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Oct. 25, 2020

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Clark County Genealogical Society gets new home base

By , Columbian staff writer
3 Photos
Marcia Grubb, from left, education director for the Clark County Genealogical Society, looks through books in the library of the organization's new facility with volunteers Sharon Cleveland and Barbara Schrag on Thursday.
Marcia Grubb, from left, education director for the Clark County Genealogical Society, looks through books in the library of the organization's new facility with volunteers Sharon Cleveland and Barbara Schrag on Thursday. (Photos by Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Every person alive is a walking, breathing mystery, with ancestors tracing back to who-knows-where who did who-knows-what. How cool is that?

Very cool, according to the leaders of the Clark County Genealogical Society, affectionately self-described by society President Brian Runyan as a “bunch of nerds.” They were hard at work Thursday preparing their new research library for a public grand opening Saturday.

“It’s like an Agatha Christie mystery sometimes. You get the clues, and it’s the problem solving,” said Marcia Grubb, the CCGS director of education.

“There are people who have discovered notorious ancestors, regal ancestors, interesting people who went to interesting places. Those people are cool, because often there’s more written about somebody who’s notorious or famous, and that helps your research.”

The volunteer society began its move into a 2,560-square-foot building just off St. Johns Road back in August, and spent the last four months preparing the space to house its more than 10,000 volumes and reference materials.

The CCGS moved from its old location in a strip mall, at 717 Grand Blvd., when its lease ran out.

“We lost our lease where the group had been for 15-plus years, and a year ago we were really shocked and sad. Now we’re like, ‘Wow, that’s the best thing that ever happened to us,'” Grubb said.

The new location is a little smaller, but it’s nicer, said Sharon Thiesmeyer, the society’s librarian. It houses a full library, a community meeting room, a small kitchen, a couple of offices and a separate research space with computers and a microfiche reader.

The building had previously housed a Chase Bank and is owned by local investors Steve and Jan Oliva.

“I had my eye on it before that; it was just a matter of convincing the owner that we were the right (fit) for it. As it turns out, the owner’s wife is a member of our society, so that didn’t hurt at all,” Runyan said.

The members of the society, who according to Runyan number between 320 and 350, regularly swap information and family stories. Some have their own unique pieces of family trivia — Grubb, for instance, can trace her heritage back to a specific passenger on the Mayflower, a trait she shares with another member.

“When we’re talking, it is fun. There’s clues: how did you know that, where did you find it?'” Grubb said.

Runyan’s claim to fame? His relative was the last person to be publicly executed in Multnomah County.

“They sold tickets,” he added, cheerfully.

Community resources

The research library is open to everyone, member or otherwise.

Whether you know every member on your family tree or you’re starting from scratch, there are resources available to help. The society is working on digitizing the library’s enormous collection of files and volumes in a searchable database, Thiesmeyer said.

“You can put in keywords, like a relative’s last name, or a first name, and an area they may have been,” Thiesmeyer said. “If we have it, it will pull up the resources and you might be able to find it in the library.”

The society also has a subscription to genealogy website, as well as a century’s worth of U.S. Census results on microfiche.

Classes, too, can help people interested in their ancestry master tools that will help on their search. The CCGS holds beginners classes on the first Saturday of the month, as well as technology-specific courses on the second Saturday of the month to teach family tree-makers how to store, navigate and access information on their personal laptops.

Other classes are available through the week on a wide range of topics — the most recent fall series included lessons on American church records, Canadian genealogical research and tracing Scandinavian DNA, along with other topics.

“Everybody that comes in approaches it a different way,” Grubb said. “You can do it any way that makes you happy. Just let us show you how to get started.”

The Clark County Genealogical Society will hold a grand opening of its new location with Vancouver Mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle at 5 p.m. Saturday. The new library is at 3205 N.E. 52nd St.

The library will be open to the public during business hours Tuesday through Friday, as well as Thursday evenings.

For more information about the society, or to register for its classes, visit its website at