When my grandmother left Kentucky in 1907, she never went back. Morgan County was never far from her heart, though. All of her siblings, except for the youngest two, had been born there. Her mother and the other Day sisters who had lived in Morgan County all lived in Oklahoma. Even an old friend from home, Geneva Haney, lived in Tulsa. When they got together, they reminisced about the old days back home.
My grandmother subscribed to the Licking Valley Courier and even contributed articles when a newsworthy event happened in Oklahoma. In later years she corresponded with her cousins Effie Castle Walters, Hattie Day Egelston, and Mearil McGuire. The names of families like the Elams, the Lykins, and the Haneys, and towns with names of Caney, Cannel City, Malone, Stacy Fork, and West Liberty, were as familiar to me as Davenport, Red Fork, and Tulsa.
Surprisingly, it was my brother who got the idea for us to take a trip back to Kentucky, just the two of us. I guess not so surprising, because he was raised by my grandmother from the age of 4 months and just as steeped in the lore of her old Kentucky home. We set off from Tulsa in July 2010, one OCD woman and one ADD man. It’s a wonder we didn’t kill each other, but we didn’t even have an argument.
Of course, the OCD woman had made an itinerary that included the St. Louis Arch and our ancestor (on the other side of the family) William Whitley’s house in Crab Orchard, Kentucky, but I wasn’t so OCD that I minded stopping in the historical utopian town of New Harmony, Indiana or at Fort Boonesboro or at Ashland, Henry Clay’s house in Lexington, all on the spur of the moment.
|William Whitley House|
|Ashland, Home of Henry Clay|
The centerpiece of the trip, though, was a couple of days in West Liberty, from whence we set out to explore the courthouse, the historical society, and three million cemeteries. (Of course, this was before the tornado that hit the town in 2012.) We stayed in West Liberty and drove the winding State Highway 460 through all the little towns that my grandmother had told us about.
We were looking for the cemetery where my great-great-grandparents, Goldman Davidson and Rachel Castle, are buried. What we found is that there is a cemetery on the top of every hill in that part of Kentucky. We got so we looked up every time we saw a hill, and sure enough, there was a cemetery there, many of which we duly explored. We found some Castles and other related families, but not the ones we were looking for.
We had passed the same spot on the highway several times because there was a cemetery entrance across the road. This time we read the street sign that said “Castle Branch.” A family was working in their yard when we stopped to ask if they knew anything about the Castles. All they knew was that the sign had always been there, but there had been no Castles there in their generation nor in the man’s father’s generation. They did admit to knowing Virgil Castle—a prominent relative in the area, now deceased, that everyone had seemed to know.
We decided to call Virgil’s son and ask for directions to the cemetery. We reached him by phone from the motel that night, and in his laconic Kentucky accent, he said, “Drive down the highway, turn at this road, look for a barn right beside the road. When you see the barn, look back to your right up on the ‘purnt’ (point), and you’ll see the cemetery.” The next day we drove there, and his directions were perfect, but I was A)unable to climb the incredibly steep hill up to the cemetery, and B)scared of the pack of dogs roaming the neighbor’s yard. My brother, the intrepid former postman, made friends with the dogs, climbed the hill, but didn’t recognize any of the names in the cemetery.
We didn’t find the cemetery, but we did find another street sign. This one said “Day Branch Road.” Our family names are all over an area where no Days and few Castles have lived for 100 years.
We have not given up the quest to find the Castle cemetery. We are going back this summer with directions from a Castle cousin. If it turns out that we go back to the same cemetery that we visited before, I’m climbing the hill this time.