Spotlight on Okanogan Genealogy Society

I met with the dedicated and eager bunch of the Okanogan Genealogy Society members in early September. President Noma Wyllson arranged a lasagna dinner for the board (and me) at her home.

The youngsters at either end, Camden and Shaelyn Irwin, are grandchildren of a missing Board member, Peggy Oliver.  Others are, L to R: Peggy Murray, Maggie Mitschelen, Phil Brown, Karyl Hubbard, and president Noma, seated. (Two young people! How lucky that society is!)

The ginormous project the group has embarked upon is to created an online database of all the Okanogan County cemeteries (and Okanogan County is the biggest county in Washington), with the names and GPS locations of the burials. They are gleaning this information from a dozen sources. Ultimately, they would like to include a complete biography on each person and an interactive map on their website where you can click on an arrow for that cemetery. Talk about ambition!

As we chatted (and as a representative of the Washington State Genealogical Society), I also asked about the problems the society was having. Noma quickly quipped: “We were adrift and going nowhere and so I became president and took charge!” We agreed that a big project, like their cemetery project, would do wonders for the morale and growth of the society. Other “problems” were the usual ones: what’s the best day/time for the meetings and how to attract and keep members.

Sharon Liebert, of Wenatchee, is the WSGS Rep for Region 8, which includes this society and will be working to help them in any way she can.

Spotlight: Pend Oreille County Historical Society

In July, 2017, I took some nearly-blind friends on a memory road trip to the places where he grew up. So we drove north from Spokane to Newport, Washington, and Spirit Lake, Idaho. John was born in 1927 and his father worked at the Panhandle Lumber Company in Spirit Lake. John remembers the day in 1938 that the mill burned down. It was a Friday and he and school chums were to play a concert at the local city park bandstand. There was a forest fire nearby and the sparks ignited the lumber yard. John said “we just stood and watched.”

Anyway, John had made an appointment with Faith McClenny, the head volunteer researcher in the Pend Oreille County Historical Society in Newport. She had consulted the index to The Newport Miner, the weekly newspaper in publication since 1897, and marked several references for him regarding the history of lumber mills in the area and some about is mill of interest. We also were directed to the Index of the Lumber Industry of Washington’s Pend Oreille Valley, by David H. Chance, published in 1991. What a marvelous 325-page reference to the principle industry in the area which greatly fostered settlement.

Faith has been working with Pend Oreille County records for over twenty years, she proudly told me. She has an Arcadia Publishing book on the county to her credit too.  She showed me around the historical collections and I took notes, wishing I had all day to stay and search.

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Spotlight on the Northeast Washington Gen Society

I had a delightful, catch-up lunch a few days ago with Karen Struve and Susan Dechant of the NeWGS. Karen is the current president and Susan is immediate past president. We talked about NeWGS, their plans, progress and problems. (Karen on left below.)

NeWGS was founded in 1981 with the goal of preserving the histories of Stevens, Ferry and Pend Oreille counties (the far northeast corner of Washington). Their membership averages about 60, with 25-30 coming to meetings, and their genealogical collection is housed in the Colville Public Library.

Their biggest problem is the same as so many societies face: lack of participation of members and a core group doing all the work. Susan and Karen have bounced the presidency back and forth several times. Their long-standing publication, Pioneer Branches, has been discontinued because nobody would step up to be editor/coordinator. Their day-of-meeting computer classes have also been cancelled, again due to lack of folks stepping up to help.

No bearers of gloom and doom, Karen and Susan were upbeat and enthusiastic. “We just got three new members!” Karen told me. Their biggest project is to maintain the Evergreen Cemetery (which they own). Member Lora Rose has crafted several tombstones for known burials that had no marker. Member Sue Richart regularly drives the 160 miles to Pullman to digitize papers from the WSU special collections that pertain to their area. And they will again this year have a promo booth at the Colville Fair in August.

They do work with the Stevens County Historical Society and will do research by mail. Check out their website,

I’m proud to do a spotlight on the Northeast Washington Genealogical Society today!

Spotlight on Clark County Gen Society Library

Vancouver, Washington, is a history “hot site” for Washington. With Fort Vancouver’s history going back 200 years and the First People’s history going back much further, Vancouver was an exciting place to visit. 

Past president and current librarian for CCGS is my long-time friend, Lethene Parks. In between sessions of a history conference that we both attended, she showed me around their society’s library. And she just as proudly showed off their Pioneer File.



Vancouver that weekend was in full bloom and I made a promise to myself to go back and tour and learn more of the rich history of that area. Here is my photo of Fort Vancouver:

Spotlight on the Twin Rivers Gen Society

The Twin Rivers Gen Society, located in Lewiston, Idaho, is just across the Snake and Clearwater Rivers conjunction from Clarkston, Washington. Guess who the towns were named for?

I was honored to be their program speaker back in March and found them to be an eager, active group…… and very proud of their area’s history and very engaged in preserving same. Patricia VanBuren arranged the day and at risk of saying a tired old cliche, a good time was had by all.  Especially me!   

The Lewiston Public Library is currently in an old hardware store, in the basement, where dirt sifted through the old wooden floors down onto the books. Members of the TRGS were (happily) given permission to remove the genealogy books and they are now (March 2017) stored in boxes in a member’s home. There is no levy support for a library so things for the Lewiston Public Library look bleak. Before the LPL, the TRGS collection was housed in the Heritage Room of the Nez Perce Historical Society temporarily (before being ousted from there too). Members of the TRGS are hopeful that their genealogy collection will be placed in the newly remodeled Family History Center in Lewiston.

The biggest annual event of the TRGS is their July 4th Walking with Ancestors which they have done for several years. The group picks stories from the biggest/oldest cemetery, Normal Hill, and in costume tell those stories. The event is free to the public and last year they had an attendance of about 75 folks (not bad for a society of about 25 folks).

Lewiston was incorporated as a town in 1861; that is the year the Civil War began! After much conflict with the Nez Perce tribe and boundary shifts, Lewiston, Idaho,  (along with partner across the river, Clarkston, Washington) are thriving places.

The WSGS mantra was again proven true: You will never know unless you go. While attending the March 25th seminar in Lewiston, Myrna came up to me asking a question. She lives in Grangeville, Idaho (some 40 miles away in Idaho County). Myrna explained that the small group of genealogists in that town had saved boxes of old county marriage records from being tossed from the courthouse. These records date from the 1930s to 1969. Myrna wanted to know what should be/could be done with these records? My answer was that FamilySearch would most likely jump at the chance to come digitize these records. We talked to Lee and RaeVon, the directors of the local Family History Center, and (wowsers!) they knew of an LDS person in the area who was already on a mission there to find and digitize just such records! Don’t we consistently find that miracles do happen in family history??



Spotlight on Skagit Valley Gen Society

On April 8, 2017, I had the honor of giving a “SKGS for 30 Years” talk to the Skagit Valley Gen Society group to mark their 30th anniversary. The board gathered in front of a lovely cake:  (L to R) Len Torset, Don Royal, Dottie Chandler, Carol Nersten, Diane Partington, Candace Stone, Hazel Rasar and John Hays (president). Marge Wilson was missing.  Several of the founding members from that day back in 1987 are still members!

The Society’s scrapbooks (kept by Don Royal) were out for viewing and a certificate of appreciation was given by President John Hayes to Diane Partington for all her service and help.

Barb Johnson proudly showed me around their genealogical collection, housed in the Burlington Public Library. (Note her “I Seek Dead People” t-shirt.)

Barb Johnson and Jin Justice pointed out to me their bulletin board display there in the Burlington Library:

Our new WSGS Regional Rep for the Region 1-North area is Nancy Bonafede, a member of SKGS. This is a great little group!

Puget Sound Genealogical Society May Meeting

Puget Sound Genealogical Society
Saturday, May 27, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
at Kitsap Regional Library 1301 Sylvan Way, Bremerton
with Janice Lovelace. Discover the history of railroad
companies, the types of jobs available and how to access
railroad records, including pensions.
Registration required; call (360) 475-9172
Jackie Horton, Publicity Chairperson

Society Spotlight: Yakima Valley Genealogical Society

We’re always trying to “keep it fresh” here on the WSGS blog. “Keep it fresh, you ask? According to the Urban Dictionary, keeping it fresh is “the art of acting spontaneously resulting in your actions being original and generally awesome.” Okay, so we’re going to be generally awesome here introducing a new blog feature: Society Spotlight.

Local genealogical societies are the backbone of WSGS and we’re proud to introduce our readers to each of the 30+ societies around the state. In your upcoming travels, you might want to stop by their library, meeting, ask for local assistance or visit their website.

Our inaugural article features the Yakima Valley Genealogical Society.

The Yakima Valley Genealogical Society (VYGS) is one of the largest societies in the state with approximately 300 members. That’s a long way from their humble beginnings almost 50 years ago when they started with just 18 members. While most of their members live in the Yakima County area, they attract others from as far away as England.

Under the leadership of President Patrick Bundy and Vice President Sue Ericksen, YVGS is among the most active societies. Besides monthly meetings featuring interesting educational programs, the society sponsors two major seminars each year,  Spring and Fall. This year’s Spring Seminar will be Saturday, April 22 at the Mt. Olive Lutheran Church in Yakima. The featured speaker will be professional genealogist Jay Fonkert, a renowned authority on 19th Century Midwest research. His presentations will be:

  • Genealogy Detective Skills: Following Clues from the Census
  • Finding Your Pre-1850 American Ancestors
  • Why Were They There?
  • Who’s on First: Merging and Separating Identities in Family History Research

An added bonus to attending YVGS’s Spring Seminar is the WSGS Recognition Awards and Annual Meeting during the lunch hour. Registration is still open. More details, including a registration form, are available here.

Assistant librarian Sue Ericksen (left) explaining some of the YVGS’s vast library holdings to WSGS President Virginia Majewski.

One of the preeminent gems of the YVGS is their genealogical research library. The 7,200 square foot library, considered one of the top genealogical research facilities in the Pacific Northwest, is located at 1901 S 12th Ave in Union Gap. Besides the main floor of the library, there are three archive rooms, a media room for microfilm/fiche research, a work room and a kitchen. Between the bound volumes on the shelf and the massive microfilm/microfiche collection, the library hosts a collection of 35,000 volumes of genealogical research material covering every state and a large number of foreign countries. Holdings also include a large number of published family histories, as well as being the designated official library for the WSGS. Check out their online book catalog here.

The library is open to the public at no charge for genealogical research. It’s definitely worth a stop if you’re in the Yakima area.

And don’t forget to visit the YVGS website. While there, you’ll learn more about YVGS’s commitment to expanding and preserving genealogical and historical research, including their outstanding Cemetery Project and Early Death Notices Index databases.

We hope you’ll visit the Yakima Valley Genealogical Society online or at 1901 S 12th Ave in Union Gap. We’re proud to call them a member of the Washington State Genealogical Society.

(Note: If  you’d like your society to be featured in Society Spotlight, please contact Roxanne Lowe at

Spotlight on the Twin Rivers Gen Society

On Saturday, March 25th, I shared a great learning day with the eager members of the Twin Rivers Gen Society down in Lewiston, Idaho. (Yes, Idaho, but they identify with Washington especially as pertaining to things genealogy.) We met in a lovely church basement and the TRGS had enough food to feed 50 folks but only about half that number came (which equals their membership). We shared ideas on the Big 4 genealogy websites (Ancestry, FamilySearch, FindMyPast, MyHeritage) as well as dozens of useful research and resource websites. I stressed to them that thy major key to success in genealogical research these days is successfully using the Internet.  Here’s a shot of the group:

Please continue reading for some history of Lewiston, and the TRGS, and all about their annual July 4th Walking with Ancestors!

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Genealogical Serendipity Across the Pond – and in Lewis County

You never know when genealogical serendipity will happen. For Judy Kalich, a member of the Lewis County Genealogical Society, it happened when a cousin connected her with a “new” third cousin, sometimes removed, Barbara Hargrave of San Francisco. Judy and Barbara discovered they shared their third great grandparents, Joseph and Mary Pettett, both born in Kent in the 1780’s.

Joseph and Mary Pettett

Joseph and Mary Pettett

Judy Kalich's photo of Amy Anne Honeysett who married Albert Pettett in 1853.

Judy Kalich’s photo of Amy Anne Honeysett who married Albert Pettett in 1853.

Last summer, Barbara went to Scotland, Ireland and England searching for her Pettett ancestors. In Kent, England, not only did she find the family home and family graves, she helped break through a brick wall for the current resident of Joseph and Mary’s home in Stilebridge who had been researching the history of the historic tenanted home with an oast house. The fascinating twists and turns of Joseph and Mary’s son Herbert (aka Albert) were featured in a BBC issue of Who Do You Think You Are? magazine (April 2016). Hint: Always leave open the possibility that the name you’re born with isn’t the one in archival records.

Back to our Lewis County connection: Through her careful research, Judy already had Joseph and Mary Pettett in her family tree, as well as a picture of the house in Stilebridge. What she also had, that Barbara didn’t have, was a priceless picture of Amy Anne Honeysett, who married Herbert (aka Albert) in 1853. The photo was featured in the BBC article, putting a face to the story of the cousins’ ancestors.