At times, when reading about my ancestors and their world, I almost feel as if I have gone back in time. It’s easy to get lost in the history, the mystery, the discovery.
Of course, I know that we can’t go back, that the past is the past, but I found out this week that the past can sometimes come forward to you in unexpected ways.
This week we took a little road trip to the part of the country where our ancestors lived before they came to Indiana. We visited history museums and libraries, walked the banks of the Salt River, admiring the hills and the countryside.
More importantly, though, we randomly met some people, who in some way came to us because of our past and thus in some way made it come alive for us.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know the family line I am currently working on is the Collings family. Before they came to Indiana, they lived in Nelson County, Kentucky. At the time they lived there, in the 1790s, Nelson County consisted of approximately the eastern half of what we now know as the state of Kentucky. Over the years it has been divided into several smaller counties, Bullitt, Spencer, Jefferson, Nelson, to name a few.
My research has revealed that a thriving industry and community called Brashear’s Station (sometimes called Froman’s Station or the Salt River Garrison) grew up near present-day Shepherdsville, Kentucky, now Bullitt County.
Stations were small fortified areas that sprung up all around the area where early families settled, providing protection from Indians.
Our Colling’s ancestors have been listed among the early settlers near Brashear’s Station, and their name is listed on the historical marker that marks the spot of the settlement.
In the directions we found directing us to the spot to see the marker, our map also revealed a small cemetery named Collings Cemetery. Of course, we had to drive there, too.
GPS directed us down highway 44E, then off onto a paved county road, then off onto a gravel road, then onto what appeared to be a country lane with 5 or 6 mailboxes on a post.
Winding our way down the lane, we joked about finding the cemetery in someone’s back yard or off in a field, under a tree guarded by a mad bull, but finally we rounded a curve in the lane to see an attractive farmhouse to the right, far off the road, and next to the road, in the shade of a big tree, a peaceful little plot with about 6 or 7 stones.
Fenced off from a pasture and easily accessible to us, the plot was well tended and neat, with a pleasant view of the countryside. You could tell this was probably a spot much favored by the family who had chosen it as a resting place for their loved ones.
As we tried to decipher the names on the stones, most if not all of them very discolored but clearly bearing the name Collings, we saw a man leave the house and walk down the driveway toward us.
In the shade of an old tree, we explained to him our connection to the cemetery and why we were here. He told us when he bought the property, the graves and plot were in sad shape, the weedy and overgrown with broken and discolored stones. Over the years of his ownership, he had put fencing up, cemented what stones he could fix, taken down the weeds and encouraged the grassy, pasture surface.
We told him of our family, how they had come to Kentucky attracted by the opening up of the territory and the adventure, then moved on to Indiana, only to suffer from a devastating loss by Indian attack. From the dates on the stones, the people buried here were the ancestors that stayed.
The dates displayed seemed to be in the 1860s, which was about 50 years after the departure of our line of Collings. Still, the names were familiar to us, having shown up in our research, probably as sons, daughters, nephews of the ancestors we met during our research.
As we talked, we discovered that Bryan B. is a middle school counselor who has taught history. He was very interested to hear what we knew about our ancestors, where they came from, where they went. He said he had often wondered about them as he worked on cleaning up their final resting place.
It also turned out, that he knew and was a former co-worker of a friend of ours from Scottsburg, Indiana, Reba J.
It never ceases to amaze me what a small, small world this is.
I was so happy to talk with Bryan and to thank him on behalf of my family and my ancestors for taking care of this place.
Over 150 years ago, my family walked these hills and fields. They lived, loved, and died here, or they went out from here to new lives in other places, but this spot is where they suffered loss and where they chose to bury their dead.
Bryan’s respect for this place and these remains, without even knowing who was buried here, struck me as such a kind and generous gesture.
Whenever the world seems like a hard and unfriendly place, I hope I remember the kindness of Bryan B. and how he brought my family’s past forward for me.