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.