Shelton County author April Miller (l) received help from her husband, Harry (r), and her mother, Pauline Wood (c), who typed Miller's hand-written manuscript.
It began as an inquisitive search into family history and evolved into thousands of hours of research about one of Pittsylvania County's largest families — the Sheltons.
April Miller grew up in Norfolk, but tracing her roots led to Pittsylvania County, her mother, Pauline Wood's, part of Virginia.
"I intended to roll across the county line for two or three days' worth of research," said Miller, who began writing a book on county genealogy several years ago.
The Shelton family was to be only one chapter in the book, but Miller soon realized that the name was far too prolific to contain in a single chapter.
Shelton research eventually rooted out other family names and Miller's latest book Shelton County was born.
Her husband, Harry, came up with the title after accompanying his wife down one of the many back roads they travelled in search of family cemeteries and passing yet another row of Shelton mail boxes.
"He said if you could get a referendum on the ballot to change the name of this county to Shelton County, I think you could pass it," said Miller.
The couple has a home in Virginia Beach and Miller came to Chatham two or three days a month to do research.
They soon decided that the area would be a nice place for a country home, and a little over two years ago bought what is locally known as "the old Marilla house."
The home, off Chalk Level Road, was built in 1892.
Harry is retired and they now spend most of their time in Chatham
"It's very addictive," said Miller. "The stories of the people in this county would be unbelievable as fiction. Especially a lot of the stories that I regretfully omitted from the book.
"There are lots of times when what is a matter of public record is also a matter of private pain and I did omit some things. I omitted a host of illegitimate children, some of whom are still in this county and very sensitive and yet they are just as much Sheltons as anyone else.
"I just took a case at a time and we really went through some thorny discussions of what to omit.
"I know Shelton County contains errors," she added. "There is no way that anyone can do a genealogy without there being some errors and omissions. A lot of times it's an error in an official record."
As examples, she said ages may be different if someone lied about their age when getting a marriage license.
Also, there are many variations in spelling.
Pittsylvania County is an excellent place to do research, according to Miller, because there is almost unlimited access to records in the clerk's office.
"At the end of each chapter I list the sources to show proof of where it is found," said Miller.
Especially helpful were interviews with and old photographs loaned by new-found cousins, said Miller.
"I have been welcomed from one end of the county to the other,"she said. "No one has treated me like a come here. Everyone has treated me like a come back."
Miller said researching the Shelton family was interesting, but she would not like to research other families where there is no personal connection.
"Nothing is as fascinating as your own, but as boring as someone else's," she added.
In addition to the overwhelming number of Sheltons who have lived or who are living in the county, there are interesting family connections.
Although Miller has Shelton connections six ways, she said one family has direct Shelton connections 11 ways.
Now that the writing is over, the Millers are concentrating on marketing and distributing.
Books have been mailed from Alaska to Maine, Florida to California, and Texas to Michigan.
Miller has written magazine articles and The Green Sea, a book of Norfolk County genealogy.
The couple has two children, Alex 23, who is in the landscaping business, and Snowe, 19, a sophomore at Radford University.
Shelton County costs $25 plus $2.50 shipping and handling, and can be purchased by mail from Mrs. April Miller, 501 Marilla Lane, Chatham, VA 24531, telephone 434-432-4223.
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Copyright © 2002 The Star-Tribune.