Trace Your Roots at the Marilyn Adams Genealogy Research Centre 🌳👨👨👧👦
The call came from Missouri. A man with the last name Wilson told volunteers at the Marilyn Adams Genealogy Research Centre that he and his brother were likely the last of their family. They were looking into their ancestry and wanted to know if there was a chance that they might still have some relations in The County.
The sleuths at the Seventh Town Historical Society got to work.
A name like Wilson is common. It’s also familiar to anyone driving the roads in The County – Wilson Road bisects the municipality, a route connecting Bloomfield to Hillier. Even visitors know it for its wineries, art studios and soon-to-be brewery and garden centre.
It turned out that the gentleman had plenty of extended family in The County – and a long and fascinating family history that centred around a grist mill on Lake on the Mountain.
He hopped into his van with his dog and drove all the way to the centre where a volunteer offered to drive him around The County – not something they do routinely! The man went from feeling alone in the world to feeling anchored in family.
“I think we overwhelmed him,” laughs Society president Diana Godbout. She pulls a thick file from her desk at the Marilyn Adams Genealogy Society building in Ameliasburgh. “This is what we know about his mother’s side – we just haven’t told him yet!”
The Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre is a hidden gem in The County, often better known outside the municipality. It is a treasure-trove of resources for anyone looking to dig into the history of the area, research their family tree, better understand The County, investigate the history of neighbouring jurisdictions or search out the stories behind long-hidden documents, fading photography or other family relics.
“It’s addictive,” says volunteer Janet Comeau, explaining why volunteers help visitors track down answers to ancestry questions. “It’s like going down a rabbit hole.”
It can be an emotional endeavour – in the time I spent at the centre, volunteers tracked down my grandfather’s birth registration, sending me an image of my great-grandfather’s spidery writing, documenting his first son’s name, in a ledger dated October 1909, nearly five months after he was born.
It might be the only time I’ve seen my great-grandfather’s handwriting.
The centre is named after Marilyn Adams, an only child born and raised in Rednersville, who spent most of her teaching career in Oshawa. She was an avid researcher, fascinated in exploring her own family’s history. She retired in 1989 but a year later, a doctor told her she had only a few months to live. She made the profound decision to leave her home and belongings to the Seventh Town Historical Society, which in turn established a centre for genealogy.
Today volunteers who carry on her legacy have helped hundreds of people trace their ancestry. They’ve also worked tirelessly to preserve countless irreplaceable documents, from tomes on the German Hessian settlers, to early road maps, to land registry cards gifted by the King to Loyalists chased from the United States.
Visitors to the centre can use the facility’s subscription to ancestry.ca, a massive savings for anyone encountering paywalls as they sift back through the branches of their family tree. They can also make use of volunteers who specialize in linking names to faces in photographs, using clues from style of dress to watermarks from the photographer to help puzzle out who is who.
They’ve also used photographs to fill in gaps in family histories – one photo featuring three sons prompted researchers to discover evidence of a dysentery outbreak, one that killed the boys in the picture and many of their relatives.
“And that’s just from looking at a photograph,” Godbout says.
Visitors do not have to have County heritage in order to find value in the building’s resources – in fact, they get requests from all over the world for help untangling ancestral mysteries.
Godbout recounts unraveling the history behind an unusual grave marker at a nearby cemetery as one of her best finds. The bronze bust of a woman in a plunging neckline prompted several phone calls and emails from curious visitors – who was this woman and what had happened to deserve such a striking tribute?
Godbout traced the story back to a man in Belleville, who had carved the sculpture in tribute to a long-time friend. After his wife died, the friends became partners, only for the woman to be lost too soon.
The Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre is open to the public Tuesdays and Wednesdays during the summer months and Tuesdays during the winter months. Visit their website for more information on hours, available support and resources.