Part 3: Chapter 2
Note to the Reader: This was originally written as a letter back to my sister who lives on a farm near Ayrshire, Iowa. Changes have been made for clarification.
It started oh, so casually.
Me: (Blissfully ignorant of any scrap of knowledge about genealogy, family history, or what I was getting into.) Would it be possible to stop in West Virginia on the way to Florida? My ancestors are buried somewhere around there.
Don: Why not? (Anything to get me in the truck and on the way to Florida in a hurry and happy about it.)
I dig the family history out of the buffet. Things seem to center around West Liberty. I look up the town. By golly, itís only about 16 miles from Interstate 79. A piece of cake.
As we get closer, I look on the map. (Big mistake.) Gee, Don, if we take this little black road, itís much shorter than going around on the Interstate to Wheeling. Don agrees to take the road. (Another mistake.)
So we turn off the expressway onto 844, to head for 331.
Youíve heard of 3/4 beds? This was a 3/4 road. We only meet three cars, but they were enough. The sign carefully informs us that each bridge across this darn creek is one lane. I donít know why they bother. The entire road is one lane. Its only saving grace is that itís blacktop. This road is pure Indian trail, curving along a stream, climbing up hills and down, around switchback turns, hairpin turns, you name it. The speed limit is 45 miles an hour. We laugh. We are lucky to get up to 30.
After roughly a hundred years of driving, we arrive in West Liberty. West Liberty looks about the way Ayrshire (the small town in Iowa where I went to school) would look if it were plunked down in the hollow of the mountains, had a church with a steeple and was a hundred and fifty years older.
West Liberty/Bethany area does have something Ayrshire doesnít have. Just on the other side of the hill are two four year colleges. One is called Bethany College, the other West Liberty College. The road into West Liberty has been called "the cow path to culture". I donít know why itís called West Liberty, to my knowledge there is no Liberty or East Liberty. [After writing this, I have since learned that there is indeed an East Liberty. It is in Pennsylvania.]
Our family history that I hold in my hand tells us that most of our ancestors are buried in the Cox family grave yard about a mile from West Liberty. It doesnít say what direction. I can see why now. By the time we went around all those curves, I didnít know which way was up, either.
We stop in the post office to ask where the Cox family grave yard might be, even though we knew they probably hadnít had much mail delivered there lately. A very lovely, friendly lady there said she didnít know, but Mrs. Gordon across the street might know. Her husband used to be the caretaker of the cemeteries. Mrs. Gordon is the lady who lives in the house with the porch swing. The post office lady gives us directions to a couple of other graveyards. We, being reasonably intelligent people, are certain we can find the Coxes without bothering Mrs. Gordon. So off we go, with the directions already scrambled in my head, up hill and down dale. By sheer accident, we find Short Creek Cemetery, which is maybe five miles west of West Liberty. It is behind a beautiful country church, an old-fashioned one with a steeple, United Methodist and still in use. Behind this church, going straight up the side of a very tall hill, is the cemetery.
I am very excited and jump out of the car. Don is a little less excited, but he follows. We tramp all over the graveyard, which means we are climbing, climbing up that steep hill, just the thing for two people who are already a little "over the hill" to do after sitting in the car for two days.
We find Jane Cox Hedges right away and take a rubbing of her gravestone. If you look up your family history, youíll find that Jane is the youngest daughter of "our Michael". She was born in February 1819, and died on 21 May 1918. She was 97.
We walk around for a good fifteen minutes and canít find the names I really want to find, Isaac and Susan. So I look up at the sky, (this is the Godís truth) and murmur, "Samuel, (my ancestor) Iím having trouble. I canít find the gravestones. I need a little help here." Almost on top of my last word, Don calls out, "Here they are." And there they were, their tombstones very clear, Isaac Cox and Susan Cox.
There were two other people named Brown buried in that plot, and I didnít realize it at the time, but they would have been Susanís relatives. She was a Brown.
We go back to West Liberty and find two other graveyards, one the Prall graveyard, which is on the side of a hill, (where else?) and very well kept. Zach Coxís grave is there and I believe he is an offshoot of one Michaelís fourteen children, but I donít know which one. (I have since learned that he is Abrahamís son and the ancestor of John and Emily Cox.) The other graveyard was tucked back in the corner of the town with a black wrought iron gate askew, grass a foot tall. No one is taking care of it, the gravestones tipped and unreadable, just like something youíd see in a movie. Don and I walk all over this one, and all we accomplish is to set every dog in the town barking, almost as if they know we arenít West Libertians. The cemetery was in such an unkempt state that I was relieved when I didnít find a Cox name there.
I decide maybe I am not all that intelligent, and I go back to knock on the venerable Mrs. Gordonís door. A very nice lady. She tells me that she knows of no Cox graveyard but that John Cox lives out on Route 88 a mile from West Liberty (bingo) and that farm has been in the Cox family for years.
I want to find a telephone and call John Cox, but I am a little hesitant to call up a stranger and say, Hi, Iím your cousin a few times removed. Also, it is getting late and Don does not want to be negotiating hairpin curves in the dark. So I agree to give up the search and go to Wheeling, but only if we can go to the Library and do a search there.
Wheeling is immersed in the Festival of Lights. The displays are beautiful, all different kinds of figures, a steam boat, deer, and across from the library, an eagle, just to name a few. I said to Don, gee, this looks like Niagara Falls on the Canadian side. We later found out that some guy went to Niagara Falls at Christmas time and came home and decided to duplicate the effect in Wheeling. The displays are made by the kids in the local high school.
Anyway, there was a book on the Coxes in the library put together by Leona Cox Bochat, which I skimmed and tried to absorb as much as I could in the two hours we had.
After we eat supper, I shore up my nerve to call the Coxes. Emily answers the phone. She is cautious at first, wanting to know who my Michaelís wife is. I tell her Jeruthea. She asks who my ancestor is, I tell her Samuel. She becomes very excited and we chat for quite a long time. She tells me that she is having a dinner party the next evening, but if I could come in the morning, that would be fine.
I am so excited thinking about this, I donít sleep much that night. Don lies in the bed in the motel room, and after this long silence says, "I should have married an older woman."
Back we get on state road 88, which is a little better than the other two roads. Itís wider and smoother, but it still has more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie murder mystery.
John and Emily live just outside of West Liberty in a beautiful brick ranch house that has a view from every direction. They are having their trees trimmed while we are there, and buzz saws are going and tree limbs are falling and leaves are scattering. But they greet us warmly. I of course look for a family resemblance in John, but really donít see any. He is short, trim, and very black haired for a man his age. He has an evenness of features that reminds me a little of my dad, nothing of myself. Emily takes us into their family room which looks out over the hills on the back of the farm. They have dairy cattle. John had open heart surgery a few years ago, so the operation is in the hands of the hired man. A little later on, we meet him. He reminds me of Sweet Baby James Taylor, except that he had a little more hair.
Emily showed me her four inch thick book on the Cox family. I donít know what all she has, pictures of the gravestones for one, and lots of information on the fourteen children for another. I tried to read some, but then weíd start talking and Iíd lose track of where I was in my reading. What I discovered from Emily and she vows it is true, is that Isaac is not Michaelís father, that there is a Michael Junior and a Michael Senior, and the Michael Senior is our ancestor. The Isaac mentioned in our family history Emily believes is an uncle to "our" Michael.
After we talk as fast as we can and two hours whiz by, Emily and John pile us into their Cherokee and drive us part way to the Cox family plot. Then we have to squeeze between a narrow opening in the fence and walk through the pasture up to top of the hill where the graveyard is.
It is a chilly morning, and I am feeling the wind. But when I see the graveyard, I forget the chilliness and everything else. The graveyard is on the absolute top of the highest hill. You can see miles in all directions, all the rolling hills of the farm, John and Emilyís house, the town of West Liberty. John has recently put a white rail fence around the plot to keep the cows out, but he said that he lived on the farm for years without knowing that the plot was there. He knew nothing of his history until Emily started digging into the story. The grass is tall, and the gravestones are in disrepair from time and the elements. I do have pictures, and most of the gravestones are readable, if you already know what you are reading, as Emily does.
I copied this from Emilyís records:People buried in Cox Family graveyard:
I can almost see Jeruthea in her long black dress, walking up that hill with her sons and daughters and saying, weíll put Father here where he can see the whole farm and he will be close to us. When I die, put me at his side.
Other things of interest. The original house, the house that "our" Michael built, was torn down in 1925. But Emily showed me its old location, it was, of course, near the water well and down a bit further into the hollow behind Johnís house. Emily has a black box filled with handwritten business papers of both Michael Senior and Michael Junior. After we visited the graveyard, Emily and John drove us over this narrow, winding gravel path at the back of their farm through trees, trees and more trees to a vacant, dilapidated gray house on the top of a hill. This is Isaac and Susanís house (the Isaac that is Michael Juniorís son) and it is also the house where Dr. John lived who was the ancestor of Leona Cox Bochat and a doctor for the Rebel army during the Civil War.
I took pictures that day: a picture of Michaelís gravestone, a picture of the graveyard, and a picture of Isaac and Susanís house.
Photograph 12: Jerutheaís tombstone
Photograph 13: Jeruthea & Michael Jr.ís house
Michael and Jeruthea raised their family in this house just outside West Liberty.
Photograph 14: Shirley and Don Larson
Photo taken by Emily Cox, 1995
Photograph 15: Isaac and Susan Coxís house
This was also the home of Dr. John Hupp Cox.
It was all wonderful, but meeting Emily and John was the best part. They are just exactly the kind of people everyone wants to discover for new-found relatives, honest, quick, intelligent, enthusiastic, and hard-working.
I understand that they have had a lot of relatives researching the Cox family come to the farm. Since Michael and Jeruthea had fourteen children, that is understandable. They also told us that they believe Michael got a large farm because he wanted farm land for each of his children. Perhaps he didnít plan on having so many. My ancestor Samuel, his son, struck out for Illinois and was buried in the Bell Plain Cemetery.
I tried to envision farming those hills and I couldnít. Emily says there is a story about how Michael came up over the hill (which one?), looked out over the land and said, this is it, this is beautiful, this is my farm.
It doesnít make any sense to her. Me, either. If you know anything about our more recent Cox ancestors, you know that the Franklin Pierce Cox family moved to Illinois for farm land, and then to Iowa for the same reason. My dad, Stanley was born in Chebanse, Illinois, but Homer and Mildred were born in Manson, Iowa. From Manson the family moved to Ayrshire. It seems that finding remote places three hours from any major hub of civilization is a family trait that goes back generations!
If you decide to go to West Liberty, the town is located on the point of West Virginia that comes up between Pennsylvania and Ohio. Emily said that most of the people in the town fought with the north during the Civil War, except for Dr. John Cox, Leonaís grandfather. He became a doctor in the Rebel army.
Also, take advantage of my mistake, and take 70 into Wheeling and 88 back to West Liberty. Much the best route. If, dear reader, youíve read of the musical interest in my family, it might interest you to know that Michael was a fifer in the Revolutionary army. I wonder if he was there when the Americans played Yankee Doodle for the British as they surrendered?
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