My long-awaited research trip to Kentucky took place last week, June 24-28. I drove 3.5 hours to McLean County on Monday morning, arriving in time to visit the McLean County family history research center, as well as the McLean County Public Library’s genealogy room and three cemeteries. It was a full day!
As I mentioned in a post while on the trip, the bed and breakfast where I stayed was across the street from the funeral home that was called in when Bonnie Adams, the daughter of 2nd great grandfather, George Washington Adams (who was the focus of this trip) died at age six from influenza in 1919. Spending time in the small town of Calhoun (population less than 1,000) where that family lived was very powerful. Visiting the cemeteries where my family members were buried is an experience of deep connection. I also realized how many more names I recognized this time, compared my first visit there in 2014. I know so much more about this branch of my family than I did five years ago!
From McLean County, I traveled on Tuesday morning to Owensboro (just a half hour away), where I spent much of the day in the Kentucky Room at the Daviess County Public Library. My discoveries weren’t huge, but, thanks to the helpful librarians there, I was able to find an 1895 newspaper profile of George Washington Adams (1845-1938) that originally appeared in the Louisville Courier. It gave me information about his political career (something I hadn’t been aware of before June of this year) and, best of all, it included a sketch of him! That’s him at the top of this post. Ryan, one of the helpful librarians in the Kentucky Room, commented on George’s “epic beard.”
After a hearty lunch in Owensboro, I drove 2.5 hours to Frankfort, where I checked in at a very private Airbnb property that is just a block from the Kentucky Historical Society, as well as walking distance to lots of downtown restaurants. Its entrance was in the back of the house, facing the Kentucky River. It was a great little getaway in the heart of town.
I stayed in Frankfort three nights. The three places I was keen on going were the Kentucky Historical Society’s research library, the Kentucky Department of Library and Archives (KDLA) archives research room and the Kentucky Office of Vital Statistics, where I wanted to get my hands on the long form (handwritten) of Bonnie Adams’ 1912 birth certificate. This child’s name on her death certificate is Bonnie and on her grave marker (which I saw this trip) is Bonita. I had sent away for her birth certificate in 2017, but the non-original computer-generated short form I was sent listed her name as Gliolia, the name under which it was indexed. I was curious about the handwriting that would make “Bonnie” look like “Gliolia” so I was happy for the chance to get my hands on the hand-written original version of the birth certificate. Guess what? The handwriting was actually quite clear and it looks all the world like Gliolia. So I don’t know what’s up with her first name. It’s another new mystery to explore. This long form gave more information than the short form I’d been sent–including how many children her mother had had who were still living and her parents’ occupations. Note to self: If I send away for another birth certificate in Kentucky (or perhaps elsewhere), I’ll request the long form.
I had spent as much time as I could prior to the trip trying to identify things to look up in these repositories. I knew that I wanted to look at vertical files, which I did at the first three places I went. At the KDLA I was able to examine the original documents surrounding the 1920 divorce of George Washington Adams and his second wife, Della. I also saw the divorce papers for a 1912 divorce filed by Della against George that was apparently dropped.. Thanks to the great researchers at KDLA, I’d actually been sent these documents in 2017 but the type on one of the pages was very faint. Thankfully, the original was perfectly legible, so I was able to take a photo of the document and, while I was there, I went ahead and transcribed it. (It was just a page and a half.) That made me so happy because I’d been straining to read the document I’d been emailed.
My other achievement was that I was able to prove the parentage of a 3rd great grandfather, Henry Clay McEuen (1823-1894) who was the father of George’s first wife, Henrietta Clay McEuen Adams (1847-1902). Connecting Henry to his parents, Felix McEuen (1794-1872) and Lucretia Mentelle McEuen (1899-1875) allows me to explore some interesting information my aunt had given me in the form of an unsourced family history that provides details about Lucretia’s parents, Augustus Waldemard and Charlotte Victoire Mentelle, who were prominent early-19th century citizens of Lexington with connections to Mary Todd Lincoln and Senator Henry Clay (John Quincy Adams’ Secretary of State). I’d been tantalized by that family history but didn’t want to explore its clues until I’d proven my connection to the family.
This was definitely a successful trip, despite the absence of huge “Eureka!” moments. While I was away, I made a few notes of things I think I did right and things I could have done better.
Things I did right:
- I kept my schedule loose and maintained flexibility. It was nice to be nimble.
- I narrowed my focus to a few key questions so I didn’t get too overwhelmed at all the possibilities of things to research.
- I studied the respositories’ rules and regulations so I wasn’t taken by surprise.
- I asked for help while I was at the various sites; this is something I got better at as I went along.
- I wrote ahead to the Daviess County Public Library. They pulled requested resources and had them waiting for me!
Things I could have done better:
- Ideally I would have educated myself even more on the holdings of the repositories, because I was still a little unsure of what to look for next while I was there.
- I wish I had visited the funeral home in Calhoun, since I was right there, and asked if they had records on two of my grandfather’s brothers, who died in 1899 and 1902 as very small boys. I have no information on them beyond newspaper accounts of their tragic accidental deaths. (Thank you for that suggestion, Maria Tello!)
- In retrospect, it would have been wise for me to have gone to the McLean County Courthouse just a block from where I was staying. I was under the impression that I’d more easily find what I was looking for at the KDLA, but it turns out there were some gaps in the microfilmed records there and the archivist suggested I check the courthouse. Alternatively, if I had chosen to go to Frankfort first, I could have visited the courthouse when I got to McLean county and checked out those missing resources.
- I wish I had taken the time at the end of each day to process—or at least carefully read—everything I photographed during the day. It wasn’t until the last day of my trip that I realized that I had documents in my possession that made the vital connection between Henry and Felix McEuen. I had found that document on the first day!
Of course, like everything, the trip didn’t go perfectly. But I think it went very well and I’m really satisfied with my planning and what I was able to find. I’d forgotten to take into account the mental exertion of full days of research five days in a row! By Friday afternoon when I left for my five-hour drive back to St. Louis, my brain was full and I was ready to stop.
I’m really grateful for this opportunity. Getting away from daily life and really focusing on my research was a special treat. If you have the opportunity to do it, I heartily encourage it!