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Family history treasure hunters

The Crook County Genealogical Society helps those researching family history to find unique information about their ancestors


by: JASON CHANEY - Vicki Nelson (LEFT) and Mary Mayfield (RIGHT) work on a genealogy research project at Bowman Museum.

Researching family history can often turn into a treasure hunt.

Perhaps little to no information can be found on a particular ancestor no matter how many scrapbooks or websites they search.

This is where the Crook County Genealogical Society steps in. Each Tuesday and Thursday, for a three-hour span, they man a modest, yet extensive library at Bowman Museum dedicated to digging up the history of anyone who might have ever occupied the local community.

“We get queries by mail, queries by the internet, and walk-ins,” said member Vicki Nelson.

Mary Mayfield, another fellow researcher, added that the biggest request is typically obituaries.

“Maybe they had ancestors from the past, they died in the early 1900s and they don’t know anything about them,” she said.

Although the group sees it share of locals, the requests tend to spike during the summer when tourists make a special stop.

“Last summer, we had people from Massachusetts here, and Indiana,” Nelson recalls. “Just on vacation and doing some genealogy on their vacation.”

Joyce Harris, one of the newer members of the genealogy treasure hunt team, adds that they started their research at home and worked their way here.

“They have done their family history online,” Loiselle Dahill chimed in, “and then they have to get documentation.”

The group knows their way around the library. While the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves filled with books and genealogy files might intimidate most visitors, the genealogy society members have grown quite familiar with the documents.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that some of them have also amassed an index built by a long life in the community.

“Somebody will come in and say my ancestor was so and so, and I’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I remember them,’ and they’ll look at me like, ‘Really?’” Mayfield said. “So then they want to know what you know about them. That is kind of exciting.”

Then again, many pages remain unturned in the genealogy library, and assisting others with family history still yields unexpected treasures from time to time.

“You open up a book and it’s like, ‘Oh, this is new to me. I didn’t know we had this,’” Mayfield remarked. “It’s a discovery for us and for them.”

Nelson added that the Crook County Historical Society has compiled an extensive photography file where researchers have unearthed unexpected gems.

For visitors, finding such unique information is often an exciting experience. However, the genealogy group has found that the greater thrill for patrons could be the opportunity to share their family with others.

“They go on and on about the sister, and the brother, and the uncle, and where they lived and where they homesteaded,” Harris said. “Two hours go by and they are still talking and we haven’t found anything out yet, because they're talking and we’re enjoying their stories.”

In the end, the thrill of the hunt continually brings the genealogy society members back to the library, week after week.

“It’s an addiction,” Mayfield admits, eliciting a knowing nod from her fellow researchers.

“It starts out as a hobby, just like anything else,” Dahill goes on to explain, “but once you get going, pretty soon you are addicted because the more you find, the more you want to find.”




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