If you are interested in genealogy and family history in the Ozarks let me introduce you to your guardian angel.
He is Dr. William K. Hall.
What Hall did on behalf of the Springfield-Greene County Library over his 92 years is astounding.
Hall’s efforts, in my view, are just as heroic as those of sports legends. If Cal Ripken Jr. is baseball’s Iron Man then I nominate William K. Hall as the Ozarks “Clipper.”
Hall grew up in Springfield and attended Boyd Elementary, Pipkin Junior High and Central High School. He graduated from Yale in 1939 and received his medical degree from Harvard in 1942. He was an officer in the Navy during World War II. He never married and died in 2011 at the age of 1992.
Even back in high school, Hall was interested in genealogy.
His maternal grandfather was Michael Kearney, a master mechanic with the Frisco Railroad. In an a letter archived at the library, Hall states that Kearney Street is named after his grandfather. Hall’s middle name is Kearney.
In high school, Hall discovered that there was no easy way to find key genealogical information that was published in local papers. Most of those papers are predecessors to this paper, the News-Leader.
So as a teenager he first clipped stories from the Springfield papers and pasted them over the pages of Life magazines. And then indexed those volumes.
The process changed over the decades but over the next 70 years of his life he continued to clip, paste and index obituaries, marriage notices, anniversaries, engagements, births and divorces.
It was rare day when Hall didn’t find time to clip or index.
Many libraries have newspaper indexes, says John Rutherford, who works in the genealogy and local history department of the Library Center, 4653 S. Campbell Ave.
“But I know of no other library in the nation that has bound volumes of the clippings themselves,” he says.
87 years of clipping
Over his lifetime, Hall compiled an annual bound volume from 1921 to 2008.
That’s 87 years. Can you imagine?
Fortunately, you don’t have to. You can take a look at his handiwork — the approximately 240 thick bound volumes on the shelves at the library.
In the big picture, Hall’s life-time undertaking does not offer a genealogical look, for example, of a family’s arrival in the United States and its journey across the nation.
But it provides an easily accessible and profoundly thorough — and free — tool to unearth a family’s history in the Ozarks.
Hall’s name is legendary to those who work in local history here.
“He did this his whole life,” says Renee Glass, a local history associate at the Library Center.
“It is an amazing project,” says Michael Price, also a local history associate. “It is an amazing accomplishment.”
The Hall volumes are used more than any other reference book in the library, including City Directories.
The amount of work Hall put into the project is staggering,
“He was an ambitious man,” says Ben Diven, who also works in local history at the Library Center.
Diven continues the work with the help of two volunteers.
Staff members have just finished the 2009 volume. It should be on the shelves soon.
Much of Hall’s work has been digitized.
“We’re trying to get the entire Hall collection across the world,” Diven says.
None of the above employees ever met Hall, who lived in St. Louis and had dermatology offices in St. Louis and St. Charrles
Hall’s main contact at the library was Michael D. Glenn, who was the head of the local history department until he retired in 2012. Glenn had worked at the library 31 years.He died at age 66 in 2013.
Ed Hall of St. Louis tells me his uncle clipped and indexed like it was a full-time job ever since retirement. He stopped working about 25 years before his death.
His uncle had a microfilm reader at home and subscribed to the News-Leader until his vision failed and he could no longer read the paper. In his later years, he had hired twin sisters from Webster University in St. Louis to help with the volunteer work.
(Dr. Hall received the Directors’ Award, the highest honor for volunteers, from the Missouri State Genealogical Association in 2001.)
“His genealogy pursuits started with family stuff and then he branched out into Greene County,” says Ed Hall.
His uncle had few other hobbies, he says. He could be funny and cantankerous.
A friendship in letters
Fortunately, the Library Center has archived the years of correspondence between Dr. Hall and Glenn. They fill two boxes. I reviewed them.
“Some of my friends think I am a bit eccentric,” Hall wrote in 1991. “(What a bizarre idea!) doing indexing when I could be drinking beer and watching television. But actually I rather enjoy doing indexing. It is very easy to do with the computer and I can listen to the compact disc player (no commercials) at the same time and it is really very pleasant.
“Actually, it has become an addiction — like jogging. The day just doesn’t feel right if I don’t start it off with a bit of indexing right after my morning coffee.”
Later in life, in a 2007 letter, Hall wrote: “My hearing is so poor I do not watch TV (so much of it is talk.) Reading passes the time but after reading all day what do you have to show for it? I like to think I have accomplished something. I don’t do woodworking. I don’t garden. I just index.”
In reading the letters, the respect the two men had for each other was apparent.
“It is a good feeling to know that the indexes are proving helpful to people,” Hall wrote to Glenn.
And then in 2006, Hall wrote: “Did I ever thank you? I do so now.”
And thank you, too, Ozarks Clipper.
These are the views of Steve Pokin, the News-Leader’s columnist. Pokin has been at the paper five years and over the course of his career has covered just about everything — from courts and cops to features and fitness. He can be reached at 836-1253, email@example.com, on Twitter @stevepokinNL or by mail at 651 N. Boonville, Springfield, MO 65806.