141 year old church burn to the ground. Members of the Case and Insko families have been parishioners of Foster's Chapel since it's original founding in 1868. The final resting place for those earliest families surrounds the building like a soft warm blanket.

There was but $65,000 worth of insurance protecting the building that burned, and anyone familiar with church construction knows that is not enough for most to consider rebuilding. Any other church would embark on a building program where parishioners commit to tithe greater than their normal capacity over a long period of time. These parishioners did something different. They built the church themselves.

Using the insurance money for materials, parishioners and local trades persons donated all the labor, including but not limited to plumbers, electricians, carpenters, drywall technicians and painters. They managed to get pews donated from a church in Lexington, song books donated from a church in Tennessee and hardwood floors and curtains donated from local merchants. An anonymous donation even came in for $10,000.

Services were held in private homes until it reopened its doors in the July, 2010. The white framed church once again keeps watch over its parishioners sleeping on the hillside, shaded by the hickory trees and tall oaks. It once again holds Sunday School at 9:00 on Sunday mornings followed by church services at 10:30. The sign out front says, "Everyone Welcome."