Did you miss me? I took some time off from writing here. I was busy getting ready for a trip with my Mother (and then taking the trip this past week.) We went by car to south-central Kentucky for a sort of homecoming.
Mother and I have never visited Kentucky (although we have driven across the south-western edge of it, coming back from Nashville to St. Louis. The state of Kentucky takes its name from the Iroquoian “kenta-ke”, which also used to be written as “Kaintuck”, “Caintuck”, “Kentuck”, and “Kentucke.” It means “a dark and bloody ground.” I would love to tell you how that name came to be given there, but I don’t know and still need to research that.
This homecoming was a trip to Wayne County, Kentucky, in and around the town of Monticello (pop. 5,900), and that is the place our Shelton ancestors left to come to St. Louis by covered wagon in the late 1800s. They settled in St. Louis County along the Missouri River in what is now redeveloped as the “Riverport” light industrial area, and their children settled nearby as adults in St. Charles, Maryland Heights, and Creve Coeur. This is a HUGE waste of farmland, but nobody asked me before they rezoned it and paved it over. At one time in the 1800s some of that area near Creve Coeur Lake was incorporated as “Vigus,” which no longer exists except as a reference to the name of a quarry on Creve Coeur Mill Road.
Wayne County is in the Appalachians, which is a mountain range that extends a long way throughout the eastern USA, from New York in the north to Alabama in the south. There are several ranges within the Appalachians, and Wayne County is in the foothills of the Great Smokies, as I am told by its residents. It’s rugged terrain with cascading mountain ridges, valleys and hollows, and areas of plateau that nicely accommodate family farms. I could picture Daniel Boone coming out of a wooded area almost anywhere I looked. I could hear all those Appalachian > folk songs < playing in my head from every Grand Ole Opry show I’d accidentally listened to over the years. Click on the folk songs link, above, and you can play a few of the songs by the original Carter Family, like “Will the Circle Be Unbroken” while you read the rest of this.
Mother’s birthday was yesterday; she is now officially 79 years old. She began doing family research about 20 years ago to fill in details of things we knew as anecdotes about the Sheltons and Wayne County and Monticello, Kentucky. She found a lot of things in her research over the years, but like any good researcher, she also raised more questions that needed to be answered. I am her oldest child, and I got on the family research wagon with her a few years ago, in earnest, and I thought a trip to Wayne County would be a good idea. It was.
The Sheltons were my Mother’s maternal ancestors. We’ve hit some walls on our research of the Sheltons, and to keep moving forward when we hit a wall with one family branch (a desire that genealogists understand completely), we also have done research on my Mother’s paternal ancestors, who are Mennonites and mostly still reside in the Gettysburg area of Pennsylvania, as well as on my Father’s side of the family (maternal & paternal), and they’re easiest to trace, because they are from Ireland and England and arrived in the US “recently,” relatively speaking, so there are good historical records documenting their arrival and path to get here.
My dad’s family also was literate, which the Sheltons were not. The inability to read, write and spell (especially spell) makes things a lot harder on your descendants when they are trying to research you. People who are illiterate depend on county clerks and census takers, etc., to decide how to spell their names on official documents (which we use to research their lives), and the lack of consistency in spelling can be confounding. That, plus the fact that you really need an index to track the many nickname conventions that were used in previous generations and that have completely disappeared (e.g., “Patsy” was apparently used for nearly every woman’s name at some point.) There is the “Soundex” system that helps with the various spellings–an ingenious thing, if there ever was one–and there actually are regional indexes in most genealogy libraries helping with the nicknames. If you don’t love a puzzle, however, don’t get involved in family research or you will either waste a good amount of time before quitting, pulling out your hair in frustration, or both!
So, if you have never been to south-central Kentucky, including Lake Cumberland, you are missing a spectacular part of the USA. It’s beautiful countryside, and the people were unfailingly open, welcoming and kind to us city folks come looking up our ancestors. We did find some good documentation, left with lots more sources of research for the questions that were raised on our trip, but most of what we learned came straight from the mouths of people who live there. If you ask a question of someone from the area about a certain place or events, they are most likely to respond, “Well, I don’t know a whole lot about that, but I’ll tell ya what I do know … .” Half an hour later, you’ve got the goods. They know a lot, but they just don’t tend to brag.
I have a link on my FaceBook page with a photo album (a selection of the best of our trip), which I can share here, and which you can visit even if you’re not a FaceBook member. Please take the time to read the captions on the photos: They tell the story behind what you’re seeing. I’ll set the stage here by pasting the information Mother had on how and why and when Francis Marion Shelton, his wife Martha Jane (Mathews) Shelton, Dollie (Mathews) Mikel (Martha Jane’s sister), Dollie’s husband J.T. (Jacob) Mikel, and all the Shelton and Mikel children got from Kaintuck to Missourah.
Remembrance of trip from Monticello, Kentucky, to St. Louis, Missouri, by covered wagons
As told by Mytle Shelton (Small) to Doris Jean, her granddaughter, in St. Louis, Mo.
“My father, Francis Marion Shelton, fought in the war*, as well as his brother in law (J.T. /Jacob Mikel.) A section (of land) was given for service. “They” sold their farms and came to Missouri for the black soil. They had two covered wagons, horses, cows and a plow. It took six weeks to get to St. Louis area.
They followed the river. They would stop for two or three days visiting farms along the way. It was a long trip along the Mississippi. They didn’t know where they were and saw a farm; there were rifles sticking out of the windows. The people at the house hollered, “You can’t stay here!” Then they asked, “Are you a family?” and because the men leading the wagons said they were families traveling, they were welcomed there. (Francis) Marion Shelton said, “We must be in Missouri—It’s unfriendly.”
Jacob Mikel was the rifleman and shot all the game. When they came into the St. Louis area, not having drunk yellow river water in Monticello, which is fed by 13 mountain springs, the girls all were looked at and noticed for having pale, clear skin. Yellow river water in the St. Louis area yellows the skin, apparently.
Francis Marion Shelton, Suzie, Ky.
Martha Jane Mathew Shelton (wife), Wayne Co., Ky.
Children: Lena, Myrtle, Mattie, Ethel, Mildred, William
J.T. (Jacob) Mikel, Wayne Co., Ky.
Dollie Mathew Mikel (wife), Wayne Co., Ky.
Children: Fillmore, Sherman, Ethel, Jodie (possibly two youngest children, James & Esther , were born in Missouri)
*possibly the Spanish-American War, but not yet documented
Editor’s note: If you live in or have visited northwest St. Louis County, specifically Maryland Heights, you may have seen a block-long street that runs off Fee Fee named “Mikel Avenue.” It has been there a long time and is named by/for the Mikels who came to Missouri from Wayne County, Kentucky.
> Link < to photo album of my trip with Mother to Wayne Co.