Thursday, April 15, 2010

Serendipity, Genealogy and Question Marks above My Head

ser·en·dip·i·ty - noun - 1.  an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident

How many of us have made a discovery that we shouldn't have been able to make?  A discovery that seems we were guided to?

I seem to have a gift for it.  I'm not sure why.  I was not raised by my birth parents.  I didn't know my way around that area of Kentucky when I first started going there.  But somehow, time after time, I found things - cemeteries, graves, pieces of information - that I should not have been able to find.

Mind you, this was before the days of Google and GoogleMaps.  The best I had were some modern maps and a rough (make that jagged) idea where this branch of the family lived.  "Up on Barnes Mountain, but don't go there alone.  It's rough up there.  Never go alone."

I went up for a research trip.  On this particular day, all of my birth family was busy with other things so I decided to go to Estill County to do some research.  When I got there, the courthouse was closed!  The library was closed!!  They always were open Saturday mornings!  What was going on and why was there carnival music playing and clowns in Irvine??  It was their annual Mountain Mushroom Festival, a yearly celebration of the morel mushroom and Estill County's Appalachian culture.  I could hear fiddle music and then realized there were booths set up and rides going.

I sat in the library parking lot both cursing my luck and celebrating it.  I love small town celebrations, but I wanted to research.  As I sat there, trying to avoid looking at the clowns, I looked to the south.  To the mountains on the other side of the Kentucky River.  To Barnes Mountain and home.  "Don't go there alone.  Never go alone."  The words rang in my head, but the quickest way to get me to do something has always been to tell me not to.  I looked at the mountains, drank from my Diet Sundrop, smoked another cigarette and continued to avoid direct eye contact with the clown that was getting dangerously close to my car.  That was it.  I knew what I was going to do.

I was looking for Daniel Hoover.  For some reason, he was not listed in the cemetery book that had been published for the county in the 80's.  He died in 1901 and he wasn't listed in the cemetery that bore his last name.  And I was determined to find him.   His wife was listed so he had to be there.  But...where was it?  All I knew was that it was near the New Bethel Church on Barnes Mountain.

As the clown got closer to my car, I started it up and sped away, waving in triumph.  I'm sure whoever was under that makeup and wig was a very nice person and wouldn't think of murdering me in my sleep, but I wasn't taking chances.

I crossed the river and made my way towards the mountains.It was a beautiful spring day, that last Saturday in April.  As I drove the narrow roads that took me along the river and up the mountain, the people who were in their yards looked at me curiously.  A few waved and I waved back.  Once I crested the mountain, the views were beautiful as you can see here.  This picture was taken all those years ago.  Lost as a goose, I drove so slow that I had to wave people around me.  I was soaking up this experience.  This was where this branch of the family had lived since 1840.  This was the area they carved a life out of the mountain.

I saw an old, rusted sign on the left.  Slowing down even more to read it, it said "New Bethel Church."  I turned on this road and then went up to the old church.  I could see a small cemetery behind the church, but this wasn't it.   I was to find out later that most that are buried there are family.  I wanted to get out and walk around, but I was on a mission.  I had to find Daniel!

When I drove down the hill from the church, I sat at the small road.  Left or right.  Which way do I go?  Left would put me back on the main road.  Right.  I had no idea where it would take me.  "Don't go there alone.  Never go alone."  Right!  I will go right!  I drove past another church, then a small, but neat farm.  There were about twenty people in the yard.  They all waved.  I smiled and waved as well.  Then....there it was.  A small street sign next to a pull off.

I parked the car and grabbed my camera!  This was it!  Knowing that family cemeteries were generally near a homeplace on a hill...and this cemetery was on a small ridge with the land on either side sloping!  I walked to the center, glancing to the left and right.  McQueen, Arvin, Chamberlain, Fox.  I knew these names as well as I knew my own.

Daniel Hoover
Then, there he was.  Not only did he have one headstone, he had two!  One at his head, one at his feet.  Both of them were military.  One was his original stone that was placed in 1905.  The other was a newer stone that had not been battered yet by time.

And there was Dianah.  She slept next to him with a hand carved stone.  I sat there between my 4th g-grandparents.  On that land that once was theirs. Their son, John, my 3g-grandfather was within sight.  More names were read - Tudor, Gray, Plowman.  Suddenly, all those people that were just names and dates were real.

Were Daniel and Dianah helping their lost grandchild come back to them?  I don't know.  I don't know how I drove straight to that cemetery when I'd never been there before.  I don't know how I walked straight to his grave when he wasn't listed in the cemetery book.

Was it my imagination or was there suddenly a cold area surrounding me when it was easily 80 degrees.  I don't know.  All I know is I was back where I belonged.

1 comment:

  1. Jen, I enjoyed reading that. Thank you for sharing.