Thursday, September 24, 2009

Looking for the Downings? A note from a genealogist!

Most families have stories, and most family stories contain a kernel of truth and some chaff. In my neighborhood there is the story that the first Downing of the Downing farm north east of Crawfordsville was a Confederate prisoner of war who escaped from a railroad train, took shelter with a southern sympathizing family living near the railroad on the future Downing farm, and married into the family.

My research showed that Samuel Downing, Confederate soldier, date and place of discharge unknown, married Nancy Herron. Her father was born in South Carolina. Nancy's brother was William Parke Herron, captain in the Union Army. The Herron family was living west of town and not on the future Downing farm. Nancy and Samuel were married in 1867 when she was 39 years old.

Samuel died in 1874. The plat map of 1878 shows the farm as belonging to the heirs of J. D. Herron and in 1898 shows N. Downing as owning part of that land and G. Downing, Nancy's son George, as owning the other part. George was Nancy's only son. He farmed the land and was followed by his only surviving son, Harold, who died 1959 without children.

Samuel could have been a prisoner. He could have escaped from a train but he did not shelter on his future home. His in-laws were at best divided on the Civil War and were probably supporters of the Union. The marriage between Samuel and Nancy was far enough after the war for Samuel to have immigrated to Montgomery County, as did many other Confederates. Samuel probably never owned the Downing farm and might not have even lived on it.

The other Downing story is that Harold, the last of the Downing farmers, had never spent a night off the homestead until he got married and left for a honeymoon. He was so homesick that he returned the next day and never spent another night off the place until he was hospitalized as an old man. I'll let someone else sort out the facts of that story. -- Dian Moore

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