In 1997 we celebrated our twentieth birthday with a genealogical seminar. In the newsletter and as a handout, the following articles appeared.

The First Decade (1977- 1987)

During the summer of 1977 the Dunkirk Evening Observer printed the announcement that a genealogical workshop would be held at the Dunkirk Public Library. Conducted by a Mormon couple, Mr. and Mrs. Sidlow of California along with Pat Dake and Elder Morris, the workshop was a great success. The several weekly sessions were well attended. During this workshop, the participants made great advances in researching their own genealogies and also a spirit of friendship had been developed. At the final meeting, a proposal was made that a society might be formed. In August of 1977 the proposal was adopted and the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society came into existence.

The first slate of officers elected were; president, Walter Sedlmayer; vice president, Patricia Dake; Secretary, Lynn Stock; treasurer, Ethel Wimberly; Historian, Gracia Nash; editor, Lisa Sedlmayer and publicity chairman, Mollie Smith. The “Charter Membership” numbered 22 eager researchers.

In October of 1977 the first issue of the society’s newsletter, The Chautauqua Genealogist, was distributed to the membership. Lisa Sedlmayer, the first editor, worked up a cover page for that initial newsletter. In it a contest was announced to submit designs for a Society logo and letterhead symbol. No contest entries were received. Lisa’s cover page consisted of a graphic representation of Chautauqua County picturing the Lake Erie shoreline and Chautauqua Lake along with the publication’s name The Chautauqua Genealogist. Lisa’s cover design was used on each of those early newsletters through Volume 7, Number 2 in the spring of 1984? The Society newsletter continues to be printed quarterly and has articles relating to genealogical recordings in/and/or about Chautauqua County, as well the usual announcements and informational items common to most newsletters.

The Society laughingly worked through some early identity problems as they publicized their existence. There was that one meeting attended by several outsiders when our Dunkirk Evening Observer announcement mistakenly read that the “Gem and Mineral Society” meeting would be held?

During the first ten years the Society undertook many activities to help others understand what genealogy is all about. Workshops were held for children as well as for adults. In 1980 an exhibit was developed for the Chautauqua County Fair to encourage people to research their own “roots.” Jamestown in 1984 and Westfield 1986 were sites for very successful seminars which were organized, publicized and presented in an effort to reach interested non members as well as new members needing help and encouragement in their own family research.

In the fall of 1984 the usual Society meeting site was changed from the Dunkirk Public Library to the Darwin R. Barker Library and Museum in Fredonia, NY. The museum offers a special room known as The Garland Genealogical Library. The Society has undertaken several projects to make this collection ever more useful for the researcher. The card file of more than 40,000 items of deaths and marriages from the Fredonia Censor from the beginning of publication in 1819 through 1899 was extracted by Society members. Many source materials, which are the property of the Society, have been made available to patrons for research in the library.

In 1987 The Society {Linda DiDomenico, president) made the first venture into publications. They published the Index compiled by Agnes Lee Mitchell to Historical Sketches of the Town of Portland by Horace C. Taylor, M.D., 1873

The Second Decade (1987- 1997)

In 1986, before the end of that first decade, the Society took its first step into the computer age. As mentioned previously, that spring Lois M. Barris joined the Society along with her IBM computer and her consort. They were new and before long they were volunteered for almost everything that could be computerized. Beginning with Vol. 10, No.3 (August 1987) The Chautauqua Genealogist was produced with the couple becoming co editors. Now ten years and four computers later, they continue the responsibility. The Society’s Publications Flyer reports (numbers of listed pages converted to hours expended) the thousands of hours Lois has spent at data entry and on screen editing. She has lovingly delegated necessary graphic design to the guy with the more sophisticated computer equipment (the more sustained with each upgrade).

In 1988, prodded by Jack Ericson, the Publication Committee was formed. After an advertising campaign and pre publication sale in 1990 our first two books, Earliest Holland Land Company Sales in Chautauqua County, New York by Virginia W. Barden and A Guide to Chautauqua County, New York Cemeteries and Burial Sites went to the printer. These two were followed by Portland Evergreen Cemetery (a Society project) and Fredonia Academy, 1826 1867 by JoAnn Kaufman that same year. In the years that followed several members of the Society have donated their own literary efforts to the Publications Committee resulting in the sixty five individual items presently offered for sale. These contributors include:

  • Virginia W. Barden
  • Donna M. Mills
  • Lois M. Barris
  • Agnes Lee Mitchell
  • Valerie Veley Griffing
  • Richard F. Sheil
  • Donna J. Johnson
  • Marcia Smith
  • JoAnn Kaufman
  • Shirley Bock Testi
  • Wayne Leamer
  • Norwood Barris
  • Marie McCutcheon

School Records: In 1995, access to the boxes of the school district trustee reports, stored in the attic of the Chautauqua County Historical Society’s McClurg mansion in Westfield, presented an enormous opportunity and humungous project. Volunteers were recruited, photocopies were made and passed out to anyone with a computer. Their efforts resulted in publication of the reports from 19 towns. The remaining towns (with the exception of Dunkirk and Ellicott) have been assigned and are in the data entry phase. Recognizing their efforts: Lois M. Barris (5); Virginia W. Barden (4); Matthew E. Parsons (3); Donna J. Johnson (3); Valerie V. Griffing (2); R. Wayne Leamer; Janet Dickenson, Sally B. Bailey

In 1991 (Dale K. Davis president) the Society received a Certificate of Incorporation as a non profit organization from the New York State Department of Education. This was no small task as it required a new constitution and by laws, numerous forms and reports to federal and state government agencies, etc.

In 1994, increased membership allowed us to take advantage of Non profit Organization bulk mailing economies. Commencing with the spring issue (Vol. 17, No.2), The Chautauqua Genealogist became a 20 page quarterly publication. It is distributed to an ever growing membership of nearly 400 individuals in 49 states (including Hawaii and Alaska), the Territory of Guam, Canada and the United Kingdom. We also mail the newsletter (gratis or exchange) to 35 libraries and/or other genealogical or historical Societies.

August 1994 (Richard F. Sheil, president) seven members managed a C.C.G.S. booth at the Great Lakes conference held in Fort Wayne IN. We considered it a great promotional success.

September 1994 (Valerie Veley Griffing, chairman) The Society held a genealogical seminar “Where Do We Go From Here” at the L.D.S. church in Fredonia NY. Well attended.

October 1995 the Society (Maureen Davis, chairperson) hosted the NYSCOGO (New York State Consortium of Genealogical Organizations) meeting at the Sheraton Harborfront Inn in Dunkirk. James Lyons, CCGS member & past president is the current Chairman of NYSCOGO. Maureen is our local delegate.

August 1996 (Valerie Veley Griffing president) at the Federation of Genealogical Societies national conference (held in Rochester NY) the Society set up a booth displaying our publications, etc. Karen Livsey, our FGS delegate, attends (at her own expense, I might add) almost every major genealogical conference giving us valuable national exposure.

Donna Johnson and Wayne Leamer came on board in 1995 and soon after offered to take the Society into the so called South County with a traveling roadshow. They have organized a display of genealogical items along with our publications which they set up at various local festivals thus promoting the Society. Their efforts have brought in several new members and increased awareness of our presence. (They have also sold some of our publications.)

May 1997 (Donna J. Johnson, chairperson) C.C.G.S. held a genealogical seminar in conjunction with the Harmony Historical Society at their Blockville NY facility. The attendance was beyond our expectations. Several new members joined at or after that seminar.

Have we had a successful 20 years or what??


Dunkirk Observer, Oct 15, 1970

Letter to the Editor
Recently a group of people interested in genealogy banded together to form the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society. The purpose of this society is to promote an interest in the field of genealogy and to help others trace their ancestral background. Anyone interested in joining the society or wishing more information about it is requested to contact Walter Sedlmayer, 25 Curtis Pl, Fredonia NY, or call 673 1228. (signed) Walter Sedlmayer, FREDONIA

Dunkirk Observer, Tuesday May 12, 1971

Genealogical Group will meet at Reed Library

Thursday evening at 8 o’clock the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society will meet in the staff room of Reed Library at F.S.U.C. Guest speaker will be H. V. Davis of Mayville who will talk on genealogical materials that can be found in the Chautauqua County court house in Mayville.

Apparently the time wasn’t right and the fledgling effort which met for a time at the Reed Library on the S.U.N.Y. campus folded. In 1977, following the Roots mini series Walter Sedlmayer was among the organizers of the new group of now eager participants. He was chosen the first president of the newly formed organization or was it an awakening of a dormant Chautauqua County Genealogical Society? Whatever Walter is proud that this new organization formed in 1977 adopted the name first chosen by the folks in 1970. Patricia Green, another present member of C.C.G.S., was also among the earlier group.