Genealogical Investigators Conduct An Evening Of Research

from left, researchers at the sixth Lock-In Fundraiser are Terry Horner, Janet Wahlberg, Cindy Rodgers, Steve Hayes, Patti Lundquist, and Brenda Eckland. Photo by Daryl Simons Jr.

Have you ever pondered over your family lineage? Perhaps about the when and where they arrived in North America? The what it was that they did, and the who it was that they were? Locals and members of the Fenton History Center piled in the Fenton’s Research Center for the 11-hour sixth Lock-in Fundraiser, stashed with food and snacks to assist in the rigorous task that is genealogy research. Approximately a dozen people participated in the lengthy research session focused on the U.S., British Isles, and Sweden.

“We get together once a year for a lock-in. And anyone who wants to come are here for 11 hours. We eat, and we visit with one another, and we help each other with genealogy problems,” said Janet Wahlberg, a Research Assistant at Fenton Research Center and a member of the Fenton Board of Directors.

Hidden in plain sight along Forest Avenue is a building filled to the brim with rich historical information dating as far back as the 1500s.

The center is often tasked with and utilized as the main hub for genealogy research pertaining to families of Chautauqua county, and surrounding nearby counties in New York state and Pennsylvania.

“Our actual physical books cover the New England states and go down as far as Pennsylvania, and as far west as Michigan. Our Chautauqua records are even more detailed,” said Barb Cessna, research assistant for the center.

Andrew Kolstee and Linda Earle at the lock-in. Photo by Daryl Simons Jr.

Local families have been donating family records off at the Fenton History Center, which is creating quite the library for history, and is readily accessible to anyone interested. What could be a piece of innocuous information for one family could hold intriguing related clues for another, acting as another piece of the puzzle when reconstructing parts of history. This tradition of creating family files dates back to the 1960s, however.

“We have a local things, family files. These started when the Historical Society went into the Fenton Museum, which was 1963. A genealogist who, as she researched families, made a file for them. And we have continued that,” said Cessna.

Some of the records within the Fenton dating back to the Civil War are exclusive to the center, as they are the originals.

“We have a lot of Civil War records because Governor Fenton became governor toward the end of the war. Some of the records that we have, we probably wouldn’t have, except that they were given to the Fenton, as he was the soldier’s friend,” said Cessna.

Research on family lineage was common among the researchers, or of people they knew. Along with the printed paper records are vast collections of genealogical records, archived online, and organized according to the type of source it is, as well as the dates that it covers. Traversing through these records can be quite a time-consuming and daunting task: language differences, handwriting legibility, accuracy of records, existence of specific record in need, and the sheer vastness of records to sort through. Fortunately, volunteers at the center help out one another with these tasks.

Janet Wahlberg conducts research within the depths of the Hall House Research Library. Photo by Daryl Simons Jr.

“We are very lucky that all of our volunteers have an area of expertise, which helps when someone new comes in and has an issue or question, we can direct them to one of our volunteers,” said Cessna.

Many of the records contained not just the names of individuals, dates of birth or death, or relatives included, but the more intimate details of who they were, who they associated with, and what they did in life.

Historical research is hardly a linear practice, and as such, random discoveries are bound, if not certain, to occur. One particular story shared by Andrew Kolstee, secretary of the center’s board of trustees, accounted an unfortunate story of a man being “blown into atoms.”

“Someone was looking for someone related named Clark, and then they stumbled upon this and said ‘Look, someone was blown to atoms!’ We were talking about that for about an hour, and then I thought that there has to be some newspaper articles covering this story. I ended up finding it in all kinds of newspapers,” said Kolstee.

According to Kolstee, the newspaper confirmed that, Charles C. Clark died May 19, 1871, Enterprise, Pa. Blown to atoms in nitroglycerin explosion when transporting same.

“He was transporting it (nitroglycerin), worked for a company to transport it. It said in the article ‘blown to atoms.’ When people die today, it basically just says that they died. Back then, they explained everything,” Kolstee said.

For more information, check out www.fentonhistorycenter org, by phone (716) 664-6256, or by email