Stories to Tell: Going Home

Stories to Tell: Going Home

An old diary comes alive when a genealogist visits his family’s 200-year-old homestead.
In January/February 2019's Stories to Tell column, Sunny shares the story of cousins Chris and Dave Cooley, who visited the family homestead based on information from an old journal.
Cousins Dave (right) and Chris Cooley visited the old Cooley family homestead while attending a reunion in upstate New York.

Years ago, Dave Cooley transcribed the leather-bound diary that his great-great-grandfather, Benjamin Orlando Cooley, wrote in 1871. “It’s full of the mundane tasks of everyday life,” Dave Cooley says. “Things like, ‘I had to hitch the horses up and get over the ice on the creek,’ or going off to teach school or that the kids were misbehaving that day. One time he heard Sojourner Truth speak, and he wrote about that.”

The diary described the family homestead in Portageville, NY, where Dave Cooley’s third-great-grandfather (Benjamin’s grandfather) settled in 1816. At a Cooley reunion in Niagara Falls this summer, Dave Cooley connected with fellow descendant Chris Cooley, who lives locally. The two decided to visit the homestead in hopes that the owner would grant them a tour. To their delight, he did.

“I didn’t realize how strategically they’d set up the property to be in the shade near the creek,” says Cooley. “The home and barns are still in the exact same place, showing how smartly designed it was. I even got to see the nearby waterfalls I’d read about in the diary.”

The house, still standing on the 250-acre farm, was full of Cooley memorabilia. “On the living room wall is a black-and-white photo of my great-great grandfather, Alfred,” says Cooley. “On the landing is a Cooley tea room sign”—a relic of an old family business—“and upstairs on a bedroom wall was the marriage license of Chris’ great-grandparents.”

While visiting, they discovered the property would be coming up for sale. The Cooley cousins pooled resources to see if they could purchase it. “We weren’t able to come to agreement with the owner, but it was still an amazing place to visit. And I made a great new cousin connection and we’re staying in touch.”

If you’d like to read more interesting genealogy success stories, check out the Stories to Tell column in each issue of Family Tree Magazine. In it, Contributing Editor Sunny Jane Morton shares researchers’ greatest finds, plus how their research has impacted them. For instance, she discusses how one woman brought home surprising souvenirs from trips to England, including a Civil War soldier’s photo. A version of this article originally appeared in the January/February 2019 issue of Family Tree Magazine.

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