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Month: January 2019

Still Here

I’ve been doing some heavy research this past week and missed my due date for posting. Don’t give up! I’m still here!

In choosing to write this blog and in focusing on my family’s story, I’ve come to a new appreciation for history, the founding of our country and the way we all came to be where we are today.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: we are all a product of those who came before us whether they be blood relatives or simply chose to travel with us. Everyone we touch or who touches us in our lives helps form who we become.

Already in the short time I’ve been on this quest to discover my past, I’ve found people and stories and a history I am so happy to have discovered. I can only hope that I have helped someone else discover something about themselves and become excited about their own stories.

So, stick with me. I have more to tell and I pray I have more to discover!!



The Book. Thanks to Kenneth Scott, Connie Hackman, Leona Lawson. This is Vol. 1. Vol. 2 is now available and information is now being sought for Vol. 3.

I never make New Year’s Resolutions and it’s a good thing because I’ve already missed my blog posting schedule every week this year.

In my defense, I have been doing a lot of research for the blog, but none of it is ready for publication, so I’m just writing this (late) post freestyle.

This is the second weekend in a row that we’ve been “snowed in” here in my neighborhood. I’m okay with that. My sister pointed out this morning that the number of inches of snow on the ground during a snow emergency directly corresponds to the number of pounds gained over that same snow emergency. Seems about right.

Now, about the research I’m doing to help me continue my family stories here on my blog:

Research is hard

I just spent a frustrating few days trying to access old newspaper clippings without paying outlandish “membership” fees for the rest of my life. I finally managed to use my library’s credentials to get into the archives to find the information I sought, but there was too much wasted time for the few details that emerged. Once again, I found I had the facts, but not the whole story…and that’s my motto: The story is the thing.

I have many of the hard facts, birth dates, death dates, etc. They’ve been available to me thanks to a huge book compiled by three distant relatives, Kenneth Scott, Connie Hackman, and Leona Lawson, who tracked the descendants of our ancestor William Edward Collings and pulled together the details of the Pigeon Roost Massacre. I will be forever grateful that they not only tackled this massive project, but they saw it through to completion.

Seriously, though, where does a story begin? That can be a huge problem for a story teller. How much background does one need before telling a story? My family story doesn’t begin at Pigeon Roost, it doesn’t begin when the family moved to the Indiana territory, it doesn’t even begin when they moved to Kentucky. I haven’t found the beginning yet and I’m not sure I will, but I’m still trying.

Research is confusing

As soon as you think you have the facts nailed down, along comes someone’s opinion or some other researcher’s notes or a date that’s slightly off from all the dates you’ve carefully recorded. If the birth year has always been 1724 until you read another family tree and find the date quoted as 1754, those lost or found 30 years can change the whole sequence of later events.

I did have that happen with one person’s birth date. Children and events didn’t line up quite the way they should, so I did the math and found that she appeared to be 110 when she died. That seemed highly unlikely back in the 1700’s so I had to spend another day running that information down, trying to find out which was incorrect, her birth date or her death date.

Official government records are fairly reliable, but they are difficult to come by and more so as the story reaches further back into history. I found one official petition by some residents of Kentucky to government officials requesting that Kentucky be allowed to become a state. Several of my ancestors are shown as signers of this petition, so that places them in a general area on a specific date.

I’ll be sharing that petition on this blog in the future because of one section that makes me smile to read how wily the pioneers were in selling their argument.

And then there are the names

I wrote about the naming conventions used by German families, but seriously, names like William and John, used in generation after generation with (maybe) a different middle name (maybe not), do not serve researchers well. Luckily the Collings have some rather unique first names like Spencer and Zebulon and Kearnes and Phoebe (Phebe), but they crop up in many generations, so once again, dates are so important.

Consistent spelling of names was not a high priority in history. I have in my background Collings, Collins, (possibly) Kollings, Nicholas, Nichols, Nicolaus, etc. Doing a search on inaccurate last name spelling has been somewhat of a nightmare even today. That newspaper article I was researching, the one I almost didn’t find, finally turned up when I searched an alternate spelling of the last name.

Researching the women

One of my biggest frustrations is the lack of records for women. Often wives’ maiden names are never provided, they mostly didn’t own property, and when men had two or three wives (pioneer life was especially hard for women) the children of the men were not always listed according to the proper mothers.

When women married more than once, their second marriage only recorded their previous married name, not their maiden name.

Most disconcerting, women just seemed to randomly disappear from family stories. That’s actually what got me started on this journey through my family history.

In all the stories of Pigeon Roost, there was no detail about where or what happened to William Elston Collings’ wife, Phebe, mother and grandmother of many of the victims. William and his two teenage children resisted the Indians, the details of their escape have been told, but there was no word of Phebe, his wife. Many, many researchers claim that she died in the massacre, but she did not.

So, I went looking for her…and found her. Never fear. I’ll tell you that story, too!

Coming Together

The historic marker for Brashear’s Station shows the names Crist and Collings as early settlers.

This is an unfocused week…returning to work after the holidays, getting ready for Spring semester classes at the college where I work, returning the house to some semblance of organized comfort.

This week I finally got my Christmas tree put away. In the interest of honesty, you need to know that my Christmas tree is 1 foot tall with tiny little ornaments and has been sitting on my coffee table for about two weeks. “Putting it away” involves carrying it to the spare bedroom and sitting it on a top shelf of the bookcase.

So, it’s been difficult to get back into blog writing and I have struggled all week (in addition to the above chores) to come up with a subject I can settle into.

You can see how scattered my mind is when you notice I ended the above sentence with a preposition…a very bad thing to do, but a habit I struggle with. There, I did it again. I’m reminded of a letter E.B. White, one of my writing heroes, wrote that went like this:

Dear Jack:

The next grammar book I bring out I want to tell how to end a sentence with five prepositions. A father of a little boy goes upstairs after supper to read to his son, but he brings the wrong book. The boy says, ‘What did you bring that book that I don’t want to be read to out of up for?’

If E.B. White can find a way to end a sentence with 5 prepositions, I guess I can get away with one or two!

Now, to focus…

I believe it is time to pull my family story together, tie up the loose threads that led to the Crist stories I’ve been sharing and show how they lead to my own story.

I was born a Nicholas. I come to that name from the Collings line, who married into the Richey line, who eventually married into the Phegley family, who married into the Nicholas line.

So, you see, I am a Collings, a Richey, a Phegley, and a Nicholas, which brings up the question, as the television show asks…who do you think you are?

And that’s just on my dad’s side of the story. We all profess to want to be our own person, but how can that be? Like it or not, we are a product of our ancestors.

My ancestors fought Indians, started pioneer businesses, petitioned the young American government for land, hacked a life out of the wilderness. Don’t tell anyone, but there are criminals in my background and people who might not have treated the Indians so well when we moved into their hunting grounds.

The Crist family and the Collings family have traveled together, lived alongside each other, and supported each other through many adventures. Every time I told you a story about a man named Crist, there was a man named Collings standing nearby. And how that all was set into motion is still a mystery to me.

Nicolaus Heinrich Crist, in the account book given to him by his father, related that William Edward Collings, a boyhood friend, traveled the high seas with the Crist brothers when they came to America from Germany.

I can’t document that. As a matter of fact, all my research proves quite the opposite.

Every reference I have found in my family tree tells me that the Collings family (my Collings family) originated in England and that my ancestor named William Edward Collings was born in the Colonies in what was then called Pennsylvania, son of Zebulon Collings who was also recorded as being born in Pennsylvania.

While it would seem that the account book is wrong about William Edward Collings and therefore not to be trusted or used as reference, later entries in the journal have this Crist friend, William Edward Collings, producing a son named William Elston Collings and a daughter (among other offspring) named Elizabeth. That I can document as part of my family history. I am descended from William Elston Collings who had a sister named Elizabeth, both children of William Edward Collings.

There is some speculation that the entire journal of the Crist family is a fabrication, but I’m not buying that. There is enough fact in the journal that I can corroborate, so I choose to take it as a story based on mostly facts.

Family stories are like that. They take on a life of their own. They contain kernels of truth that help us know who we are and where we come from, even though they might also contain dramatic flourishes that keep us engaged in the story. And be honest with me and with yourself…you’ve enjoyed the stories, right?

Maybe the Collings and the Crists did not travel to America together, but they did travel through America and through history together, and that I can prove, so the journal has served as a lasting story of a life we can only imagine.

Nicolaus Crist’s son George married William Edward Collings’ daughter Elizabeth, sister to William Elston Collings. That fact I can document. It happened and it became very important to my future story line.

William Elston Collings, son of William Edward, was the patriarch of the group who traveled in 1809 from Kentucky into the territory that later became Indiana.

To be more precise they moved into southern Indiana near what is today Vienna, Indiana. This group, consisting of many Collings family members, settled in an area they called Pigeon Roost. There they built cabins, laid claim to land and planted crops. And there, many of their stories ended, but thankfully my story continued, so you see, it is my duty to tell this.

This is my family and now, over the next few weeks, I will begin to tell you their story.

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