Taking Back What Was Once Lost

Preserving Local History: Caroline County, Virginia

My good friend Marion has completed her book about the segregated Union High School of Caroline County, VA. I was lucky enough to share in many of the ups and downs of her two-plus year research journey, and I know what a labor of love this book is. As soon as I got my copy, I read it from cover to cover. It is a wonderful, wonderful book. Marion’s enslaved ancestors were from Caroline County and it was during her genealogy research that she became enamored of the story of this high school and its central role in the lives of African-Americans.

This book captures the essence of genealogy: it is not about a single family or lineage, but rather about a community and a snapshot of a certain time and place. While we uncover dates and names to add to our family trees, it is this kind of work that puts substance and meaning into those names. Although my family is not from Caroline County, I can’t help but to know that many of their experiences were the experiences of most African-Americans in the early 20th century. The memories she recorded: walking miles to get to schools that were sometimes dilapidated but filled with passionate instructors, working on the family farm every day, leaving school to continue work or get married, respecting teachers and administrators at school because they knew your parents—all of these recollections could be my ancestors in Tennessee, Maryland or Florida during that timeframe. I am awed by the sacrifices that were made in the name of education. I so wish the students of today could have a better understanding of these realities, and perhaps a better appreciation for it.

Marion interviewed dozens of former Union High students and visited numerous libraries & research facilities during her research. She collected pictures and digitized yearbooks, and found the original deeds for the land, and gathered pamphlets and albums of the school band and traced many students through their college years at Virginia State University.

I am envious of the work Marion has done with such passion, tenacity and resilience. Recording the history of the communities we research is such important work. If we don’t do it, who will? Please rush and pick up a copy of this book (and be sure to follow her blog on preserving local history as well!) I promise it is well worth the cost.


  1. December 27, 2011    

    HI Robyn,

    I am glad you enjoyed the book. Thanks for being such a great genealogy buddy. I appreciate all you support while I was working on the project.

    I think you are right, no matter what the location I most people who attended segregated schools had a similar experience. I interviewed over 100 people for the book. Almost everyone had the same comments about the faculty and teachers 1) they really cared about the students and wanted them to exceed 2) the worked hard to prepare them to become productive members of society 3) they had high expectations for all students and did not let the students make excuses for their failure.

    People also commented that home, school and church played an important role in their development. Everyone had the same expectations and worked hard to ensure the children became successful. Unfortunately that is not the case today.

    Segregation was not good but there were some positive aspects. Unfortunately, these positive aspects were lost after integration. Sort of like throwing out the baby with the bath water. As we research our family history and their communities, we should learn from their experiences and preserve the positive aspects of their lives to help the current and future generations.

    • December 27, 2011    

      If you are interested in reading more about the Union High History Project and viewing Union High memorabilia including photographs, graduation programs and yearbooks you can visit my website http://www.woodforkgenealogy.com and click on the Union High History Project link.

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About Me

I blog, teach, write and lecture about family history research and it's just as rewarding today as it was when I began 18 years ago. This lifelong quest has helped me to better know my past and I've taken back--reclaimed- my kin and some of that lost memory.  

Post History

What I Talk About

Locations and Surnames

Hardin, Chester and Lawrence Counties, TN
Holt, Barnes, Harbour, Bradley Springer and Fendricks
Lawrence County, AL
Springer and Fendricks
Montgomery County, MD
Prather, Simpson
Somerset County, MD
Waters, Fountain, Curtis
Duval and Madison County, FL
Smith, Harris, Garner

Favorite Family History Quotes

"The past is not dead. In fact, it's not even past."
-William Faulkner

"Call it a clan, call it a network, all it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one"
- Jane Howard

"Friends are God's apologies for relations."
-Hugh Kingsmill

"No matter what you've done for yourself or for humanity, if you can't look back on having given love and attention to your own family, what have you really accomplished?"
-Elbert Hubbard

"Families are like fudge; mostly sweet with a few nuts."

"If you can't get rid of the skeleton in your closet, you might as well make it dance!"

"Happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city;)"
-George Burns

"Where does the family start? It starts with a young man falling in love with a girl. No superior alternative has yet been found."
-Winston Churchill

"The great gift of family life is to be intimately acquainted with people you might never ever introduce yourself to had life not done it for you."
-Kendall Hailey

"If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all the generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people."
-Thich Nhat Hanh