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History of the Ohio Genealogical Society

A small group in Richland County, Ohio, began meeting about 1955 to discuss local history and genealogy. Dr. William R.M. Houston, Louise Krause, Raymond R. and Nellie Dent, Dr. David Massa, Dr. Elizabeth Reed, and others decided to formalize the group and filed for incorporation on 15 August 1959, as a non-profit organization known as The Ohio Genealogical Society. The purposes were to foster an interest in all peoples who contributed to the establishment and perpetuation of the State of Ohio, to hold in safekeeping manuscripts and books relating to these early settlers, and to publish genealogical material on Ohio for preservation of the records. Dr. Houston compiled the first constitution of OGS and served as its first president. There were 52 charter members.

The Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly, the monthly periodical of OGS, was first published in 1961 as The Report with Mrs. Donald Geib serving as editor. This included membership lists, cemetery indexes, queries, notes on society activities and programs, acquisitions, military history, and family materials. In 1970, the newspaper format of The Report was dropped and the quarterly journal format for articles adopted. A separate OGS Newsletter was initiated to include the queries, book accessions, and society news. Also in 1970, Esther Weygandt Powell offered her competing quarterly publication, Ohio Records and Pioneer Families, to OGS. All profit from the venture was to provide for library materials. ORPF contains early Ohio source materials, including cemetery inscriptions, census records, courthouse and military documents. In 1997, a new quarterly journal was initiated by Mary L. Bowman, the Ohio Civil War Genealogy Journal, with specific concentration on Ohio's service in the War of the Rebellion.

In 1962, the first annual conference was held at 454 Park Avenue West in Mansfield, in a home provided by Dr. Houston. The organization had grown to 82 members representing 27 counties and four states. By 1969, membership had grown to 452, and the conference was moved to Columbus. For several years, OGS held a joint conference with the Ohio Historical Society, the Ohio Association of Historical Societies, and the Ohio Covered Bridge Committee. With such a large membership, several local chapters had developed to hold meetings locally on a monthly basis. Groups had formed in Ashland, Franklin, Guernsey, Ottawa, Richland, Trumbull, and Tuscarawas County by 1970, and the number of chapters eventually grew to 100 in 86 of Ohio's 88 counties, and in six other states. Some counties had more than one chapter.

Several programs were initiated by Society leaders. In 1964, a lineage society, First Families of Ohio, was created to honor those OGS members who descended from pre-1821 Ohio settlers. Another lineage society, the Society of Civil War Families of Ohio, was formed in 1997 with Jocelyn Wilms as the first chair. Sunda Peters was the first chair of Settlers and Builders of Ohio, a third lineage society which accepted its first applications in 2003. A museum was established in the old Grange Hall in Lexington in 1965, which OGS eventually deeded to the Richland County Museum group. The OGS Library was formed in 1971 in three rooms in the front of Dr. Houston's home. The first microfilm reader was purchased in 1972 by collecting S&H Green stamps from members. Ancestor cards, now numbering over 200,000, were gathered from members beginning in 1971, as well as a cemetery checklist. In 1974, the collection of Bible records was organized and indexed by Anne Dallas Budd. OGS also decided to participate in the preparation and publication of the 1850 and 1860 Ohio census index, the first of many large scale projects by the Society. These have included an index of Ohio Civil War soldiers, Spanish American War soldiers, Mexican War soldiers, Ohio marriages, First Families of Ohio, Ohio Cemeteries, the Ohio Church Record Survey, and other census years.

A building fund drive was initiated in 1976, and a home for the Society was purchased at 419 West Third Street in December. In 1980, a home to the west of the above facility was purchased for eventual demolition and expansion possibilities. However, in 1987, OGS purchased the Bushnell House at 34 Sturges Avenue, an historical Richardsonian Romanesque manse which served the organization for ten years. In 1997, a former furniture store was purchased at 713 South Main Street which enabled the Society to provide a handicap accessible facility with the library collection and offices all on one floor. In the early 1970s, Norma Jean Hillman became the first paid Office Manager, and in 2004, OGS is served by a full-time staff of two. The Society remains a volunteer organization with over 50 on the regular duty list. This number can balloon to over 300 when a special project like the Ohio Civil War Index is in the works.

In 2004, The Ohio Genealogical Society continues to serve and educate the public, with over 6,000 members, 95 chapters, the four journals, nearly 27,000 books and 1,000 rolls of microfilm in the library, a Lending Library with over 2,000 titles and many publications, projects, and workshops.