Western Reserve Historical Society helping people dig up family roots
Posted February 18, 2013 in Articles
Author: James Ewinger
Lisa Edgehouse burst into tears Saturday at the Western Reserve Historical Society research library. She had just found her mother's grandparents in census records -- names that she feared were lost in antiquity.
It was the kind of serendipity that the society encouraged because this is Family History Weekend there, with all sorts of genealogical resources available.
One of them is Ed Bolte Jr., a volunteer with the society's genealogy committee. He coached Edgehouse and her daughter, Katelynn, on how to comb the records, and compensate for the inaccuracies in the 1920 census that flowed from the haste and poor spelling of number takers then.
As Edgehouse and Bolte talked, Katelynn fiddled on a computer and found the scanned-in names. The couple were from Slovenia, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire when they came here.
"By fluke, we had gone to see the wedding dress exhibit. My daughter saw the genealogy thing. She's a braniac, and it was her idea to go," Edgehouse said.
Pam Campbell of Painesville was typical of some visitors. She brought her son, Kyle, to celebrate his 10th birthday and see the refurbished and recently reopened Crawford Auto-Aviation Wing at the historical society.
Ann Sindelar, the society's reference librarian, estimated there were at least 70 people in the research library, almost twice the number of a typical Saturday.
"There were families with kids, aunts, uncles. It was great," she said.
Kelly Falcone-Hall, the society's senior vice president of interpretation and chief operating officer, said the organization was founded in 1867 as a library and has been amassing the records of the Western Reserve since.
The records, the archives, the documents "are the beating heart of the historical society," she said. "There are massive amounts of family history here," including cemetery registries, individual family histories, city directories and newspapers.
Organizations that set up tables outside the library to help with family history exploration, included the Cleveland Grays, Woodland Cemetery Association, U.S. Daughters of 1812, Daughters of the American Revolution, Early Settlers Association of the Western Reserve and Colonial Dames of the 17th Century.
But the variety of roots that can be explored at the historical society go well beyond family trees.
There is the marque collection that contains data on just about every car -- domestic and foreign -- ever made.
Ed Pershey, vice president for museum special projects and exhibits, said some files are more complete than others. The most detailed would be extremely helpful in restoring an old car.
Sindelar is not sure how complete the collection is. But she has been with the society for over 25 years "and I don't recall anyone asking for a marque file that we didn't have."
Bill Roediger, president of the Cleveland Grays Armory and Museum, said his organization is a valuable resource for tracing the history of existing military units. The Grays constituted a militia in the old-fashioned sense, a private military company that became part of the U.S. Army in times of war through World War I.
Roediger said the organization remains useful for military historians because several existing units are descendants of the Grays including the Ohio National Guard's 107th Cavalry Regiment and 112th Engineer Battalion.
The Crawford Collection is another genealogical resource because it represents the conjoined history of Cleveland's economy and the auto industry, which was once larger here than in Detroit.
Meredith Lackey of Lakewood was using the library for another look at economic roots. She's in the pre-production phase of a movie about steel mills here. She donned white cotton gloves to go through albums full of original photos documenting our history of steel.
"We've delved into the photo collections and found old photographs that have yet to be published," she said.
The event continues today noon to 5. Admission is free to society members, $10 for adults, and $5 for children aged 3 to 12.