Friday, January 13, 2012

Follow Friday - The Virginia Wall Story

During my visit home over the holidays my grandma loaned me a book. This was pretty amazing, as we had never shared books before. But my grandma knew that I would like this book because it had a genealogical flare and, most importantly, that flare included our family.

I'm referencing The Virginia Wall Story, a book by Bonnie Mitchell about Virginia Wall, a lifetime Missouri educator. Mitchell traces Virginia's life through the aid of her memories and diaries that she kept her entire life. The book traces a little bit of Miss Wall's family history and then follows her life as a high school educator.

Miss Wall was born in Morton a small hamlet in Ray County, Missouri, which is the small town that my grandma was born in. We are distantly related to Miss Wall...our joint ancestor is my 5th great-grandfather. But her stories from the 1920s through to today of life and educating in a small town are insights into my family and how they would have lived in the same town. Miss Wall was a high school English teacher at Chillicothe High School in Chillicothe, Missouri for 45 years. And while my mother went to a different small town high school, I can't help but think that the lifestyle would have been very similar to what Virginia writes about and now I have insight to my mother's school days that I didn't have before.

The best part for me about this book were the references to my own family. In 1951 Virginia was busy doing her usual singing for life's important events: "During Christmas break Virginia sang for a wedding at Morton Church and the next day she sang there again for the funeral of the bride's grandfather." This was my grandmother's wedding on December 31, 1951 and the funeral following was her grandfather, Claude Oran McGuire.

Virginia's family were farmers, like most of their neighbors. In the book she makes mention of my great grandparents, Clifton and Hazel White, as friends that rented a portion of the Wall family land. In August 1962 she mentions: "The next day Virginia and her mother made a trip to Richmond to visit friends and learned that Mr. Clifton White's mother had passed away. Mr. White was farming the Wall ground for Mary [Virginia's mother] and Virginia. On Sunday Virginia sang for the first service at church and then she and Mary went on to Hardin for dinner at the Rhodes home. That afternoon Virginia sang for Mrs. White's funeral at Morton Church."

In 1974 Virginia mentions the Whites again: "Late in February, Virginia received a letter from Clifton White in Morton. He had decided to build a new home on the property he had purchased from Mary and Virginia and learned he needed the original abstract. Virginia made a trip to Hardin to retrieve it from the lock box there. She was delighted that these friends would enjoy the lovely view she and her family had loved for so long when the Wall family lived there."

I know where that land is and I have been in the house built on it, one in which my great-uncle and great-aunt still live. But now I know who had that land before. Each mention is small, but altogether they mean genealogical gold. I've learned little details about my family that no amount of documentary research would find. It is mentioned in the book that Miss Virginia Wall was hesitant to write a book about herself...after all, who would read it? My answer to Miss Wall is anyone interested in the minute details of a person's or town's life...that is just about every genealogist I know.

Author's Note: Miss Wall was persuaded to write her life story because all proceeds from the sale of the book go to the not-for-profit foundation The Virginia Wall Scholarship Fund. For more information on the book or the scholarship fund write: Virginia Wall Scholarship Fund, P.O. Box 463, Chillicothe, MO 64601.

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