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Genealogy group donates collection, building and funds to Jefferson County Library.

SUSAN MATHENY/MADRAS PIONEER - Amidst the collection in the Family Finders library are years' worth of Madras Pioneer newspapers on microfilm. Above, Dorthy Burgess shows library director Jane Ellen Innes the group's microfilm archives. 
After 39 years of researching genealogy, compiling a collection of books, and helping others, the Juniper Branch of Family Finders of Jefferson County donated its entire collection, building and sizable funds to the Jefferson County Library District on Jan. 21.

JBFF President Sharon Hillis explained why the group formally dissolved and made the transfer.

"Local interest dwindled and there were no new people joining to keep our research library open," she said.

Member Sharon Dodge noted all the active members are older. "Sharon is 77, and she's the baby of the group. Mary Rueter is 95, and the rest are in their 80s," she said.

Attorney Don Reeder was present to make the deed transfer legal, and JBFF treasurer Lorelee Dendauw made another announcement. "I checked with our Edward Jones account, and the library district will be receiving a check for $91,000," she said.

The funds were inherited from a member's spouse nine years ago to keep the Family Finders building going.

In the agreement, Hillis noted, "Jefferson County Library District agrees that the gifts received will specifically be used to maintain and enhance genealogy resources for the public, including the building, cash donation, and books."

Hillis presented the deed and keys to the building to Jefferson County Library District Board Vice Chairperson Susan Stovall, who was accompanied by Library Director Jane Ellen Innes, Laura Jones of youth services, and Gretchen Schlie of community services.

Family Finders members present included president Sharon Hillis, vice president Mary Rueter, secretary Dorothy Burgess, treasurer Lorelee Dendauw, registered agent Sharon Dodge and original charter member Beverly Sexton.

Stovall accepted the keys saying, "The Jefferson County Library Board of Directors would like to thank the Juniper Branch of Family Finders for their generous gift. We will be committed to preserving these historical documents and making them available to the public. We would also like to thank and honor the Juniper Branch of Family Finders members for their years of commitment and dedication in creating such a comprehensive collection of family history. It truly was a labor of love."

To use the genealogy materials, Innes said, members of the public just need to contact a library staff member to open the building, which is located at 21 SW D St. in Madras, two blocks west of the county library.

The Family Finders' resources include equipment on which one can view microfilm and print out copies, microfilm editions of the Madras Pioneer from 1904 to 2014, and booklets of obituaries, weddings, and more compiled by date and subject from Madras Pioneer clippings. It also includes a large collection of Oregon county information, a collection of Oregon Historical Quarterly magazines, books on the Civil War, extensive records on Jefferson County, and an index of all materials.

Family Finders beginnings

Hillis and Dodge talked about the beginnings of Family Finders.

"Beth Crow, who was researching her family, got it started by contacting Howard Hillis, who gave her information on how to start a group and do research," Sharon Hillis said. Crow was a local teacher, and Howard Hillis was an award-winning journalism teacher at Madras High School.

Interest in genealogy was high at the time, and in January 1981, a genealogy group started meeting in people's homes, and as it grew, it moved its meetings to the old library on D Street.

Howard Hillis lectured at the first three meetings and donated books to the group on how to do family research.

By October of 1981, 20 charter members formed Juniper Branch of Family Finders of Jefferson County and elected officers. Charter members include Phyliss Lange and Beverly Sexton, of Madras, and Betty Jean Cordill, Carolyn Northup, Lewis Oatman, Loretta Quant, and Dorothy Thomas, who have moved away. Thirteen of the charter members have died.

Many members also belonged to popular bowling leagues in Madras, and that's how Sharon Hillis got involved.

"Beth Crow was my bowling partner," Hillis said, "and was always talking about research. In 1983, she asked me if I'd ever researched my side of the family? 'If not, your girls will only know about the Hillis side,' she told me."

Coincidentally, the women's bowling conference finals were held in Salt Lake City, where the extensive Mormon Family History Library is located. "A lot of genealogists bowled and would go two days early and do research, then do our bowling," Hillis said.

The group's early years were exciting, with excursions, classes and members helping each other discover their family heritage.

"In 1986, Beth took eight of us to Salt Lake. She did that for many years during spring break. One year, she hired a bus out of Bend, and she arranged all the transportation and lodging," Dodge said.

In December 1997, when the county library moved into a new building on Seventh Street, there was no room for the Family Finders' books, so they had to leave.

"This building was donated to us by a member," Hillis said, of the former five-room dentist's office. The new building became the Family Finders' research library, and its collection of books and materials continued to grow as members worked on projects.

Sometimes, they did research for others. "I did one for a Native American family to see if they had a connection to one of the chiefs," Hillis said.

"For 14 years, I was down here every Monday, but not a lot of people came in. People want to know their history, but they want you to do the research for them," she said.

Hands-on research started dwindling with the arrival of internet ancestry sites, Dodge said. "People can do research online up to a certain point, but if they need to look at a specific book or get facts on a certain family, they can't get it on the internet," Dodge said.

Some of those sites aren't all that accurate, with people adding unverified information.

"Genealogy is a fun hobby, and expensive if you want to buy the proof — marriage, birth and death certificates," Hillis said.

Dodge wanted to express thanks to the whole community for the support Family Finders got through the years — from donations of paint to town photos to the sign over the door.

Now that the research library is part of the county library, the materials are available to the whole community.

"All that information is still here, just the access is different," Hillis said.


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