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String of Pearls: Marion's Bob White shares family history collection

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A few months ago, a man walked into the library, asking if I would be interested in digitizing the family history collection of one of his friends, Bob White. He explained to me that Bob’s health was deteriorating and he was concerned about the genealogy he had compiled over the course of a lifetime. Where would it go? Would anyone be able to benefit from it? The last thing he wanted was for it to collect dust and be of no use.

I explained to the gentleman that I would be happy to digitize the collection and make sure it was available for the rest of the community. A few weeks later, I walked into my office and saw two clear totes, full of binders, books and folders waiting for me at my desk. I eagerly began to sort through the collection and formed a distinct impression of Bob: He was meticulous in his research and organization of his genealogy. Few people can claim such a high standard of accuracy in their family history work. The items that had been donated were a real treasure to those who had ties to his family tree.

Last month, I had the privilege to go to Bob’s home and interview him about his life and the genealogy he had donated to the library. His health had deteriorated substantially, but he agreed to speak with me for a few minutes. During the course of our conversation that day, I learned a great deal about Bob and his values. He was born on Feb. 7, 1933, to James and Nora Parsons White. He was raised in Marion and married Willie Mae Wright on May 16, 1952. He was 19; she was 17. As he fondly spoke of her, a light came into his eyes. He recalled what a wonderful wife she was and how much he missed her. When she died on Dec. 19, 2003, they had been married for 51 years.

Bob enlisted in the Army and served from 1953 to 1955, having the opportunity to play baseball while in service. He recounted stories of playing ball in Germany and France and explained to me that he had been given the opportunity to pitch in the playoff game between Germany and France in 1954. When he came home from serving in the Army, he continued to play baseball for a Marion team. He asked if I realized that Nolan Ryan started pitching here in Marion. Baseball was one of Bob’s great loves.

He also noted how much he had enjoyed singing with the Joyful Noise singing group, in Marion. He told me how he had started singing in a church choir at the age of 15. He found great joy in singing with a group and participated in the Joyful Noise choir from 1992 until 2016. He lamented the fact that he hadn’t been able to sing with them for a while.

Bob explained his fascination with genealogy. He said that he became interested in family history, when he started working with a cousin, Helen Meier. He said that she had a high standard in her genealogy research and that is how he learned to be so meticulous. There had to be proof for every name and every date. They worked together to compile the family history that he had donated to the library. The surnames included in his collection include Sult, Pafford, Parsons, Marchant, Catron, Wright, White and many others.

As I scanned the White family binder, I found several items of interest. There are several photocopied pages of the Robert White and Minerva Pafford White family Bible. This is of particular importance to the Pafford and White families because it lists a record of births from the early 1800s. Births weren’t officially recorded in the State of Virginia until 1853. These Bible records may be some of the only existing birth records for this family. Here are just a few of the births that were documented: William T Pafford was born March 10, 1824. James P. Pafford was born Dec. 22, 1825. Mary J. Pafford was born Dec. 20, 1828. Susanah E. Pafford was born March 5, 1831. John Pafford was born April 19, 1833.

There are pages from another family Bible that was maintained by William Stanley White and Levie Sult. He was born on June 8, 1881 in Marion. She was born on March 24, 1885 in Burke’s Garden. They were married in 1903 and had eight children: Cecil Leon, Robert Lavendar, James Atkins, William Luther Ralph, Carl Kendrick, Granville Stanley, Mabel Delena and Charles Edward.

Within Bob’s collection of documents, there is an obituary for Mabel Delena White. She was born in 1922 and died in 1926. The obituary says, “On last Wednesday, our community was shocked when a message came from Abingdon Hospital that little Mabel White had passed to the great beyond.

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“She was too fair for earth, so God transplanted her in that Heavenly garden He has prepared for his loved ones. Little Mabel only remained in her earthly home four years, one month and twenty-four days.

“God left her there just long enough to make an impression on our hearts forever. Hardly does it seem possible she is gone, but her playful form and sweet songs will be seen and heard no more on earth. This bright innocent one had to pass thru intense suffering which we cannot understand.”

There are many other obituaries and memorial cards within this collection of family history. Also included are marriage certificates, pedigrees, family group records, biographies, Bible records and correspondence.

One item within the White family binder shows the deep connections between this family and Brunswick. Bob worked at Brunswick for 37 years in the inventory and production control departments. He retired in 1993. I didn’t realize that his father, two uncles and a brother also worked for Brunswick. There is a page of profiles from the Marion plant that sheds light on this family and their work. “Brothers three—Leon, Robert, and James White are all employed in Brunswick’s Marion plant. It is interesting how closely the lives of these brothers parallel. All three were employed by the Virginia Lincoln Corporation for several years prior to the time they joined Brunswick when the Company bought the Lincoln property. They all work in the Millroom, and each one is considered an expert in his job. Leon is General Foreman of the Millroom; Robert is a Cut-Off Saw Operator; and James is a Rip-Saw Operator. Ask any one of them how he prefers to spend his leisure time, and he’ll tell you, ‘watching baseball.’

“In addition to his regular job, once each year, Leon White has an added responsibility — that of playing Santa Claus at the annual Brunswick children’s party. Having done this for so many years, he’s getting the nickname of ‘Santa.’

“After working hours, Robert White spends time taking care of his vegetable garden and farm animals. His neighbors all say he has the ‘greenest thumb’ they know. The proof is in the outstanding gardens he produces each year.

“James White has two sons at the Marion plant, in addition to his two brothers. Son, Bos, is employed in the office Production Control Department, and son, William, is employed in the Millroom.”

This description of the White brothers and all of the other items that Bob collected throughout his lifetime will serve future family genealogists, as they attempt to understand the lives of their ancestors.

When I asked Bob what prompted him to donate his family history collection to the library, he said that he felt it was better for it to be made available to the entire community. He said, “It is important to learn who you are and what your heritage is.” This is the idea that motivated his research. He was a man who believed in serving your community. This was evident in many ways, including his service as VFW post commander for several years. Bob passed away just a few days after our meeting on May 29.

His niece, Martha Catron, summed up Bob’s character with the following description: “Bob was someone who believed family was one of the most important things in life. He enjoyed visiting with family and getting to know each person individually and on a deeper level than most people feel comfortable with today. For Bob, taking time to visit, asking questions and getting to know people was a way of life.”

Bob’s collection of family history is available at the Marion branch of the Smyth County Public Library System. It will also be made available online. If you have a family history that you would like to contribute, please contact me at 685-6589 or by email at

Margaret Linford is a professional genealogist and is president of the Smyth County Genealogical Society.

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