Readers share family discoveries through genealogy research
An eighth-grade history unit on the American Civil War piqued an interest in Kassidy Cobb. The home-school student, whose family is a consumer-member of Pennyrile Electric, took it upon herself to learn whether any of her ancestors served during the 1861-65 conflict.
Kassidy, who will be a senior this year, says that quest has become a mission to get new markers for the gravesites of Civil War veterans who served from Muhlenberg County—whether or not they are relatives.
In a submission to Kentucky Living’scall for family history stories, Kassidy explains she dove head-first into researching her family to discover that her fourth great-grandfather, Darius Hill Skipworth, was a sergeant in Company B of the 11th Kentucky Infantry—a Union regiment of volunteer soldiers who fought at the Battle of Shiloh, April 6-7, 1862.
Taking her search online, she went to Fold3, a website owned by Ancestry that features military records from as far back as the American Revolution. There, she found Darius’ widow’s pension application, which included a letter written by his unit’s captain, William F. Ward, who described her grandfather as “an excellent soldier.”
Skipworth survived the battle but died of a rare bacterial infection just one year later after returning home, Kassidy says.
She continued her research and found six more fourth and fifth great-grandfathers who served in the war—all but one for the Union. One, Joseph Stewart Carneal, was commended as “a patriotic Kentuckian” in his discharge papers. Coincidentally, Carneal, Skipworth and another great-grandfather all fought at Shiloh.
Based on research she is doing for a historian who is writing about Civil War veterans from Muhlenberg County, she expanded her mission to include soldiers who served with units in the United States Colored Troops buried in Old Greenville Cemetery.
“The stones were in such disrepair,” Kassidy says. “One was lying on the ground and the others were illegible.”
So, she went back to the Veterans Affairs office in Tennessee and worked to get markers for 16 USCT soldiers that will be placed on their graves, too.
“I love doing this for these veterans. They’re so deserving, and over 150 years later, it’s just great to be able to help them in this way. They lost their voice so long ago. I feel honored and blessed to be able to do it for them,” says Kassidy, whose family is a consumer-member of Pennyrile Electric.
“I’m not related to any of them, but I still love doing that. Regardless of skin color, they all fought and bled and died” to preserve the Union, Kassidy says.
Her next goal is to research a fifth great-grandfather, John Alexander Blaine, who was listed with the 57th United States Colored Troops. Unlike most white men assigned to those units, he was not an officer.
“It’s a little bit of a mystery,” she says.
Peggy Walker, an Elizabethtown resident and Nolin RECC consumer-member, says her search began with a specially designed family history scrapbook she purchased four decades ago. Ever since, she’s collected pieces of her family’s history to fill those empty pages.
“I decided to get it done this year,” Peggy says. She kept warm during January and February by recording her memories and family stories for her children and grandchildren.
The one-of-a-kind scrapbook will be making the rounds—by mail—to each of her children. In May, Peggy mailed it to her son, John R. Walker Jr., director of volunteer services at Baptist Health in Lexington.
Her late husband, John Robert Walker Sr., “was a history buff. He was all about connecting with family,” she says. A former chaplain at Fort Knox, Walker died in 2016, about a year and a half after the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. That event is one of dozens documented in the scrapbook.
Their story—and stories of their parents and other ancestors—comes to life within the pages of the scrapbook through yellowed newspaper clippings, copies of old photographs and personal letters from as early as the Civil War. Sprinkled among the ephemera are notes about the items, or the people in them, penned in Peggy’s neat handwriting.
The stories Peggy most wanted to share with Kentucky Living readers center on her maternal great-grandmother, Josephine “Josie” Heverin (1864-1945). Josephine’s parents, Adam and Frances (Mueller) Uhrig, immigrated from Germany to Louisville in 1856.
Peggy learned that Josie was a witness to the building of the American West.
“Josie was spunky and full of fun,” Peggy says. Around 1883, Josie’s parents sent her to live with relatives in Colorado in a futile attempt to prevent their 18-year-old daughter from marrying a young Irish immigrant named Charles Heverin.
The relatives owned and operated a restaurant along the Santa Fe Railway, one of many such establishments built by British-born entrepreneur Fred Harvey. Fred Harvey Houses were America’s first restaurant chain.
Josie became one of the famed Harvey Girls, a contingent of single women ages 18 to 30 hired to prepare and serve meals, and staff the adjacent hotels. Their stories are chronicled in the 1946 film, The Harvey Girls, starring Judy Garland and Angela Lansbury.
“Supposedly, an entire train could be served a hearty meal in 30 minutes” at these Harvey Houses, Peggy writes. Her great-grandmother’s base salary was $17.50 a month, just under $450 in today’s dollars. “I’m not sure how long she was out there, but I read that most who broke their contract was because of marriage.”
In time, Charles succeeded in luring Josie back to Louisville, where the couple married and raised nine of 15 children to adulthood, including Peggy’s grandmother, Marie Sue (Heverin) Worland.
Marilyn Loy Turner, a consumer-member of Taylor County RECC, had a similar mission when she began documenting her family history.
“I’ve always loved history, especially World War II,” in which her father served, Marilyn says. History “links everyone together. I have 12 grandchildren, and I wanted them to know their background and family history.”
Most likely, she inherited her love of history from her grandfather, Joe Burley Morgan, who once taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Taylor County.
“He was the master at knowing our family genealogy, so when he explained we were kin to Daniel Boone, and that Daniel Boone’s mother was also a Morgan, we knew it to be true,” says Marilyn, who lives in Columbia.
Her family’s connection to famous people doesn’t end there.
“My own mother was always telling me about a relative named Jane Lampton,” a granddaughter of Col. William Casey, an original settler of Adair County, Marilyn writes. “I was elated! The name of the school I was attending at the time was Colonel William Casey Elementary. I was a descendant of a man worthy of a school being named for him.”
Lampton also was the mother of Samuel Clemens—better known as the author Mark Twain. “I find that fascinating,” Marilyn says in a telephone interview, adding that the Aunt Polly character in “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer” was based on Jane. “There are also books about her. She was raised in our county.”
Now retired after working as a registered nurse for 35 years, Marilyn says she is digging deeper into her family history “more now than ever,” and her passion has sparked an interest in her 10-year-old grandson, Jaden Turner, who accompanies her on visits to family cemeteries and birthplaces. They enjoyed a trip to Boonesborough this summer.
“I love it,” she says. “I feel like he’s the one who’s going to connect us to our future. He wants to record everything.”
Louisville resident James Chadwell became interested in genealogy after stumbling across a 1990 Courier-Journalarticle about Chadwell Gap in Lee County, Virginia. The gap, about 10 miles north of the better-known Cumberland Gap, was named for his paternal fifth great-grandfather David Chadwell, who, in 1770, founded Chadwell Station, a fortified settlement where migrating settlers could escape the dangers of the Wilderness Trail.
“Dad never knew anything about it,” recalls James, a Warren RECC consumer-member through his family cabin at Nolin Lake.
About 200 years later, James attended a Chadwell family reunion in Middlesboro, which included a visit to David’s gravesite near Tazewell, Tennessee.
Since then, his cousin, Dave Parman, a professor at Vincennes University in Indiana, has written a book on the family’s genealogy, which traces back to David Chadwell, From Settlements to Communities: My Ancestors in the 18th and 19th Century America.The book includes a portrait of the red-headed Chadwell, as well as a letter David wrote in 1792 to Russell County officials seeking assistance for his Lee County fort.
Born in 1732, David Chadwell served as a captain in the Revolutionary War. After his death in 1833, the Daughters of the American Revolution installed a monument in Tazewell “honoring his service to the new nation,” James writes.
In 1992, James and a cousin decided to hike Chadwell Gap along the trail named for his family. They believed Brush Mountain “shouldn’t be that hard to climb. … Were we ever wrong. It was a very tiring, steep climb. (We wondered) why our ancestors weren’t smart enough to travel a little farther south and pass through the much-flatter Cumberland Gap.”
He writes that he and his cousin defended that decision, suggesting their forefathers “wanted to get to Kentucky as quickly as possible and didn’t care that they had to climb a mountain to get there. Our wives were not convinced.”
Sonja Smiley, a consumer-member of Blue Grass Energy, was watching a film called The Walk, which tells the story of Philippe Petit’s high-wire stunt walking between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in 1974.
“All of a sudden, I heard a familiar name—The White Devils,” which included a character named Papa Rudy, writes Sonja, who lives in Berry.
She contacted Petit via Facebook and sent a photo of members of her Triska family, who performed high-wire acts as The White Devils—so-named for their white costumes. He confirmed the photo was of the real Papa Rudy Omankowsky, who married Anna Triska, the eldest sister of her grandfather, Matej Triska. The Triska family immigrated from their home in the Czech Republic to America, where they continued performing. The Omankowsky family then took over The White Devils act.
In her research, “I found living relatives in the Czech Republic who were able to provide me with a family tree going back five generations, and photographs and names of my great-grandparents and their children,” Sonja writes. “I have made wonderful connections with other relatives. … I found my ancestry included multigenerational circus performers, ranging from high-wire performers to animal trainers, jugglers and puppeteers.”
Living relatives, she writes, own Circus Hollywood in Florida and include world-renowned jugglers Mario and Sharon Berousek, teen hand-balancer Clark Jacques and high-wire performer Ladislav Diabo Kaiser with the Circus Orland in Europe.
She had heard stories about the performers in her family from her grandmother. Her grandfather didn’t tell a lot of stories—he understood English, but became frustrated by others not understanding him through his thick accent.
Sonja figured the stories were exaggerated—until she saw the movie. Now, she’s hoping to work with Petit to provide her family’s information for his next book.
Candi Zwerle, a Dunnville resident and consumer-member of Taylor County RECC, recounts a family legend that she is related to Ferdinand Zeppelin through one of his brothers. Zeppelin was an aircraft pioneer, designing and building the dirigible airship named for him. The information was contained in her brother’s baby book, but that and all of the family’s records were lost in a fire years ago, she says.
Cursory research into Zeppelin and his family history suggests that the connection is probably farther back than her grandfather, who she said was the first generation Zwerle born in America and was the connection to the famed German engineer.
But, another grandfather—actually her mother’s stepfather, Harry B. Burns—would tell Candi the story of how he once pushed Edsel Ford out of the path of an oncoming vehicle and saved the young man’s life. Burns, who retired after working at the Ford Motor Company for 50 years, told her that Edsel’s father, Henry Ford Sr., witnessed the heroic act and rewarded him with several gold pieces.
In addition to those profiled in the August print edition of Kentucky Living, other Kentucky electric co-op members shared their stories about discoveries they’ve made in their genealogy research.
Sometimes, genealogy research can lead a family historian to tragedy. Becky Niehoff of Florence, and a consumer-member of Owen Electric, writes that her maternal great-great-grandfather, John Ohmer, died suddenly, leaving his wife, Rosina, and their eight children. Turns out, Ohmer died of strychnine poisoning, which the coroner determined had been added to beer Ohmer had been drinking.
A work helper and former boarder with the family, Martin Adams, was convicted of murdering Ohmer and was executed, though he claimed innocence.
Another Niehoff ancestor also died of strychnine poisoning, but this time it was self-inflicted. Becky’s paternal third great-grandfather, Ludwig “Louis” Krebs, born in Germany in 1822, left his wife, Marie, and their eight children after taking the poison in his whiskey one morning. Krebs had served in Company C of the 18th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry from 1864-65. He died in 1884.
London resident Robert Gaines discovered that he had an ancestor who fought for the Union during the Civil War. His great-great-uncle Wiley Searcy, born in 1842, fought at the Battle of Perryville in 1862, serving two years and then coming home to organize the 9th Kentucky Cavalry. During the course of the war, Wiley had two horses shot from under him.
When he returned home, Wiley took over the Old Joe Distillery in Anderson County, which he purchased from T.B. Ripy in 1886, writes Robert, a member of Jackson Energy Cooperative. He followed to the letter the recipe left behind by master distiller M.S. Bond and resurrected the Old Joe brand. He died in 1917 at 74, a victim of the influenza pandemic that killed thousands in the United States and Europe.
Gibson EMC member Dan Weatherspoon of Fulton traces his father’s family in Kentucky back to Samuel and Susan (Litsey) Ray, his second great-grandparents. They and many other ancestors in Dan’s family are buried in Wesley Cemetery in Hickman County. Research by Dan and a cousin link both Samuel and Susan to British royalty, with Samuel’s line stretching back to William the Conquerer and Susan’s line to King Edward III.
The old Ray homestead, which had remained in his family for generations, was built by William Jasper Ray and George Washington Ray for their parents in 1850. Several years ago, Dan and some cousins who remembered the location of the house, went on a quest to find it.
Dan writes that as soon as he saw that house, he recalled eating a family dinner there with his parents 65 years earlier in 1949. Sadly, the house “was torn down, against my wishes” about three years ago, Dan writes, but not before he could return with his children and take photos for treasured memories.
Based in Milton, Phyllis Codling McLaughlin is a journalist who also has researched her own family history for more than 25 years. Through her genealogy business, Twisted Roots Genealogical Services, she helps others find their family heritage using traditional research methods combined with genetic genealogy, which uses DNA testing to help tear down brick walls and solve family mysteries.