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Writing About Those Who Really Built Nation

Our nation wasn’t built by the people whose names you see in the history books. It was the invention of your great-times-six grandmother who raised children in a wilderness, the great-times-four grandfather who died preserving the Union, the elderly uncle who worked in the steel mill and the grandmother who taught hundreds of children how to read.

It was built by ordinary people who collectively achieved something great. They built America, not for ideals such as liberty and prosperity — but so their children and grandchildren could have better lives.

That’s why I can’t wait to read Ryan Weld’s book. If I had my way, he’d skip the upcoming session of the West Virginia State Senate, of which he’s a member, and devote the time to writing.

As we explained in a story this month, Weld is writing a history of Wellsburg — or, more accurately, of some of the people who lived there.

It was his mother’s idea, really. One day, talking about the house where he grew up, she remarked, “We’ve lived here so long, and I don’t know anything about the house. Who built it? Who lived here?”

So Weld set out to find out. As we reported, he learned the original owner had been a man named William Scott, who owned an ice cream company during the 1920s. Weld’s research did a service for Scott’s descendants, who had believed he committed suicide after losing all he owned during the Depression. Weld found a death certificate showing Scott died in a hospital, three months before the great collapse.

I consider Weld a friend, so it pains me a bit to know that he’s about to become an addict, if that hasn’t already happened. At some point, folks during research like his become hooked on the real people of history.

Their stories become intoxicating. Learning more about them develops into an obsession. It’s common among genealogy buffs.

If you need an expert in finding things out, I suggest you skip the university researchers and private detectives and latch onto a hard-core genealogist. They can’t be beaten for dogged determination, usually accompanied by severe wear on the shoe leather.

I know. I’ve battled the addiction for years as I delved into the stories of my wife’s ancestors and mine. If Weld hasn’t been bitten by the bug yet, it’s only a matter of time.

He’s approaching it from an interesting perspective: picking about two dozen homes in Wellsburg and tracking down information about who lived in them. That has led him down a number of paths, yielding some fascinating stories. One is about the “Clifton Mine Riots” during the 1920s, involving a gun battle in which the county sheriff was killed.

He’ll stumble onto scores of other really interesting stories.

I hope Wellsburg residents realize how lucky they are that Weld has set out on his fact-finding journey. Few small towns have people willing to put in the hard work of writing the communities’ real-people history.

Weld is keeping quiet about the homes and families he’s covering in the book, so I don’t know if Patrick Gass plays a part. I hope so. He was one of those ordinary people who had quite an impact on America.

If his name isn’t familiar, look him up. He wrote his own book, about a trip he and a few others, helped by a Native American woman, took a couple of hundred years ago.

I understand researching people isn’t easy and — trust me on this — that writing can be quite a chore. So it’s no surprise that Weld doesn’t think his book will be finished until late next year. I suspect I’m not alone in looking forward to it.

Hurry up, Senator.

Myer can be reached at: mmyer@theintelligencer.net.

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