Meet Your Researchers: Margaret Wayt DeBolt
When I first got started with the Wayt genealogy, Margaret's name was on the top of the list of anyone I knew into researching our family history. In fact, she is so well-known that she is seen as the 'ambassador' of Wayt family history - a representative to other surnames who have Wayt connections, mine (Winters) being no exception. "You need information about the Wayts? Contact Margaret DeBolt. She's been writing about them for years." This was always the standard reply to my queries. When I contacted Margaret, her response was nothing short of amazing. In short order, I received a huge envelope of original materials in the mail with a cheery note wishing me luck in my research. I felt a keen responsibility to live up to such a generous gift, and will always be grateful.
Margaret Wayt DeBolt (pictured with husband, Frank Crutcher DeBolt) is the daughter of William Blaine Wayt and granddaughter of Dr. William Davenport Wayt. She holds a special place in our family. For years, she was a special contributor to Jim Comstock's West Virginia Hillbilly, maintaining a steady column entitled "Will Wayt's Diary" (a chronicle of her father's life written by his own hand, then continuing with her grandfather's diary) as well as a number of other interesting subjects such as 'strange tales' and cooking. She is the author of a number of well-received books, such as Savannah Spectres and Other Strange Tales (Schiffer Publishers) and Savannah: A Historical Portrait (Hallmark).
Very few Wayt genealogy researchers - serious and hobbyists alike - have never heard of Margaret or have not seen her work. Her 'career' began when she was very young (although she probably did not realize it at the time. "My father was a teacher (35 years in Marshall County, West Virginia schools) and loved history. I grew up reading his favorite books and hearing him speak of our family history." She notes that her father did not have the benefit of the "sophisticated techniques of today."
Margaret says that an important milestone in her path to genealogy was the gift from her father of his scrapbooks and his diary, which he had kept since he was a child, in hopes that they would be of use to her one day. Her parents were also instrumental in encouraging her interest in writing. This was only just the start, however: "One day I was discussing Dad's diaries with my cousin, Ethel Wayt Herrick (daughter of Charles D[ix Wayt]), who had a great deal of Millsboro material from the family home." Margaret was excited to learn that among those papers was the diary of her grandfather.
Although Ethel was somewhat reluctant to have the materials leave her possession (understandably), she knew that Margaret was absolutely aware of their historical value. "Poor cousin Ethel had some nervous moments before I got them all copied and returned, and she was not especially happy to see them quoted in The Hillbilly, but we shall always be grateful to her for the safekeeping of [the] family materials."
As to the diaries: "Grandpa had written them in 'page a day' style on small books furnished by a medical firm from whom he bought supplies. At the top of each page was an ad for some product of the company, the date, and then room for his comments, on everything from his medical cases to family events. There was even a similar book for one year written by my Aunt Jess [Jessie Logan Wayt Young] as a young teacher facing a room of unruly students at her first school."
Margaret also mentions "touching" love letters between her grandfather and Nancy Elizabeth "Liz" Null Wayt, written while he was in school in Ohio. He had left her and a new family back in West Virginia to attend what was then known as Miami Medical School near Cincinnati.
Margaret's annals are probably crammed with amusing stories, but the one she chose here was actually from a conversation with her cousin, Joyce M. Young Cook. Joyce was "a wonderful source of family history. Along with other family members, we enjoyed visiting the family home at Millsboro in rural Marshall County and the church yard [Pleasant Ridge Methodist Church] where several Wayts are buried. We were sitting on the front porch, relaxing and watching the waters of Lynn Camp Run flow by, as she began to speak of Grandpa's medical practice in that area."
Joyce continued, "One time he was called out at night on what they called a 'confinement case,' you know, a pregnancy. Well, it was a difficult birth, probably at night by lamplight, under very rugged conditions, but grandpa finally managed to get the baby turned and safely delivered. For a wonder, both the child and the mother survived. There was just one thing. In turning the child with the forceps, he nicked off a bit of one ear. So for the rest of his life, that boy a just a bit of one ear gone." "Oh, my!" Margaret cried. "Were the parents mad?" "Didn't seem to be," Joyce replied with a shrug. "They were just grateful to get that much out." The story speaks volumes of the hardships that folks faced at the time as well as how they handled them, doesn't it?
As is Margaret's style, when it comes to describing what she is proud of, she defers to others. For example, she is quite pleased to know that the 'old homestead' continues to live on even after the Wayts have left it. It's last Wayt family occupants were her aunt, Susan Jane Wayt who lived there with her son Earl, followed by Charles Louis "Poppy" Griffith, a cousin. "The next occupants were Ron and Beth Kupfer who loved its history and undoubtedly kept it from the sad fate of so many crumbling homesteads which one sees on the country back roads."
Presently, the homestead is in the hands of Mike Blair, a retired Moundsville banker, and his wife. Wayt family members are invited to drop by and "enjoy the beauty and tranquility of the area. It was in visiting Mike that I felt the family history would go on with new generations telling of 'the old Wayt place.'" Who knows? If we work hard enough, maybe we can find a spot in the family tree for the Blairs! (I have a cousin who resided in Marshall County named Laura Irene Winters Blair.)
Margaret also graciously mentions Gene and Betty Lou Bower who enjoyed the Wayt articles so much in The Hillbilly that they held onto them. "I was always pleased to have distant relatives contact me after reading something there to add their bit to the family story," Margaret remarked. (These article are available elsewhere on this site.) She also mentions our little website. :-)
For those who might follow in her footsteps, Margaret states: "Your work is more important than ever before. True, you have more research tools available, but every generation brings you further from our roots. We are moving about more so that the days of our children growing up with relatives and their past history nearby are nearly gone. Family ties are more important than ever: family reunions, recording your own memories, labeling and saving family pictures and objects so that they may be passed on for future use. Genealogies are more than lists of names. Family stories, sayings, war experiences are also important to record so that our dear ones may truly live in memory."