I called her cold, admittedly. Never could she have expected to pick up the phone to a call from her great-uncle’s great-granddaughter. Still, I’ve made lots of these kinds of calls in my life. Dorothy Whirley was decidedly more guarded than most and had a little edge in her voice that sounded almost irritated. She could not deny me though, for what slick stranger could pull names and dates out of Charles City County like that?
Dorothy was the daughter of Matilda Whirley and granddaughter of Emma Allen Whirley, my great-grandfather’s sister. Dorothy could not, or would not, tell me much, except to confirm that Emma, her husband and children had migrated to Baltimore, where she continued to live. Her mother, to whom she had been very close, had died not too many years before our connection, and she seemed somewhat estranged from her remaining kin. She knew of John Allen Sr., but had little more to say about him than that he held himself apart from — thought himself better than — his half-siblings because of his light skin. Our conversation foundered, and I hung up with a promise to send her a family tree. I never got around to it, and she died in 1999. I have not been able to track down any other living Whirleys, but have found small traces of Dorothy and her mother.