My husband and I started traveling the Midwest about ten years ago, in search of our family histories. Our travels have taken us to metropolitan areas as well as rural areas, and as you can probably imagine, our research experiences have been varied. Some libraries and societies seemed very excited and enthused about their area’s history, and some, not really so much. Some had great resources, but stood over us, watching our every move, making for a very uncomfortable (and short) research experience. But without equal, the Stark County Genealogical Society of Stark County, Illinois, is an impressive group of people who truly care about preserving and sharing their county’s rich history.
My husband and I made Stark County our first destination when we began our research in earnest. The volunteer who staffed the library that day, Janet, was a distant cousin, who was able to help us find an incredible amount of data pertaining to my direct line as well as collateral lines. The library is great – all the basic history and biographical publications, many society publications, plus scrapbooks that volunteers have put together – things you can’t get anywhere else - and everything easily organized, in a friendly and relaxed atmosphere.
Between the Society, the nice folks at the courthouse and the library, I was able to amass a great deal of information on my family, as well as the details of their daily lives that enable us to get to know them as people. The people we met were without exception some of the nicest people you could hope to meet. One of our first stops was at the nearby Princeville library, and while perusing the stacks, the librarian mentioned to another patron that there was someone doing genealogy research. This other patron turned out to be Dixie, a Stark County Genealogical Society member. Dixie introduced herself, showed us where to find items that might be of interest, and then later introduced us to some distant cousins in the area, who in turn were able to supply even more family history, as well as some kind hospitality, and introductions to yet other family members.
Genealogy societies face many challenges – lack of funds, lack of space, a shortage of resources, the ever-present threat of theft, and sometimes a lack of interested volunteers. These factors present challenges to a society’s overall effectiveness in providing help to researchers and promoting their county’s history. The SCGS does it right, and it starts with the active local members. This has been not only the most productive place we’ve researched, but the most pleasant.
While I enjoyed our trips to Stark County, I’m almost sorry I have so much information, and no excuse to make the trip again! It’s a fantastic society, with reasonable dues and an interesting and informative quarterly journal, in a warm and inviting county. You KNOW these people care very much about their history, and put their hearts and souls into what they’re doing. And that, I believe, is what makes the difference.