I visited volunteer Lila Stienstra at the Clay County Genealogy Society Library, an independent and self-supporting non-profit organization that provides county and family histories to anyone interested. The group helps locate, collect and record resource material relating to Clay County families. They make all the information they collect available to the public.
Lila walked me through the building, past bookshelf after bookshelf -- all of which had been donated and built by volunteers -- full of: Family files sorted by name, Clay County files including cemetery records, census records, marriage indexes, death records, scrapbooks with newspaper articles and clippings, rural directories, naturalization records and county history books. I could go on and on about all the library has to offer -- from cemetery maps to war records. Almost all of their resources are donated, and there are more than 1,600 books including more than 300 family histories.
The library focuses on Clay County materials, but it also has collections of materials pertaining to other Indiana counties, as well as states from which Hoosiers have immigrated and emigrated.
The library began in 1980 when Helen Tarvin used her home to house the resources. In 1985, the library was moved to its current location at 309 Main St., Center Point, in a building that used to be a grocery store.
Lila joined the Genealogy Society in 1981 because her entire family is from Clay County.
"Most of my relatives live in southern Clay County," she told me while naming off a list of last names, all of which I was familiar with. "I enjoy coming and helping people find what they want. It's great when someone out of state comes and finds their family."
I found my family inside a few of the books. I first searched for the Spelbrings (my mom's side of the family) and found dozens of them inside one book. I found out I am the ninth generation. I even found my own name in the book. The first generation migrated to the United States in 1833 from Germany. That relative lived in Poland, just as I do now. I guess us Spelbrings don't like to move, considering nine generations have all lived in the same small town, which doesn't have a lot to offer.
I found wedding announcements, old pictures and even a column from The Brazil Times written by none other than my very own mother.
After sifting through page after page, I moved on to the Frys. There wasn't as much information, but I did find obituaries and my brother's birth announcement, which I saw many times. I only saw my birth announcement once.
I am not a huge history buff, and I can honestly say history was not my favorite subject in school. However, researching and studying the history of my own family is very interesting to me. I guess I like to see where I came from.
Lila told me she takes care of the books and any new materials that come in. While I was researching about my families, she was entering new memberships into the computer system.
"It's little things like that you don't think about," she said. "But they take a lot of time."
I also looked through an index of all the names in Clay County. The index was huge, and I can't imagine the time it took to type all of those up after doing all the research. It is obvious the volunteers with the library are dedicated and passionate about genealogy and history.
Many people, though, are losing interest in the library because of the Internet, but the Genealogy Society still needs to pay their bills in order to maintain the library building. Memberships, dues, sales of resource materials and donations fund the library. They receive no funding from state, county, local or United Way agencies. Currently, the building that houses the library is in need of various repairs. The Society plans to start fundraisers in order to pay for the needed repairs.
The Genealogy Society Library is open Monday, Wednesday and Saturday from 1-4 p.m.
They currently have a total of 170 members. To become a member, it is $15 per year for an individual, $20 per year for a family or $25 per year for a benefactor. Members can submit queries for free and will receive quarterly newsletters.
If your family's genealogy or county history is something that interests you, I encourage you to become a member or in the very least go check out the library. I guarantee you'll learn something.
If you have an interesting job or hobby, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 446-2216 ext. 233 for the opportunity to be featured in "In Your Shoes."