Friday, April 1, 2011

Over the River and Through the Woods....

As an adoptee who has met her birth family, I believe that fuels my sense of home and family in Eastern Kentucky.  Before you fuss at me, let me stress that my adoptive family was wonderful.  I had parents that loved me and an older sister who gave me wonderful advice, whether I wanted it or not; however, finding my birth family and learning about them has given me a sense of belonging that I never knew was missing until 1992 when I met the woman that gave birth to me.

I'll warn you now, this article is going to be a long one.  I usually don't write this much, but this was such a special day, I want to share it with you.

It was this sense of home and hearth that let me up Barnes Mountain once again in March, 2011.  As many of you know, I taught a history class in Estill County for a day in October, 2010.  Part of their assignment was to write a play based on the letters between my 4th g-grandparents during the Civil War.  At the Estill County Reading Celebration on March 18, 2011, a county-wide program was held at Estill County Middle School and this play was presented four times that afternoon.  Although I was only able to attend one of them, the kids did a great job.  

As wonderful as Friday afternoon was, the real treat was going to be Saturday.  Saturday, my birth mother, my cousin, Jakie, her husband and I were going up the mountain.  Jakie was going to show me an old family cemetery and then we were headed to the Hoover Cemetery.  It was a beautiful morning.  The sky was clear and it was warm for the middle of March.  As we drove up the mountain, she told stories I'd never heard before.  We stopped at our first cemetery.  With a swing around the gate, we were hiking up the hill.  Now used for logging, the road followed the ridge.  We made our way to the small, fenced cemetery.  Sunken graves were everywhere with only four marked with the familiar field stones.  The majority of these sunken areas spoke of families who made the hike we just made, only to commit a tiny pine box to ground consecrated with a mother's tears.  A few limbs had come down in the cemetery from the hard winter this area had.  We threw those over the fence with talk about coming back to clean it up further.  As we made our way back to the truck, Jakie pointed out various areas on neighboring ridges and told us who lived where.

We made our way to the Hoover Cemetery and heard more stories.  As we walked around the cemetery, we talked about our family members buried there, either in marked or unmarked graves.  We also talked about the cabin that was on a cousins' property, somewhere in the "holler" below the cemetery.  I'd met with these cousins several years ago.  As with all things in genealogy, it's a bit confusing as I am cousins with both the husband and the wife.  She showed me pictures of this cabin that, as the family story went, was dismantled with the better logs salvaged and rebuilt.  She also showed me pictures of the spring my 4th g-grandmother drew water from.  With regards to the cabin, as the story went, the logs that were used in this cabin were originally hewn by our ancestor, Daniel Hoover, sometime between 1840 and 1860.  It can be pinned down to that time frame because the Hoover family had come to Estill County by June 1, 1840 and Daniel enlisted in the 8th Kentucky Regiment in 1861.  When he returned from service in 1863, he was unable to work.  We stopped by our cousins' house (who lives next to the cemetery) on the way to the cemetery, but no one was home.  While wandering around the cemetery, we saw a truck return to the house.

After we left the cemetery, we stopped again at our cousins' house.  He was outside and we asked if we could go to see the cabin and the spring.  Now, let me preface this and describe where we're headed.  The one and a half lane road that leads to this cemetery runs along a ridge with steep slopes on either side.  After winding a bit along the ridge, the area flattens out somewhat.  This is where their house and the family cemetery is.  When I talked to this cousin years ago, I was told the cabin and spring were just "down the hill."  

Just "down the hill" evidently doesn't mean the same thing to everyone.  We started down what appeared to be a run for water down the hill.  What we found out from our guide was this was the original road to get out of the hollow.  It was hard to imagine a wagon or a sled being drawn by horses making it's way either up or down this thing!  With coon dogs baying at us, we made our way down this 35 - 45 degree slope.  The chickens that were running wild ran off as we jumped across a small stream that was making it's way down the hill.  As we got to the bottom of the hill and entered the hollow, the small stream became a creek that we had to jump over again.  Asking our cousin if we were close, we were told "Just over there." with a vague wave of the hand.  We moved in and out of brush, holding limbs/branches and unhooking ourselves from the various briars.  Another "Are we there yet??"  Another wave of the hand and "Just over there."  More limbs and thicker brush and sharper briars.  Another "Are we there yet??"  Another wave of the hand and "Just over there."  Ducking under limbs, watching for snakes on a warm day, looking up at the ridges on either side of the hollow, but this time, soaking in where we were.  

Suddenly, there it was.  Through the brush and trees we could faintly see a structure on the side of the hill. I started to get this tingling sensation in my hands and arms.  My heart beat a bit faster.  In my minds eye, I could see the ghosts of my family in this place.  Dianah was in the front washing clothes in a kettle on a blazing fire.  Daniel was working with his crops in a clearing or perhaps headed up the ridge to work as a logger.  I looked around as if I expected to see physical evidence of my imagination.

We made our way to the cabin and my breath was taken away.  From what our cousin had told us, when the cabin was dismantled it originally had been just a few yards from where it now stood, closer to the spring.  But to see these logs, to run our hands over wood that our ancestor had possibly run his hands over 160 years ago.  There was a connection there.  There had to be.  

Now, there was one last thing to be done here.  I wanted to visit the spring.  We asked our cousin about it.  We were met with another wave of the arm and another "Just over there."  Jakie and I looked at each other, laughed and we followed him through the woods again.

"Just below that biggest tree" we carefully made our way to the spring.  It was steep and the ground was muddy.  Over time, people had placed stones around and over it in attempts to keep it clean.  We could see that spring was still running as it had for hundreds of years.  

Thanking our cousin for leading us here, we began to make our way back to the truck.  Once we got there, we discussed the location of a cemetery where another of Jakie's ancestors was buried.  Our cousin offered to take us there.  We all piled in the truck again and off we went for our next genealogy adventure.


  1. What an extraordinary adventure. I got chills reading along.

  2. Thanks, Susan. It was really something special. I only hate that I didn't take more pictures as we went. I will if we go back another time.