Still tracing my roots

Published 9:00 am Thursday, September 7, 2017

By Sue Staton

guess it is probably a good thing I was not adopted because I would have driven myself crazy by now trying to find out all about myself.

I know a lot of people really do not care about history or take for granted where they came from, but I am not one of those people.

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I have learned my family came from the Wurtenberg, Germany, area and a castle is supposedly still there from the Willoughby family. 

I also know my grandfather met a girl on the ship coming over to America and fell in love with her and married her. We can trace back to the 1700s. I know that the Yocums, Yons and McCalls are part of my family on my dad’s side.

I am excited to learn every little tidbit I can about my grandparents and great grandparents. I have heard a good way to learn about your family is to ask the oldest living person in your family to tell you things about your family. That is what I did this week.

My daddy’s first cousin is Allen Willoughby from Mount Sterling. He is now 91 years old. For several years, I have mentioned to him I would like to interview him and ask him questions about my family. He has told me year after year he would be glad to speak with me. 

For some reason, I have not taken the time to do that until I realized time is getting away from me and Allen is not getting any younger. So, instead of making the trip to his home like I planned, I decided to call him and talk Sunday night.

I learned that my great grandfather, Alonzo Willoughby, was a preacher and was considered very good and in demand. He spent every Sunday as a traveling preacher, as was common in those days. 

I also learned my grandfather left all of his children a farm in Powell County when he died.

Some of the older kids got married and left their homes and farm even though they still owned it and were thinking of coming back some time. Three of the married ones who were away lost all their homes on the farm in one night when someone burned them down. Allen’s family was one of the lucky ones along with two or three of his daddy’s siblings who were home that night. Their homes were saved from the fire.

My Papa’s name was Cortland Willoughby but, growing up, we only heard his name as being Cort Willoughby. Allen said he never knew when or why his name was shortened. 

I knew my Papa’s hair was red like my daughter Shanda’s and I learned two other of his siblings had red hair. All the rest of the kids had dark black hair like my Daddy’s. 

I also learned why my dad was so much closer to Allen than the other cousins. One reason Allen said was he used to ride a school bus and get off at my grandparents’ and spend the weekends and summer with them a lot. He said it was really hard to get work hands back then and my grandfather needed him to help my dad, Elbert and Uncle Herbert during hay baling season. They were close to the same age. He said he visited more than Hord, his brother.

The only Winchester Willoughby we were kin to was Nelson Willoughby and his sisters, Della Oaks and Geneva Blackwell. Also my Aunt Bea Barker, lived here with her husband, Ray.

I always knew from my dad that all of his uncles died at very early ages and I was shocked to hear that Allen’s dad died at the age of 32. My own grandfather died at the age of 54. However, he laid seven years in bed before he died from a sunstroke he had while working in the fields on his farm. 

I learned that my mother came and stayed with my grandmother to help nurse my Papa to health. It was then I learned she and my dad fell in love. I never knew that. My Papa never ever recovered from the stroke, however.

I also learned that the Willoughby family lost children from the flu that seemed to have gone through the country in 1918. I remember my mother lost siblings in the same year from sickness. That is why there are very few Willoughbys we were kin to while growing up. 

I also knew my daddy lost a brother, Malcolm, who lived to be one year old. I mentioned that I remember when my daddy made a tombstone for Malcolm and he told me something I never knew: my grandfather went up and built the fence around the Spruce cemetery and said he thought it was still there today. That made me proud.

Allen told me what I already knew about my daddy and family and that was that they were all hard working. My daddy often worked two jobs to keep my family going when I was growing up. We probably were poor enough to get welfare but my daddy would have never taken it I do not believe.

I was so glad Allen was generous with his time. I also mentioned the fact that it was from his generosity that I got to see my very first University of Kentucky basketball game as a child. He not only made my mom and dad happy but he made his five kids ecstatic that night. We never dreamed we would get to go to a UK game at that time in our life.

Remember, if you are interested in your family’s history, do not keep putting it off. 

You may let time get away from you and lose valuable information. 

I still wish I had asked more questions when my mom and dad were alive. My mom was really good at telling stories and we loved to hear them. 

I try to do the same thing with my grandchildren and I hope I am preserving something to be of benefit to them some day. 

At least they will know where they came from.

Sue Staton is a Clark County native who grew up in the Kiddville area.