Lynn Messer — the search continues


We Can See History Through The Eyes Of Our Seniors

Sometimes we think that we live in a society which is radically different from anything that existed in the past. We go about our daily lives, certain that we are unique and that there is very little that we can learn from history. Certainly, it is true that we have made unprecedented technological advances, and that we live in a society that is more globally connected than ever before. However, it’s a mistake to assume that, just because we have the Internet and can get anywhere in the world in a couple of days, that we are somehow different.



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Of course, we are still fascinated by the past – the incredible interest in genealogy is perfect evidence of this. We do want to understand where we came from, even if we’re not always sure how relevant it is to us today. Major websites such as attract huge followings, and there are genealogical societies and local web sites throughout the nation. These help us to start to put some context around our existence – fulfilling that basic human need to know where we come from. However, to feel truly connected to history – and to learn from it – we need to find a way of getting even closer.

One of the incredible opportunities that we waste is talking to our seniors. While we make sure that they are comfortable and receive in home senior care services or institutional care if they need it, we don’t take the time to listen to them – leaving them lonely and with countless untold stories. This is a deep loss, both for ourselves and for them. They have lived through some of the most tumultuous times in world history – World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and more. If we think that we have nothing to learn from these, and from accounts of everyday life in America, then we are sadly mistaken.

For instance, consider one of our local National Guard units here in Missouri, the 35th Infantry Division. They have seen the action going all the way back to the Mexican Revolution in 1910, and while there aren’t any veterans left from that era, there certainly are from the Second World War and later. In fact, the division went ashore at Omaha Beach, and fought its way across Normandy and up to the Netherlands, liberating towns and villages along the way. It then went on to be one of the units that pierced through the Siegfried Line and drove through to the Ruhr River.



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If we think that we can’t learn from someone who has experienced this, then we are sadly mistaken. Not only do they have tales that illustrate our ability to persevere and sacrifice ourselves for comrades, they have also learned incredible things that should be preserved through the generations. If we take the time to listen to what they have to say, we can gain insights into the challenges of our modern globalized world – the need to fight intolerance and aggression, to work together as communities, and to stand on principle when it really matters.


Finding Ancestors In Washington State

Identifying your relatives from the past can be challenging when you are looking at your local area, but if you need to look further abroad into other states or countries, it can almost be impossible. It’s incredibly important to find established and authoritative resources in the region you are looking – preferably a local genealogical society that has a long history, good resources and enthusiastic members.



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That is certainly the case with the Seattle Genealogical Society. The society goes all the way back to 1923, when it was founded by eight local researchers. The goal of the society was – and still is – to provide both a forum for discussion and a library collection designed to support genealogical research across the Pacific Northwest. The society has grown from its initial eight founders to around 700 members today, and what started as a few books in a small room has grown to over 12,000 volumes, along with extensive microfilm and CD collections.

The collection at the society is designed to complement genealogical resources held at the Seattle Public Library, and in fact the society works very closely with the library to coordinate efforts. The society’s books and periodicals are a comprehensive resource for genealogical research in the Seattle and Tacoma area – covering things such as burials by the American Cremation & Casket Alliance and other funeral homes in the region – but they also provide a broader perspective across the United States. In fact, they have resources covering every state in the nation – which range from standard works through to obscure titles such as a history of the First Congregational Church in Stonington, Connecticut. All of their library volumes are listed online on the society’s web site, and are updated as members add new books to the collection. There is also an international catalog, covering the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia – this is also available online.

In addition to the paper volumes held by the society, its microfilm collection – which we mentioned previously – is also comprehensive. It includes the Washington State Death Index from 1907 to 1989, as well as – interestingly – a copy of the 1895 Minnesota State census, along with various other national and state census materials. Unlike the volumes in the library collection, however, this society has no online catalogue of its microfilm and microfiche collection, although it does provide reading facilities if you visit in person.

Finally, the library also has a family history collection, which is again quite extensive. This includes a number of periodicals and publications, along with typewritten manuscripts and binders of other family information. Again, a catalog of this material is available online, along with a separate listing of surname files containing information contributed by members of the society over the last 75 years, covering literally thousands of different surnames.



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The library, which is located just east of the University of Washington campus on Sand Point Way in Seattle, is open seven days a week – although opening and closing times do vary. If you are thinking of visiting while you are in the area, then you will be glad to know that the library is open to non-members provided that they pay a small fee for daily access.