A Family Affair: Three Generations of Women Helping to Tell Virginia’s Story
I think it’s pretty cool that three generations of women in my family—all transplants to Virginia—have donated items to the Virginia Historical Society’s world-class collection. The occasions have happened when one of us has downsized or a family member has passed away; and as we’ve sorted through the personal possessions, certain items have caught my attention, and I’ve wondered if they might be of interest to my colleagues at the VHS. To our delight, they have been.
When we moved my granny from California to Virginia in 1999, she came across an interesting pamphlet titled, Second Battalion Roster, Fourth Quartermaster School Regiment, the Quartermaster School, Camp Lee, Virginia, Class Number Eighteen. After living more than a decade in Virginia myself, I learned that my granddad had spent quite a bit of time here training at Camp Lee (now Fort Lee). There he was, listed in the Company “H” section—he resided in Santa Ana, California, at the time. I remember how surprised my granny was to learn that the VHS would want this roster. I explained to her that it was important because it documented all the men in Officer Candidate Class No. Eighteen with their home addresses. My granddad went on to serve as a captain in the U. S. Army Quartermaster Corps assigned to various stations in England, where he met my grandmother, and in Germany. He followed Gen. George S. Patton across Europe, trying to keep him supplied with gasoline as American troops pushed through France and Germany during World War II. Additionally, at the young age of forty-five he was recalled to serve in the Korean War.
The items I donated include a scarf produced for Norfolk Southern Corporation with trains and railroad crossings on it. Norfolk Southern’s predecessor railroads date back to the early nineteenth century with ties to Virginia, and the company continues to be a major transporter of a variety of commodities and consumer products. I also had five original limited-edition prints by Richmond artist Robert Meganck, which were given to me as holiday gifts from Communication Design, Inc. (CDI). The amusing series of illustrations depict characters from Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” and include a vellum cover with a seasonal greeting and signatures of the firm’s employees, a certificate of authenticity, and the original mailer. The series embody the creative and clever work of this local design firm and artist.
My mother worked for Mary Sue Terry during her first and second term as Attorney General of Virginia, 1986–93. She also worked on her campaign for Governor of Virginia in 1993. My stepfather was a volunteer in the Democratic Party in Appomattox, Virginia, through the mid-1980s. Between the two of them, they had compiled quite a bit of political campaign ephemera that the VHS took into the collection, including “Chuck Robb for President” stickers and a “Mary Sue Terry for Governor, 1993” pin in its original box from Schwarzschild Jewelers (below is a short video produced by the VHS High School Historians that highlights Mary Sue Terry and her 1993 campaign). The VHS continues to build its collection of political campaign memorabilia because the materials provide insight into a candidate’s personality and the campaign issues of the time; plus they were an effective way to get the candidate’s message out with an ultimate goal of attracting voters.
Since the passing of my stepfather two years ago, my mother has been going through his things. She came across several items that have made their way into the VHS collection. One item was a maroon Shriner’s fez with a black tassel. The letters “ACCA” are stitched in gold above a stitched sword with a star in the center. Underneath the sword is a moon facing down. Inside the moon’s crescent is a star and on top of the moon is a metal head of an Egyptian pharaoh. Aside from a little discoloration, the fez is in beautiful condition. A quick internet search on this leads to a website for a present-day ACCA Temple located on the north side of Richmond, Virginia. Even more interesting, the CSX Acca yard is in the same vicinity.
My mom also came across a British Consulate document dating to the Civil War. It was in bad shape and hard to read—we thought it was some kind of diplomatic immunity certificate. We were close. It was a certificate issued to Luke Sheerin who was approximately thirty years old and a native of Ireland. It is signed by Fred. J. Cridland, Her Britannic Majesty’s Acting Consul in Richmond, Virginia, who issued certificates of citizenship to British subjects claiming exemption from conscription in the Confederate Army. Our vice president for collections told me he’s heard of these certificates but had never seen one. It looks like the document was used alot—it is tearing at most of the fold lines and at some point it was attached to what looks like a flour sack to keep it together. Our chief conservator calls it “a sad little piece.” It will need extensive conservation work, which includes removing the flour sack backing and any remaining adhesive. The ink will be tested for solubility (water could dissolve the ink), and if it is stable, the pieces can soak in a series of baths to neutralize and buffer the paper’s natural acidity. Once dry, the pieces will be sized with gelatin (unsized paper absorbs atmospheric moisture like a sponge) and then humidified and flattened. Finally, the pieces will be rejoined with mends made of Japanese tissue and toned to match the surrounding paper. It will be a time-consuming process—but a worthwhile one to make this unique document accessible to the public.
We don’t know how my stepfather acquired these two items or which line of the family they came from. It’s nice to know that they, along with the other items mentioned above, are now in the VHS collection of nearly nine million objects to help tell the stories of the people, places, and events of Virginia’s remarkable past. I share my story to illustrate how people like you and me can contribute to the great task of collecting and preserving our history. Next time you find yourself cleaning out the closet or attic and come across a box of stuff, I encourage you to take a good look at what’s inside of it. What you’re looking for is uniqueness and condition; and a credible provenance (history of ownership) is helpful in determining if an item will be acquired for the VHS collection. And it’s not just items from long ago, items from the recent past can be the key to a historical puzzle to the students, scholars, genealogists, and history enthusiasts of tomorrow. So take a second look at that scrapbook your family member made, and if you think it may be a fit with the VHS mission, get in touch with us.
Catherine A. Boe is the Senior Gifts Officer at the Virginia Historical Society.