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."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Unseemly Findings

As an amateur genealogist, I still get excited about turning over stones and finding something unexpected. Sometimes, I also do not know what to do with things that I didn't expect to find or that don't seem to fit into my fairy tale notions of my own family history.

For example, it jarred my senses to imagine that my great-grandmother Mary Ellen Stephens Goff could have been married before she married my great-grandfather. I don't know why. My great-grandfather had been married before, and I can't even find his first wife. So why the double standard? Why was I so incredulous to the notion that Mary Ellen was a happy divorcee prior to getting hitched to Richard Goff? I haven't the foggiest.

Likewise, when researching my great-great-grandmother, Martha Webb, I uncovered more unseemly matter than I'd ever dreamed was possible. The family had always handed down the story that Martha was raped, and our great-grandfather, John Henry Webb, was the product of that incident. John was reared by Martha's parents as their own child following her death a number of years after his birth. The family always said that Martha "willed herself to die," because of the shame she bore from being raped. This is history handed down through the family.

What was not handed down through the family was the fact that Martha's father, Willis Webb, had two families. Not only did his wife, Margaret, nee Stewart, spend nearly twenty years of her life bearing children, but Willis' mistress also bore him several children.

When I think of the rural setting in which the Webb family lived and the sprawling farmland they made into a home, it shouldn't surprise anyone that Willis needed sons to help work the land. What does surprise me is that Willis' other family appears to have more information about his legitimate family than I've been able to uncover from any other source!

My mother is beside herself with embarrassment over these findings; while I, on the other hand, have embraced my new extended cousins with open arms, because they are, in fact, related to me by blood. The Webb family has always been a stalwart of grit and self sustenance, pillars of the community; so the idea that there are these skeletons in the closet is, in my mother's eyes, something one should not talk of in polite society. She would prefer I sweep these things under the rug or out the door and forget them, but blood can't forget blood - at least mine can't.

I am very curious how other genealogists have handled these situations when they uncover them. Do you add them to your tree with caveats? Do you hide them away as improper like my mother would prefer? Or do you do what I did and embrace a new set of cousins.

As a footnote of sorts, it is important to note here that documentation on "the other family" and the information they had about the "legitimate" family has not yet been verified; however, what I have seen and heard from them is consistent with the history of the time and family folklore.

Monday, August 1, 2011


This is a picture of three first cousins, my stepdaughter, Miranda, on the right, and Stacey on the left with Faith in the middle.

I've written about Miranda before. She's a successful attorney in Nashville and married to a delightful young man.

Stacey is a single accountant living in Lexington, and Faith is a school teacher, living in Stamping Ground with her husband, Ken, and five cats.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The North Fork of the Licking River at Milford, Kentucky.

Abel Goff

Abel Goff was born April 2, 1930 in Ludlow, Kentucky. His father, Andrew Goff was a foreman on the Southern Railroad, and his mother, Nellie nee Hughes, was a homemaker.

In high school at Ludlow High School, Abel excelled in football and wrestling. Following graduation, he enlisted in the United States Marine Corp and served in the Korean Conflict.

Abel married Cora Hall on March 22, 1955 in the parsonage of Ludlow Baptist Church with Richard and June Goff bearing witness. The couple settled in Covington, Kentucky where Abel worked as a Covington firefighter for 28 years. They had five children, Shirley, David, Steven, Kathy and Tim. He also had nine grandchildren.

Abel died in 1992 at the age of 62. He had been on kidney dialysis for five years and succumbed to renal failure while a patient at the Veteran's Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio. He was laid to rest in Independence Cemetery, Independence, Kentucky.

Friday, July 22, 2011

This Old House

This old house sits on Asbury Road in Bracken County, Kentucky. I drive by it at least once a week, and each time I do, I wonder what its story is. Who lived here? Who died here? Did children play in the front yard, and was it once alive with azaleas and junipers? What happened that it fell into such disarray?

It's so sad now and cold like death. Termites have feasted until barely a skeleton remains. Yet it still has a story. I just don't know what it is.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cora Hall Goff

Cora Sue Hall was born May 10, 1934, in Hindman, Knott County, Kentucky. She was my aunt by marriage, being the wife of my father's younger brother, Abel. They married on March 22, 1955 in the parsonage of Ludlow Baptist Church, Ludlow, Kentucky. Together they had five children, Shirley, David, Steve, Kathy and Tim and brought up their family in Covington, Kentucky.

Aunt Cora was a real country cook, making the best pot roast anyone ever ate. She loved crocheting, knitting and loved her country music. She was always laughing, and she loved her children and grandchildren more than anyone could ever know. It didn't matter what anyone ever did, if you were her family she loved you - end of story.

Aunt Cora died on March 30, 2011. She was interred next to Uncle Abel in Independence Cemetery, Independence, Kentucky, on April 2, 2011.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Loss of a Giant

Richard Goff was the third child born to Andrew and Nellie (Hughes) Goff on November 17, 1924. The Goff family had migrated to Cincinnati from Somerset, Kentucky, and Richard was the first baby born in the city.

He started school in Cincinnati but transferred to Ludlow Independent Schools when Andy moved his family into what was known as the Section House, a place owned by the Southern Railroad. After graduating from high school, Richard enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

Richard Goff was a purple heart recipient for his service upon the U.S.S. Morrison. The Morrison, was sunk by a kamikaze at the Battle for Okinawa on May 4, 1945, killing 152 men. Richard was blown away from the destroyer, and grabbing a nearby life jacket, he watched as the ship plunged beneath the surface of the Pacific. Richard spent nearly a year recovering from his injuries, and he never mentioned the horrors of war.

Richard married June Hammond Perkins on June 10, 1950. The couple reared four children, Sherry, Sheila, Bruce and Richard, Jr. He worked as a tool and die maker at R.A. Jones in Erlanger, Kentucky for more than thirty years. The family resided in Covington, Kentucky until his retirement in the 1980s, at which time they moved to Palm Coast, Florida. He lived in the Sunshine State until his death from lung cancer on February 17, 2009.

Richard loved to camp, and he also loved boating. He was a member of Ludlow Baptist Church and was a third degree master Mason.

Richard was my father's older brother, my uncle. He was always larger than life to me and one of the funniest men I ever knew. He would run up to me as fast as he could with his fists clinched, saying, "I'm gonna punch you right in the nose." Of course I would run and scream, and he would pick me up and throw me over his shoulder and kiss and tickle me. With the exception of throwing me over his shoulder, he still did the "punch in the nose" routine until the last time I saw him, which was July, 2006, just before my father lost his battle to lung cancer. For the Goff family, Richard was the last of that generation to move on, and losing him was the loss of a GIANT.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hello Again!

Has it really been a year and a half since I've been here? When I started this blog I remember how excited I was to tell all about my family, our lives and the lives of our ancestors. I am still excited about my family, and I've actually been spending time with family, as well as writing on a novel that I intend to finish one of these days.

Time marches on, however, and since I was last here, the Goff family lost two more from the greatest generation. I will post their stories in the coming days, and I will also recommit myself to telling the family stories here. Come back and see!