"The book originally started out as a very small project," Matthews said, specifically for his sons, Edward Calvin Matthews IV and Jonathan Lee Matthews. "I wanted them to always have that family history with them."
"I'm kind of the family historian," he explained. "I felt it was up to me to preserve this and put it in a written form."
But in preserving his family history, Matthews captured with it a good portion of the Southeast Missouri history that is so tightly woven with his family's. As Mike Jensen, publisher of the Standard Democrat, notes in the book's forward: "Few families in American history have left such an indelible mark upon a region for such a long period of time."
During his research and conversations with those interested in the project, Matthews soon realized it was "developing into something that needed to be shared with more people than my two sons."
After reading an early draft of the manuscript, Dr. Frank Nickell, director of the Department of Regional History at Southeast Missouri State University, identified it as "a very significant piece of work in that it tells a history of Southeast Missouri like it's never been told before," Matthews recalled.
In most historical works, "you don't get those personalities brought out like this book does," Matthews said. Readers get to know not only the Matthews, but the Sikes, Stallcups, Hunters, McMullins, Marshalls and other families that first populated this region. The book, he said, presents readers with a look at the "day-to-do lives of those that were here."
Research for the project began a little over six years ago with countless hours examining records at the Scott, New Madrid and Mississippi counties' courthouses "as well as reading a lot of old family documents, family letters," according to Matthews. "I spent the first two years doing nothing but research before I typed the first page."
Matthews was able to draw from "hundreds and hundreds of letters written in the 1800s between my great-grandfather and his sons and business associates," he said. "Through these letters, I was able to piece together a lot on life in Southeast Missouri in the late 1800s and early 1900s."
"The more I dug, the more stuff I came up with," Matthews added. He found himself bringing to light things nobody knew about anymore, uncovering things "totally forgotten and lost - and had been for generations."
The result is "not just a punchlist of dates and biographical sketches," Matthews said, but "a flowing story that tells the history of this region through the lives of the Matthews."
The story spans more than 200 years and seven generations.
"The book starts in 1779 with my great-great-great-great-grandfather, Edward Matthews," Matthews said. "He fought in the Revolutionary War. He enlisted at the falls of the Ohio, which was later named Louisville, Ky. Then he was stationed at Fort Jefferson which is approximately where Wickliffe, Ky., is now. Following the war, he went back to the falls which by then was Louisville."
After starting his family there, in 1800 Edward Matthews moved across the Mississippi into the Louisiana Territory with his five sons while it was still owned by Spain. Later that year, it was secretly transferred to France and then, in 1803, sold to the United States as part of the Louisiana Purchase.
Occupying a key position both in the family and region's history is C.D. Matthews. "He was responsible for developing much of Southeast Missouri," Matthews said.
Well remembered in this area as the founder of the Bank of Sikeston and co-founder of the Scott County Milling Company, C.D. Matthews' father died when he was only eight months old. "They faced starvation numerous times during his childhood," Matthews said.
Success for C.D. Matthews came without lucky breaks or windfalls, but as the result of "a strong will to succeed," Matthews said, evidenced by years of working from 5 a.m. until 10 p.m. for $20 per month and buying only necessities.
Those hoping to find dirty secrets or black sheep in the family tree will be disappointed as Matthews said he was unable to find any. Up until C.D.'s successful business ventures in this area, the Matthews were "just good, honest, hard-working people" trying to make a living on Matthews' Prairie where Charleston is now located, Matthews said.
The story winds up in the year 1995 with the last major event being the merger of the Bank of Sikeston with Mercantile Bank of St. Louis.
Matthews was initially amazed by the number of people who were interested in the project and asked for a copy of the finished product. He said his greatest challenge was taking all the information he gathered and "putting it in a form that everybody would find interesting."
Matthews said he is now looking forward to getting feedback from readers.
Published by Southeast Missouri State University Press in both hardcover and paperback editions, copies of the book will be available Monday at the Standard Democrat, the Sikeston Depot and at Matthews' office at 6 Mini Drive.
Book signings initially will be held "shortly after the first of the year" in Sikeston, Charleston, New Madrid and Cape Girardeau, according to Matthews. "And then there will be others later on."