If you’ve done any research into Union County’s past, you’ve probably run across Virginia Bjorlin’s name.In addition to helping people conduct research in the Heritage Room, she’s written or edited seven books tracing histories of the county, the city of Monroe, her church and different branches of her family.Her name has become synonymous with history, particularly in Monroe, where she grew up as Virginia Alexander in a house on East Windsor Street, where the library is now located. She called Monroe home for 81 years until she moved recently to Plantation Estates in Matthews. She points out that her new home is close to Rea and Alexander roads, named for two sets of her ancestors.Her new home may be in a retirement community, but she doesn’t appear to be slowing down.She still works once a week in the Heritage Room, serves as president of the Union County Historical Society, is active in the Daughters of the American Revolution and League of Women Voters and works to preserve her own family’s rich history.She was planning recently to attend a Union County Commission meeting to push again for a museum in the historic courthouse, a project that was approved but was later shelved during the recession.“The Union County Historical Society is focused on getting the museum started and asking people to donate items for that purpose,” she said. “We just think it’s a shame that, as large a county as we are, we don’t have a museum. The Waxhaw museum focuses on the period before 1900, and we have a lot of history (since then).“I think that when we get that going, many people are going to feel like cleaning out their attic and sharing stuff with us. I just hope we don’t wait too late and a lot of that stuff gets gone.”She already has donated some of her family’s items for the museum, including some of her father’s things from World War I. He was a veterinarian who served in Spain, procuring and caring for the horses and mules that helped haul cannons and other heavy items over the muddy roads and fields that trucks couldn’t maneuver.Bjorlin became a historian almost by accident.“I guess you could credit ‘Sis’ Dillon for drafting me when I retired from teaching,” she said, referring to a cousin who is also active in researching local and family history. “They’d been talking about doing this heritage book for Union County’s 150th birthday in 1992, and so Sis talked me into being editor for that, and it kind of got me hooked.”Bjorlin said “most people think I was a history teacher, but I wasn’t. I was a mathematics teacher. At Parkwood and Monroe High.”When the City of Monroe celebrated its 150th anniversary in 1994, “they put me on that committee,” she said. “We were planning what to put in the time capsule and I said, ‘Well, history ought to go in there.’ And they said, ‘Well, you write it.’ ”That history, expanded, became the book “Looking Back at Monroe’s History.”“At the same time, my church, Central Methodist, was celebrating its sesquicentennial, so I did a book on the history of the church too,” she said.In 1999, she started the local chapter of the League of Women Voters. She said most chapters faded in the Great Depression. Some of them, such as the one in Charlotte, started back up after World War II.Bjorlin has been widowed three times and has two children, six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She hopes the younger generations of her family will continue preserving and researching their family history – and rely more on print, rather than digital documents and photographs.That’s also something she wishes for every family. The advice she has for people researching their families is this: “Talk to the oldest people in the family first. For one thing, they’re not going to be here very long sometimes.“You won’t ever get through, so don’t get discouraged. You’ll hit roadblocks, and some of them you’ll never get through. But you’ll always open up more and more sides to the family, and more and more doors to explore.”
Monday, Jan. 21, 2013
Virginia Bjorlin is ‘hooked’ on Union County history
She’s done research, written and edited
Virginia Alexander Smith Kendrick Bjorlin at her home.
Virginia Bjorlin has written and edited several books on local history.
Virginia Bjorlin shows a visual of her family tree of her family.
Jane Duckwall is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jane? Email her at email@example.com.
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