By Pauline Masson
Pacific Missourian Editor
The local genealogy society celebrated its history with a giant birthday cake and a trip down memory lane at the Tri-County Senior Center last week.
Formed in 1987 after publication of the book, “Roots,” raised family history awareness, the Meramec Valley Genealogical and Historical Society reached a 30-year milestone Nov. 30.
“Before ‘Roots’ was published people were interested in genealogy, but it was the genealogy of famous and important people,” said Sue Reed, MFGHS founder and former Pacific librarian. “After ‘Roots’ ordinary people started showing up at the library looking for help with family history.”
From the outset, organization leaders realized that to collect histories on Pacific families it would require reaching into neighboring communities.
“Actually the Meramec Valley stretches from Steelville to where it meets the Mississippi,” Reed said. “People had family connections to residents of nearby communities.”
The organization would amass an archive of obituaries, family histories, community history and historic photographs of Pacific area (Meramec Valley) families.
Reed, who still sees herself as the MVGHS information officer, narrated the birthday celebration program, identifying the contribution of many individuals to the society’s archive.
Each Tuesday morning, when Reed and other volunteers gather at Pacific City Hall office to clip obituaries and file news articles people show up looking for information on their families.
“We still get lots of requests for local family history,” Reed said.
Beginning with the formation of the society with Neil Brennan as the first president, Reed and Chris Niemoeller presented a list of society officers and members who each brought their unique collections to the archive.
Jeff Ryan and Nellie Mueller, the second and third presidents, were present for the presentation.
“Everything started with collecting obituaries,” Reed said.
Then, Orton Lynch and Roger Jarvis created a map of the city cemetery that identified grave locations and the names and dates of death of deceased.
“The map was available at the library, which was a huge step forward in helping genealogy searchers,” Reed said. “Before Orton and Roger’s work you just had to go up and walk through the cemetery to find a grave.”
The late Edna Myer was a tireless researcher who helped put together the Society’s first book on local history titled “Memories,” in which individual members researched and wrote local history essays.
The book was originally sold as a mimeographed pamphlet, but was later professionally typeset and bound. Copies are still available.
The late Jane Pritchett organized a series of field trips to area cemeteries and other historic sites.
The late Betty Flinn started a newsletter, “Treeshakers,” that published society activities and included snippets of local history uncovered by members. “Treeshakers” is still published prior to each bimonthly meeting and distributed to members in print form or electronically.
The late Mary Hoven worked at the library and helped to clip obituaries and history articles from area newspapers.
The late Ed Brundick recorded a personal oral history memoir of growing up in a railroad town that was later published as a book. Copies of that also are available from the society.
In recent years, Hilda and Jeannie Banderman created a vast archive on individual veterans from all U.S. military branches of service and all military conflicts.
The cornerstone of the collection is the obituaries.
“We have literally thousands of obituaries that are necessary for genealogy,” Reed said. “We worked with the city cemetery committee, the obituary committee and we’re still collecting family histories that are available for copying.”
For the past 10 years, Patricia Sewell has been president of the group. Under her leadership the society hosted a series of public forums on the Civil War, floods, former elected officials and historic penny postcards depicting Pacific.
In very recent years, the Society joined forces with the Meramec Valley History Museum, founded by former mayors Jill Pigg and Jeff Titter.
Plans now call for combining the two history collections into one history center to be located in the Red Cedar Inn, along with a city visitor center.
The historic structure, which the city recently purchased, will be made available to the city in 2018.
To prepare for the larger center, Reed noted that the Society will focus on how the materials will be organized to serve the public.
“We need to do some housekeeping to get our records in order for use by the public,” she said.