MOUNT GILEAD — The Morrow County Genealogical Society recently celebrated its 45th birthday, and another event is coming soon: a First Families Luncheon on May 21. In addition to celebrations, there are unique opportunities every time the genealogical society is open and volunteers are busy researching local history and helping people learn about their roots.

“Who knew,” asked volunteer Stan Sipes, that so many people found one of the historic houses in town so interesting. Who knew, indeed—well, the volunteers know quite a bit about Mount Gilead’s history, or they know how to find it.

One fact the volunteers can share, for example, is that there are 123 historic structures in Mount Gilead, identified in a survey. Articles about the structures, many of them homes, were published over a three year period in the Morrow County Sentinel and copies of those stories are one of the holdings at the genealogical society.

Visitors search for history and for family ties at the genealogical society. Among the catalogs of information gathered in its 45 years, the society has gathered data on the old cemeteries in the county. There are 130-140 old cemeteries, including family plots.

“I first came up here in 2008,” Sipes said, “and I wanted to know what it was like when my parents were here back in the 50s. I started looking at the obituaries and it is very difficult to maintain focus. Well that lasted about 10 minutes, then you’re looking for something and ‘oh this is interesting. Why don’t I read this,’ and the next thing you know you’re reading something else.”

“There’s nothing I like better than learning something new that happened in this county that I never knew about,” he added. That interest allows him to help Sentinel columnist Evelyn Long research her stories.

Additional volunteers include founder Dan Rhodebeck, Donna Ufferman, President Ann Archer, and recent volunteer Howard Black. Black graduated from Clear Fork High School, spent much of his career in Arkansas, and now lives in Galion. But his family roots led him to Johnsville.

Currently he is assisting a man from California who is corresponding by handwritten mail, no email, no phone number. That is an example of how the genealogical society provides service—corresponding to inquires that come through the U.S. Postal Service.

The staff, like their patrons, have stories to tell about their genealogical interests.

Take Rhodebeck, for example.

“I was about 24 years old and I’d been to college. My dad was 39 years old when I was born and he knew his grandparents. One grandparent was born in the 1860s, another was born in the 1850s and another in the 1840s. So when my dad told the stories about my grandparents, that’s how much of a time span local history, family history that could be related. I got raised in that kind of atmosphere,” Rhodebeck said.

He visited the library and courthouse doing research; he went to Mansfield and to the Ohio Genealogical Society.

“And I found out every county in Ohio could have a chapter [of the Ohio Genealogical Society], he said.

So he wrote a letter to the editor of the Morrow County Sentinel in 1976.

“Obviously I had a good response,” he said. They organized in March 1976 and first met in the community room of of the First Federal Bank. It only took them a year to meet the qualifications to get their charter. They met monthly, as they still do today. One of their early speakers taught them how to read the descriptions on deeds, which was instrumental in tracing family homes.

Ufferman and Archer have worked at verifying 1st families in preparation for their May 21 34th installment luncheon. First families date from prior to and including 1850. The recognition event is open to the public.

Though considerable information can be learned online about genealogy, the Morrow County Genealogical offers unique resources unavailable online. They have three newspapers on micofilm going back to the late 1860s. They can provide obituaries from those newspapers.

They also have family history records and books, locally written books, and old club and and organization records.

“And we’re a lot friendlier than the internet,” Rhodebeck quipped. “You have no idea when you walk in the door and throw out a name what kind of response you’ll get.”

The Morrow County Genealogical Society, located at 35 E. High St., Mount Gilead, is open Tuesday and Wednesday each week unless there is a holiday on those days. The community room at the lower level hosts community events is ADA accessible, and is available for community and private gatherings. The next members meeting will be held April 23 at 2 p.m. For more information, the number is 419-946-7264.

Volunteer Donna Ufferman, left, and President Ann Artrip work on verifying Morrow County First Families in preparation for the upcoming May luncheon. Donna Ufferman, left, and President Ann Artrip work on verifying Morrow County First Families in preparation for the upcoming May luncheon. Rhonda Bletner | Morrow County Sentinel Bletner | Morrow County Sentinel

By Rhonda Bletner

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