Belton resident Tracy McLoud was waving her metal detector across a field on Tuesday when her equipment notified her of a hit.
However, McLoud, who has previously found a variety of small artifacts from the early 20th century during her hunts, was shocked by what she stumbled upon at the private site.
She had discovered a single dog tag that belonged to William L. Villines — a U.S. Army veteran who served from 1918 to 1919 during World War I.
“This is why I metal detect,” McLoud said in a Facebook post. “Finding old coins, jewelry and other relics is fun, but to find a relic that has identifying features that enable me to research exactly who the relic belonged to … and tell their story is priceless.”
Following her discovery, McLoud was eager to learn more about Villines’ story and dove into an hour-long internet search frenzy.
Although her initial probe did not yield any hits on Villines’ living descendants, she learned about his ties to the Bell County community.
“According to the 1930 Federal Census, Mr. Villines lived on W. 11¾ Street in Belton with his wife, two sons and daughter, and worked as a section foreman for Santa Fe Railway,” McLoud said. “W. 11¾ Street no longer exists but is near where I found his military ‘dog tag.’ Mr. Villines resided at 904 N. First St. in Temple when he died … on Dec. 6, 1958, at the age of 61.”
McLoud — with her heart set on finding Villines’ family — took her efforts to Facebook, and shared her find with friends and family. Her post was shared more than 60 times.
“My sister, Stacy McLoud did some research (on Wednesday) and found pieces to the puzzle that (Roxann Patrick) and I had not found yet,” she said. “We now have enough pieces that we were able to identify and locate a living child of William L. Villines.”
That child is Villines’ 85-year-old daughter Perrie Bigham.
“Roxann and I will be returning this lost family heirloom to her on Saturday,” McLoud said.