Northwest Missouri Residents Share a Passion for Genealogy
September 15—Genealogy is a hobby that came naturally to Dr. Caroline Merrigan. Relatives before her spent summers driving across the country to states like Kentucky, Virginia and Pennsylvania to learn more about their family history. So, as soon as Merrigan’s children grew up and she had enough time to indulge in this hobby, she also began to educate herself.
“My favorite books as a kid were Nancy Drew Mysteries,” Merrigan said. “And so, I think that drives me to be Nancy Drew and dig into the clues to help people have that lead or that thread of their family history. It’s unique to everyone, and you just don’t know not what you will find.”
Merrigan, a veterinarian, is currently the historian of the Runcie Club and the membership president and chapter librarian of St. Joseph’s Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. She spends her time doing genealogy for potential DAR candidates, to see if their lineage can be traced back to an American patriot.
“I’ll log into the computer, and it can take a few minutes or sometimes hours and days, but when I find the patriot she has, it’s just the greatest thrill,” Merrigan said.
She can sometimes be seen analyzing documents at the Northwest Missouri Genealogical Society in downtown St. Joseph. The society helps researchers find historical records dating back to early Buchanan and surrounding counties.
Board member Mandi Brown said it’s been interesting to see the genealogy change over the years.
“There was a time for research and it was only done in person or by mail, and that has changed,” Brown said. “We had to be very patient when doing previous research, and it seems that younger generations – with the internet, with phones – want instant gratification. Genealogy isn’t always instant.”
Although genealogy is more accessible these days thanks to DNA testing and websites like Ancestry and FamilySearch, society board member Bud Coker said it’s best to use the resources local areas for more specific information.
“I would say 75%, at least, of what we have is off the internet,” Coker said. “We have court cases dating back to 1843.”
Although it can take some time to see results, Merrigan said genealogy is arguably one of the most popular hobbies in the United States. She recommends anyone wanting to start their genealogy to start by talking to family members and focusing on a specific part of their family tree.
“If you have a living grandmother or great aunt, just ask her for a moment to talk to her,” Merrigan said. “…’What family stories do you remember about where people lived?’ and what they did, and their stories, and have this tape recorded or written.”
Genealogy beginners and experts can register to attend the annual GenealogyKC conference in Kansas City this weekend by visiting https://genealogykc.org/. The event is free and will take place at the Liberty Stake Center on September 16 and 17 from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Anyone wishing to get in touch with the Northwest Missouri Genealogical Society can call their office at 816-233-0524 to schedule an appointment. Brown has been doing genealogy for more than 60 years and said it’s important for younger generations to know what their ancestors went through for them. She likes to help build family stories.
“I do this to connect families,” Brown said. “It is my joy.”
Morgan Doyle can be reached at [email protected]