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Have you ever heard of Benjamin Austin Gollaher?
Probably not. But without him, our world would look very different. See, Austin Gollaher did something early in his life that created such a ripple effect that would end up changing the world. He didn’t know it at the time, but if he hadn’t done it, well, let’s just say our history would have taken a very different turn.
Austin Gollaher lived in Kentucky and happened to be friends with a young boy named Abraham Lincoln. One day when the boys were young, they were out playing and decided they wanted to cross a creek – a creek where the water was running high and fast. And as Abraham crossed the creek, he fell in and came very close to drowning, and in fact would have drowned if it weren’t for his friend Austin who saved his life.
The story is told in the children’s picture book, Abe Lincoln Crosses a Creek: A Tall, Thin Tale (Introducing His Forgotten Frontier Friend) by Deborah Hopkinson and John Hendrix. And as I was reading this book to my kids, I couldn’t help but think of the quote by Laurence Overmire, "History remembers only the celebrated, genealogy remembers them all.” Because even if this book doesn’t really mention genealogy, the hero of the book is an obscure figure who did something long ago and forgotten that changed the world. It even says at the end of the book its moral is “Remember Austin Gollaher, because what we do matters, even if we don’t end up in history books. Yes, let’s remember Austin Gollaher, who, one day long ago, when no one else was there to see, saved Abe Lincoln’s life. And without Abraham Lincoln, where would we be?”
It makes me think of our ancestors. If I asked some random stranger on the street if they’d ever heard of Nellie Mulry or William Holsclaw, they’d probably look at me and shake their head, confused, the same way they’d probably react if they were asked if they’d heard of Austin Gollaher. But to me, these are pretty important people. They’re my ancestors, and without them, where would I be? Well, the clear answer is I wouldn’t be here at all. And without the courageous act of Austin Gollaher, where would we be? The Union may have broken, the slaves may have never been emancipated. But think about this, too – Austin Gollaher did so much more in his life, too. For one, he had children. What have those children done? I think of all the little things we do in our lives that may not actually be that little. Austin probably didn’t think he had changed the world when he saved his friend Abe’s life. We probably don’t think about the ripple effects of every little thing we do, but they mean something. My ancestor Jesse Vawter was a circuit preacher who founded several churches, many of which are still in existence today. What have the people of those churches done to serve their communities over the last two hundred years? And without Jesse Vawter, where would we be? That’s why I think it’s so important to consider that Laurence Overmire quote, and remember them all. Our ancestors gave us life, and everything else they did in their lives had meaning too. Let’s remember them. Let’s learn their stories, and tell their stories, and pass them down to our children so they can pass them down to their children too, and learn that everything we do matters.
As the author of the book said – without them, where would we be?
Teach your kids to tell their ancestors’ stories at Storybook Ancestor , where we celebrate them all.