Historic America

Interview with Local Historian and Preservationist David Kent Coy

David Kent Coy is a retired social worker, having a career of over 40 years working with people with developmental disabilities, severe mental illness, and also senior citizens. He is a Life Member of the Coles County Historical Society, the Coles County, Illinois Genealogical Society, and the Association for the Preservation of Historical Coles County. He is a Past President of the Illinois State Genealogical Society and was awarded their highest honor, the Lowell Volkel Medal of Honor.

Tell us a little about your background. How did you become interested in genealogy and local history?

When I was born, I had 12 living ancestors. I had both parents, one grandmother, two grandfathers, all four great-grandmothers, two great-grandfathers, and one great-great-grandmother. I can remember them all, except for one great-grandmother, who died at 86 when I was just a few months old. Two of my great-grandmothers lived until I was 16 and I started writing down their stories a little over a year before they both died in Oct. 1969. They each remembered a few of their great-grandparents – so that got me started. Going to college at E.I.U., in Charleston, Coles County helped, because several of my ancestors had pioneered there at an early time.

What do you think makes Coles County so unique?

The first thing I think of was that the boundaries of Coles County once were much larger and included Cumberland County and Douglas County. I think the presence of Eastern Illinois University has made a big impact on the county. The connections to Abraham Lincoln have always fascinated me also.

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What is your favorite episode or event from Coles County history?

The Charleston Riot of March 28, 1864 was the furthest north incidence of violence connected to the American Civil War. While it was a bloody episode in the history of an other-wise quiet, calm farming area, I am still surprised to learn how far away it was reported and I’m always glad to learn another detail about it, and the people involved.

Is there one thing about Coles County you want to know more about but haven’t been able to find?

I don’t think Coles County will ever run out of interesting places or events. Right now I’m assisting with a grant that is allowing us to study the Old York Road, which stated in Charleston at an old stage stop and ran down across Hutton Township, to Old York in Clark County. Lots of new stories research opportunities are popping up as people contribute to the project.

What advice do you have for my readers who want to become more involved in their family genealogy or local historical preservation?

As I started my researching before the popular use of computers, I think the hands-on, get involved in a project thinking, is a really good idea. Go out and record the old tombstones in a forgotten cemetery. Interview that grand-aunt, who is about to turn 95. Take your cell-phone and photograph those old brick houses that are still standing. Join the local societies that are working on the areas you are interested in. In other words – don’t just stay in front of the computer all day.

What are your thoughts?

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