What started out as a former elementary school teacher’s quest to explore her family tree ended in a pioneer authorship that reveals the history of an entire community.
Lillie R. Roberts, a Conyers resident who taught first grade at Heard-Mixon Elementary School for seven years before leaving in 2001, donated a copy of “The History of The Spring Hill Community” to the school library on Friday as a gift to the younger generations.
The book is a record of local churches, families and traditions dating back to the 1800s, which are presented in an easy-to-read format that appeals to children nine years and older.
Roberts said she began the project because she wanted to know how two main Spring Hill families, the Johnsons and the Wises, were connected.
“Every time we had a family reunion, on the Wise side, we’d have a brief family history,” Roberts said. “I found it wasn’t enough for me.”
She discovered her great-grandfather, Lee Wise, who was the first minister of the Spring Hill United Methodist Church, was a slave in the 1800s. Roberts joined the church when she was 10 years old and is donating 30 to 40 percent of the proceeds to it from the book’s sale.
The family tree trickles down to her father, Rufus Roberts. Sections in the book give explanations of his work as a blacksmith and farmer, and photos show how he produced syrup, made and bought 40 acres of land for his family for $40.
“That’s how we survived, with all the things he could do,” Roberts said.
Roberts, one of seven siblings, stressed the importance of passing down a written record to the growing generation. While nine- and 10-year-olds may not care about their heritage and ancestry now, she said, they need to have the access to learn of it when the time comes.
“It’s important to know who you’re connected to,” Roberts said. “It’s part of your family. You can’t change it.”
She said she wrote the book for her 97-year-old aunt, the only surviving member in her mother’s 11-sibling family.
Roberts is selling copies at schools, churches and the Arts Association in Newton County for $16.95. For more information, contact Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org.