A million to one odds -- the recovery of John O’Rear’s Desk and papers by Colonel John O’Rear (1930)

I have been asked by several of the family why I became interested in the family history. The circumstances are a "Believe it or not" and might be of sufficient interest to set out here. Some years ago, when I was in High School my father, a Regular Army officer, was on the general staff of the War Department and our family was residing in Washington, D.C. At that time there was a Major Gilchrist, a retired Marine officer, who resided in a little town in Virginia not far from Washington. He had acquired from the local Postmaster, a native of that part of Virginia, some old family heirlooms in the form of furniture including a slant top Chippendale desk and an ancient corner cupboard, both of black walnut. This old desk had originally belonged to an O’Rear family as evidence by the numberous deeds, letters, receipts, etc. dating back into Colonial Virginia that were in the desk, a wealth of information about the family. To continue the story in Major Gilchrist’s words:

"Some time in 1930 a lady from Washington, wife of an Army General whose name I do not recall, looked me up (I did not know her) to ask me to help her to try and locate in the country records some trace of her forbearers. We spent the day without results, and on the way home I said, to make conversation, that I wished that her name was O’Rear as I could give her a wealth of information on that family. I then told her of the desk full of papers and enlarged on the series of letters from the O’Rear in Kentucky to the family in Dumfries (Va.). She said "That’s most interesting. I know a Major O’Rear, Army General Staff, in Washington and I am sure that he comes from Kentucky." The next morning before I had finished my breakfast your father was at my house. I showed him the papers and told him that I would give them to him. He then asked if I would sell the desk. Under the circumstances I could not refuse."

This old desk had been the property of John O’Rear (No. 2) my gr-gr-gr-gr-grandfather and contained his personal papers, some papers of his father and his children. An examination of these old documents fired my imagination and interest, and at intervals since then I have added to the records by research as the opportunity presented itself. The almost universal interest of those bearing the name has encouraged me to try to trace the complete story of the descendants and perhaps set out something of the achievements and anecdotes of the kin so that it will be available to those descendants who may be interested.