Marvin Wilhite says when people start talking about the past, they start remembering more of it. The more they talk, the more they remember.
He should know, after more than three decades doing genealogical and historical research. Not all that research involves peering at faded records or squinting at microfilm. Some of it involves talking to the people who know bits and pieces of the puzzle, who have heard stories, whose initially vague recollections may suddenly blossom into fuller tales as they talk.
I saw his theory proven in April when the the World War II internment exhibit, "Vanished," made a stop at the Marshall Public Library. In conjunction with the mobile museum's presentations, Wilhite and Marshall High School history teacher Paul Gieringer hosted a community forum about internment camps in the area during the war.
The City Council Chamber was full of people for the forum, and after Wilhite and Gieringer shared their research on the subject, they opened up the floor for questions.
The audience had questions -- and more. They had stories of their own to share, memories of what it was like to live in Saline County during the war, stories they had heard about that time, and information they had read.
It was a great conversation.
And then Gieringer made a great suggestion. Maybe people should jot down their memories, send them to The Marshall Democrat-News, share them with others, record them for posterity and (most importantly) keep the conversation going -- because one story will prompt another and another and another. Someone will tell their version and someone else will tell a different version of the same story. Someone will add a fact or twist that helps fill out the growing mosaic of local history.
We'd like to make room in the paper for Gieringer's idea to play out. We're starting a new feature called "Recollections." The first installment appears today on page five in today's edition.
It's an essay by Ruth Weislocher that recounts her experiences going to auto races at Sportsman's Speedway in Marshall. It was submitted as a result of staff writer Rachel Harper's series of stories about the people and history of racing in Saline County.
A number of people have called and sent e-mail in response to the racing series. I hope more people will take time to write down their thoughts and recollections and send them in.
Velma Bacon has also submitted an article about Temp Murray, who is believed to be the first former slave to purchase land in Saline County. Bacon bought Murray's property from one of his descendents a few years ago and has been delving into the family's story with help from Wilhite and others. She didn't know Temp personally, but she knew his grandson, Henry Murray, and with the help of researchers, she knows quite a lot about who Temp Murray was and how he lived.
Articles about Murray published in the paper tell the story one way. Only Bacon can tell it her way.
After the first of a series of features about the Murray family appeared in The Marshall Democrat-News, a great-grandson of Temp Murray contacted Wilhite and Bacon and they plan to talk with him further to learn more about the family.
A local couple also contacted them to say they had two handmade dolls created by a daughter-in-law of Temp and Francis Murray.
The more we talk, the more we have to talk about. The more we write, the more we have to write about. In my business, that's a very good thing.
I hope some of them write down what they remember and add to the collection. We'll publish all suitable submitted accounts as soon as space is available.
I hope everyone who has a story to tell (or stories) will give this a try, even those who may not feel confident about their writing skills. Editing and proofreading is something we can help with, or we might just sit down and talk things through. It's more important to capture the stories than to worry about grammar and punctuation.
If you have an idea for a Recollections column or want to submit a story, please contact Eric Crump at (660) 886-2233 or by e-mail at email@example.com. We will publish suitable recollections whenever space is available.