Connecting people with the past
Often when people look for information about their family history, they hope to make a connection. They might be looking to connect with a long-lost relative, to answer some long-standing family mystery, or to get a deeper understanding of their personal roots.
Anyone who finds themselves on such a quest involving information tied to the Oceana County area should place the Oceana County Historical & Genealogical Society high on their list of resources to tap.
In 2022, a $2,000 Great Lakes Energy People Fund grant helped the society purchase a new videoconferencing system for its headquarters in Hart that will help the group stay connected with each other and the community.
Society board president Paul Erickson explained that the idea for the system grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic. The society’s board, like many organizations, moved its meetings to the videoconferencing platform Zoom. As pandemic restrictions began to ease and some meetings started taking place in person, society board meetings became a hybrid of in-person and online.
After seeing some of the benefits, Paul said the board wanted to continue offering an online component for its meetings, but managing such hybrid meetings can be
difficult. Board member Sharon Hallack proposed seeking a grant for a videoconferencing system to make for a much better hybrid meeting experience.
“The online system allows people to attend the meetings who might not otherwise attend because of mobility limitations, distance, time of day, weather, or other factors,” Sharon said.
The board hopes the online meeting option will help get more people involved in the organization. Paul noted that, like with many nonprofit organizations, the pandemic had a chilling effect on the society’s membership and volunteer numbers.
Beyond facilitating meeting participation, Sharon said the board is hoping to put the videoconferencing system to use in other ways. Recently, it was used to honor and celebrate with a longtime volunteer who has since moved away from the area. Other potential uses include having regular online sessions with volunteers or hosting speaker presentations.
A treasure trove of information
The society has a huge collection of information about people, places, and events tied to Oceana County. The collection includes copies of all county newspapers, cemetery and census records, school records and yearbooks, family histories for many past and present area residents, marriage records, obituary records, and much more.
In fact, the collection is so extensive that it hasn’t been feasible to make it available online. Paul said digitizing records is a very labor-intensive and costly process, making it unrealistic for an organization staffed completely by volunteers and funded entirely through donations and grants. So, for now, people looking for information must do it the old-school way: poring through actual documents in person. However, the organization has created, and regularly updates, an index of the collection to help people in their searches. The index is available online so people planning a visit can get a head start on their search before they arrive.
If it isn’t practical for you to visit the organization’s headquarters, known as the Chadwick Munger House, the society can still offer help. People may send their inquiries via U.S. mail or email, and staff members will do their best to find the information. The fee for this service is $10 per hour for society members and $12 per hour for nonmembers.
Paul noted that the Chadwick Munger House has an entire room dedicated to area Native American history. The society also has a great deal of information related to many adoptions that took place in the area in the early 1900s.
He pointed to one recent case in which a woman in her 80s discovered a connection to her Native American ancestry through adoption records found in the society’s collection.
The society’s collection also includes many historical images and memorabilia related to area schools, churches, the county fair, fire departments, and more.
History on display
The society also operates the Oceana Historical Park Museum Complex, located in Mears. The complex includes the Swift Lathers home, the Swedish Mission Church, a transportation museum, Boynton Cottage, a tool museum, and the Robinson Museum, all of which are open from 1-4 p.m. on weekends in June, July, and August. Also, the Old Town Hall, which houses a country school room display, is located one block east of the park. Admission is free, and some of the facilities, such as the church, are available for rental for events. The society also recently added a “guide by cell” service for the complex that allows visitors to call a special number and hear recordings about some of the exhibits.
Paul said the Mears complex includes much history about Swift Lathers, a notable historical figure whose family has donated property, buildings, artifacts, and funding to the society.
The Oceana County Historical & Genealogical Society’s headquarters is at 114 Dryden St. in Hart. The center is open from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. on Wednesdays year-round. To learn more about the society’s exhibits, events, and genealogical and historical research offerings, or how to become a member or otherwise support the organization, visit oceanahistory.org. Direct inquiries may also be made at 231-873-2600 or via email at [email protected]. The society also has a Facebook page.