The following article was written by Lois Barris and printed in the August 1999 newsletter.
Norwood and I were privileged to attend the annual conference of the National Genealogical Society held this year in Richmond, VA from May 12 through 15 . Other CCGS members who attended were Diana Bums, Sallie Gregg, Roland Littlewood, Beverly Przybylski, Mary Wolfe, Karen Livsey and David Bolling. We were very impressed with the wide range of genealogical workshops and the excellent quality of all the meetings and vendor’s exhibits. But, the highlight of our week in Richmond came on Wednesday morning, May 12,  at the opening session. At this time several awards of merit were presented to individuals and societies for outstanding contribution to the world of genealogy.
NGS has recently instituted a series of regional conferences, the first held this spring in the Chicago area. A few societies were given special awards for their help in arrangements for that regional conference. But only one award was given to a society based on merit, and that award was presented to the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society. There were probably more than three thousand people seated in the auditorium when the Chairman of the Awards Committee, Lynn McMillion asked if Norwood and/or Lois Barris, representing the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society were present. Wow! This was such a great feeling to stand up and walk to the podium to greet Mrs Shirley Langdon Wilcox, President of NGS. As Mrs. Wilcox handed us the award certificate, Mrs McMillion read the following citation:
“The NGS Award of Merit is presented to the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society for their efforts to preserve and publish the county’s unique and little known records. The list of publications to their credit is long and they continue an ambitious publications program. Their willingness to undertake these projects serves the greater genealogical community. Over the years, their publications committee has extracted and indexed county records, town records, newspapers, cemetery inscriptions and county school district records.”
The story of this award dates back to August of 1998 when a large contingent of CCGS members Paul and Virginia Barden, Donna Johnson, Dick Sheil, Donna Mills, Norwood & I attended the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) annual conference in Cincinnati OH. We had a vendor’s exhibit at Cincinnati with a display of our publications and other good works. In that huge exhibit hall, our local society was like a little fish swimming in mid ocean, but a director of NGS, Sandra Hewlett, noticed our display and returned several times during the conference to talk to our members and ask questions. She picked up several copies of our publications flyer and any and all other literature we had on display. In the ensuing months CCGS received an order from Ms Hewlett for several of our books and there also began a series of several phone calls from Ms Hewlett to our members as she gathered specific information about our past and our on going projects.
In the progress of these phone conversations, we mentioned (probably more than once) the important role of the County Clerk, Sandra Sopak, in some of our recent projects. One of these was the extraction of information from the Chautauqua County section of the New York State Census for 1865. This project was expedited by the loan of the microfilmed census records from the County Clerk’s office. The landmark project was made possible with the cooperation of the County Clerk is our on going work on nineteenth century tax records. The NGS awards committee was so impressed by this cooperative effort that they determined to give a special award to Mrs Sopak. She in turn was so honored to receive notice of this award that she and her husband traveled to Richmond to attend the presentation and accept the award.
The citation read at this presentation was:
“Sandra Sopak, Chautauqua County Clerk, receives the NGS Award of Merit for her willingness to cooperate with the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society in order to make records more available to the public. Her latest efforts include arranging to have photocopies made of all county tax lists which date from 1850 and before, so the Society’s publications committee can extract, index, and ultimately publish this valuable historical information. The Society in turn, donated a set of their genealogical indexes to aid the county clerk when she is asked for vital record information. This is a fine example of record keepers and record seekers working together for the benefit of both.”
Sopak is the first county clerk in the country to receive such an award and was in fact the first non member or non genealogist to be presented the Award of Merit. The NGS Awards Committee reported that response to this award was so positive, the organization will annually recognize others for similar outstanding accomplishments.
The reference to genealogical indexes referred to in the citation to Mrs Sopak was specifically our twenty volume set of Indexes to the Dunkirk Observer, donated to her office in return for the photocopies of tax records. We are very proud of these awards and of our joint efforts with the Chautauqua County Clerk and others at the County Court House. We should also mention that Ms Hewlett, though she has no family connection to Chautauqua County, purchased our books with her personal funds in order to show our work to the national committee. She told us at the conference that she later donated these books to the New England Historic Genealogical Society in Boston.