Who doesn’t love a good mystery? We each have one waiting for us: uncovering the fascinating story of your family’s past through genealogy. Bellville sleuths have an added bonus. Just outside of town is the Ohio Genealogical Society (OGS), which houses, among many other resources, nearly 60,000 books to help those researching their roots. In addition, OGS offers databases covering not only Ohio but the entire 50 states and many foreign countries, as well as free access to Ancestry.com.
“[Genealogy] becomes addictive because it is a puzzle,” explains Tom Neel, OGS Library Director, who has worked at the organization since 1984. Those digging into the past are perhaps united in the thrill of the hunt, but Neel says people are initially drawn to genealogy for a variety of reasons. “Many grandparents start when their grandchildren approach them with school projects. Some begin talking about ancestors at a family reunion. As one gets older, they have time to go through things and make a task to identify old heirlooms, photographs, and papers and then have to research the names – are they even connected to me?”
Bob Neeper is a Sunbury, Ohio resident who has been working for over twelve years to make those family connections. His quest led him to OGS. He trekked up State Route 71 as part of a field trip with his local library. Neeper was nipped by the genealogy bug around 2004 and is still working on his extensive family tree today. As an adopted child, he explains, “I knew many relatives on my mother’s side but absolutely none for my real father. I wanted [it] all so our children and grandchildren would know the history.”
As Neel mentions, for Neeper it’s also about solving the mystery. “Besides being able to build the tree,” Neeper says, “the experience of the hunt is fun, especially when you find something.”
What is the secret to uncovering your roots? Neeper gives these words of advice: “Start when you are young and have relatives available to question. There will be days of frustration, moments of elation.” Then Neeper added one final tip. “Backup up your data!”
Luckily staff and volunteers, along with a wealth of information, are available at OGS to minimize those times of frustration. Neeper says he plans a return trip to scour the OGS county history book collection.
OGS is largely a volunteer operation. It has just two full-time paid staff and one part time. The organization is operated by nearly 150 volunteers, including its Board of Trustees. OGS is entirely a self-sufficient non-profit. Neel says OGS always welcomes new volunteers, with or without previous genealogy experience.
Visit the Ohio Genealogical Society at 611 State Route 97 West in Bellville. It is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9 AM to 5 PM. Admission is $5 per day, or $35 for a one-year membership. OGS offers free admission for students with parents working on projects, to pre-arranged group visits, and during the month of October for Family History Month.
OGS is on the web at www.ogs.org.