As the Monroe County Genealogical Society celebrates its 25th anniversary, it is taking time to reflect on how it has changed over time and its successes.
Since its founding in 1996, the society has completed 49 publications and various projects, none of which would have been possible without its pioneer members: Janet Flynn, Pat Vaseka and Phyllis Veath.
“They were the engine behind the society for many, many years,” President Jan Wenk, who has filled this role for 20 years, said. “They have a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”
She explained all three are still members of the society.
Monroe County’s interest in genealogy dates back to before 1996, however.
“Before this society, there was another group that had formed,” Wenk said. “They would go around and index all of the cemeteries. That was a huge, huge monumental project (and) it was a fairly small group of people.”
Because the group was so small and did not have stable leadership, it fizzled out, Wenk explained. Eventually, Flynn, Vaseka and Veath revived interest in county history by founding an official society.
Today, the Monroe County Genealogical Society consists of members who reside both in and outside the county.
“Our membership is not just local,” Wenk said. “Probably way over half of our membership is out of town or even out of state … (For) most of the members, why they join our society is they have some type of ancestors or connections to Monroe County.”
Many members join the society with the goal of learning more about their family’s farming history – especially as the number of family farms diminish.
“There are not as many family farms as there used to be. They get gobbled up and stuff, so people are really gravitating (to genealogy) to try to find out about their farm history,” Wenk explained.
Perks of membership include receiving issues of the society’s quarterly. How one chooses to access the quarterly determines their annual membership payment. Dues are $25 for those who view it electronically and $35 for those who want paper copies.
Wenk explained the quarterly often fuels projects, including the popular immigrant ancestor stories in which members write detailed accounts of an immigrant ancestor’s life.
“I really get into helping people write these stories because they really draw you into the project,” Wenk said. “Each person that I’ve helped (with their project) was very reluctant in the beginning because they didn’t know much about their immigrant ancestor … We’ve made a lot of discoveries and most of these stories are 1-5 pages long.”
Another favorite are the mystery photo pages featured in the quarterly. Members submit photos of ancestors they do not recognize in hopes another member can identify them.
Wenk has found her own success with this idea. For her, submitting a mystery photo to Family Tree, her favorite genealogical magazine, broke through her “brick wall.”
“Long story short, (the columnist) found my missing link and I was able to find four more generations (of ancestors) in Germany,” Wenk beamed.
In this way, genealogy is often a community effort. In this spirit, Wenk encourages those interested in genealogy to get involved in websites like Find a Grave.
Wenk explained the website has a few “very dedicated” members who will upload images of tombstones from local cemeteries to the website, among other basic information like memorial pages. These participants are not necessarily related to the people they enter information about, but do so in hopes somebody on the site is and can add more information, such as their ancestors’ marriage records and children.
Wenk said she personally found the site very helpful.
“I found really, really old ancestors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I have Revolutionary War ancestors that I have found on Find a Grave,” Wenk said.
Throughout her time as president, Wenk said she has learned a very important lesson when it comes to tracing back one’s lineage: persistence is key.
“I’ve had a lot of different successes and I always tell my group serendipity plays into your success if you’re persistent and diligent,” Wenk said. “You never know where you’re going to suddenly break through your brick wall, or you find something that you had no idea (about).”
Morrison-Talbott Library in Waterloo has been home to the society for many years, and has built a strong relationship with the society. In turn, the society recently presented a $5,000 check to the library.
“Because this is our 25th anniversary, and Morrison-Talbott Library has been our support system for almost all that time … we just felt like what better time than our 25th anniversary to make a donation to them,” Wenk said.
“People come here and are sent here from other libraries because everyone knows what an outstanding genealogical collection we have,” Morrison-Talbott Library Director Jamie Wratchford said. “We couldn’t do it without you, so congratulations of 25 years plus of hard work and I’m looking forward to many more years,” she told the society.
When Flynn needed to move residences and no longer had space for her genealogical books, she entrusted the society to find a new home for them. Along with its recent $5,000 donation, the society also dedicated the Janet Flynn Genealogical and Historical Book Collection to Morrison-Talbott Library.
For more information on the Monroe County Genealogical Society, email firstname.lastname@example.org.