When history becomes personal it can alter your perspective

Coe Campbell was born and raised in Allen County Kentucky in the city of Scottsville.  By his historical calculations, he speculates he is an 8th or 9th generation Allen county resident.  His love of history began sitting with his grandmother as she described each piece of fabric in her mother’s handmade quilts.  He says “Early on, I learned that everything has a history and significance if we only take the time to look.”

In 2018, Coe Campbell received the Dr. Delroy & Patricia Hire Memorial Scholarship at WKU.  This scholarship was established in 2015 to provide students with professional experience working in a special collections library, specifically with material from Allen and Monroe counties in Kentucky and Macon County in Tennessee. Receiving this scholarship opened the opportunity for Coe to work in the Department of Library of Special Collections at WKU with Dr. Nancy Richey. This funded internship was more than an academic opportunity; it became a life changing experience for Coe Campbell.

According to Campbell, “A Special Collections library, like the one at WKU, is a rich and vibrant source of knowledge and information. I recommend that everyone come to the Special Collections Library and spend even one hour performing research; I promise they will find something that will spark their interest on almost any topic.”

Coe Campbell with his dog in front of his ancestors’ 100-year-old smoke house, which was used by his grandmother’s great aunt and two uncles.

A long-lost grave

“While performing research and working at the Library, I felt like I was discovering myself as well as preserving history. While interning, I learned to value everything; Christmas cards, church records, letters, old farm signs and even business cards are important,” says Campbell.

When speaking with his grandmother, she peaked his interested in finding the long-lost grave of his 7th great-grandfather. No one had been able to locate this family member’s grave and Coe took on the case. His family had moved to Allen County before it acquired that name; it was initially part of Warren County, and then the county lines changed. Thanks to the experience he received from his internship at the special collection library, he knew how to trace county line history, research church records, access dates, timelines, and chronologically organize them.

One afternoon, with his grandmother beside him, they tracked down an old farm, drove down an old gravel road…and there was the long-lost grave! Coe says, “When you can apply history to your very own family, your whole perspective changes.”

Campbell on a weekend history adventure

Bringing a history degree to life

“My internship inspired me to put my history major to use by pursuing a master’s degree in Library Science so one day I can help people reconnect to their past,” says Campbell.   By learning the history of each small community and town of each county, he is now a resource for the community; answering questions for people from the Historical Society, political societies, and community members regarding the location of old roads, settlements, and other historical landmarks.

He also performs Genealogy for church family and friends, because he has learned how to dig and find info.  “Everyone thinks it’s a straight line, but there are dead end trails.  However, by researching farm records, census records, war history records, and other sources, and most times I can find what folks are searching for,” says Campbell.

He continues, saying “When you go back in history, you’ll find that everyone is, connected—it’s just a matter of finding that connection.”

Campbell at a natural spring from which his ancestors used to get their water

Inspiration from WKU and Dr. Nancy Richey

Campbell had an amazing experience attending WKU.  “I was never a huge social person, and I commuted back and forth, but my time at WKU inspired me to join numerous clubs, helped me hone my major and career path, and gave me solid connections in the community,” he says.  Professors from his freshman year still reach out and check on him.  Coe continues, “The professors truly do care…they come to my lectures when I speak to the historical society, and they really want to help us succeed.”

Dr. Nancy Richey was a true inspiration to Campbell, encouraging him to continually keep the thirst for history alive.  “When I had a question, she would go the extra mile to assist me in finding the answers I wanted…anything I found interesting, she found interesting, and she was always willing to drop everything to help someone enjoy history,” says Campbell.

Coe’s past professors often email him with historical questions. Campbell says “They appreciate my insight.  They value the knowledge I have as much as I value their knowledge.  If everyone works together and contributes and shares, we all share a larger wealth of knowledge.”

This map from the 1920’s, shows land ownership and farm boundaries in the communities of Halfway, Halifax, and Amos. Campbell discovered his ancestor’s names on this map where his family had settled.

A historian looks to the future

Campbell concludes saying, “I want to help to preserve the history of common folk so future generations will know that everyone, regardless of their social or economic status, is important in the history of us all. History to me is more than dates and important people. History is web of stories, personalities, and people all interconnected. I am thankful that somewhere in the web of life; my own history will be found.”

Coe currently works at the WKU Office of Student Financial Assistance. He enjoys serving others, assisting them in tackling complicated tasks, and helping them prepare for the future.  He is currently enrolled in the organizational leadership Master’s Program.  He aspires to finish this Master’s Degree, pursue an additional Master’s degree in History, and work for a university so he can assist and inspire other students in their educational careers.

You can connect with Coe Campbell here:  christopher.campbell413@topper.wku.edu