Sunday morning David Sherman Virtue passed away at 94 years of age. To me this man was my Uncle Sherm, though to be correct he was my Great Uncle.
Uncle Sherm was the keeper of the story, our family story. He carried on a tradition started long before him. Our first ancestor to come to Northwestern Illinois was James Britton Timms. James kept a journal of life in on the edge of western civilization. I can only imagine what he wrote, and wonder what ever happened to that journal. His daughter Addie would be the next keeper of our family history. She used James’s journal and her life experiences and began to document life on not only the frontier of Illinois, but her life as a young woman settling in Kansas with her new husband and baby. Both Addie and her brother, Harvey, made attempts writing something grander, but I have never been able to find anything more than a few starts at stories and notes they wrote.
Uncle Sherm as the modern keeper of our history, worked diligently to make sure that we all knew about our family and where we were in the history of Illinois. Uncle Sherm was part of a group that ensured that the Blackhawk War Memorial, started by James on a piece of our family farm would eventually become a National Monument. When the dedication of the memorial occurred Uncle Sherm was in his glory telling the story to all.
Another way Uncle Sherm kept our family history was by keeping the family farm in our family for another generation. He and my Aunt Leola would retire to the home place. This farm was homesteaded July 1st 1845 by James Timms and has been owned by a son or daughter every generation since…166 years! I have read many a history about this farm, the battles that were fought there and the nursery stock that people came from all around to purchase. Uncle Sherm has walked my husband and I around the property more than once telling about the trails that if you look just right you can still see in the grove of oak trees across from the house. I can remember the foundations of old buildings long since gone and the history they represented.
The house though it looks like a modern farm house, but I know that part of the place still has some of the original log building underneath the “modern” walls. A painting hangs on the wall that my Great-Grandmother painted in her youth. My grandparents lived in this house when they were first married and my mom was born there. Oh if those walls could talk, the stories they could tell.
I have been fascinated for many years about the family history. I was inspired by the Roots miniseries and Uncle Sherm. Many of my mom’s generation have bits and pieces of the family story. But few of my generation know much about our history. The passing of the person who kept our family history reminds me that I can help be a keeper for the next generation, for stories lost are lost forever. Facts and figures can later be found again but oral history once lost can never again be found. I hope that Uncle Sherm, Addie, Harvey and James, the pioneer, look down from heaven and smile as I work to help be a story keeper for the next generation.