Vivian Zimmerlee, a friendly dark- haired lady with an intense gaze, is one of more than 45 members of the Crook County Genealogy Society _ something she has been associated with for many years.
>The task of documenting family history is made more rewarding with the find of particularly interesting relatives
The enthusiasm this Crook County resident demonstrates for the art and science of genealogy is enough to make most anyone want to delve into their family roots.
Zimmerlee can be found on any given day in the room at the top of a rather aerobic set of stairs leading to the upper floor of Bowman Museum. In the long, narrow room lined floor to ceiling with shelves filled with books, periodicals, albums and various publications pertaining to genealogy and local history, sits a long table.
Scattered on the table are stacks of paper, news clippings and volumes of books where researchers, amateur and professional alike, intently pore over the various scraps of information. This is where personal history explorers and local history buffs work at piecing together a tapestry of bygone events - hoping to shed light on a long forgotten past.
Society members make themselves available on Tuesdays and Thursdays to help others in genealogy related pursuits, and most are also on a trek into the past themselves. For example, Zimmerlee started looking for her own history several years ago after attending a how-to class at the local college.
"Some people are just looking for names and dates. But most of us are looking for stories and historical facts," she explained. "We like to get books and other documents from the area that tell us what it was like when our people lived here."
Searching for long forgotten relatives can be an arduous task since the chances are that most people have lived relatively quiet lives, bent less on notoriety and more on survival. In this case, the most a researcher can hope for are the general `hits' found through public records of marriages, newspaper death notices or the exchange of legal titles.
But once in a while, there is a relative who has had a more colorful past. Zimmerlee is discovering that her own family story has its high points as well.
"My great-grandfather served in the civil war; he fought with the south," she said. "He was taken prisoner in the Battle of Chickamauga and he served the rest of the time in a horrible prison camp in Chicago."
The family moved to Oregon in September in 1877 settling in Grant County where he died the following spring due to health problems stemming from his time as a prisoner of war.
With this bit of information in mind, Zimmerlee turned to the Internet, which is fast becoming a valuable tool for researchers. Here, she found a site for listing Civil War veterans and she entered the information on her own civil war relative. This in turn, led to an interesting twist in her quest.
Over the years and following an intense investigation, Zimmerlee was able to discover the exact location of her great-grandfather's grave.
"We eventually found his unmarked grave in the Prairie City Cemetery. At one time there was a marker there, but it was a wooden one like many of the other markers of that period. One spring it was very rainy and the grass grew tall. The following summer it was very dry, and a fire swept through and burned those markers." Using her well-honed skills as a genealogist to root out data and sort through time worn records, Zimmerlee, with the help of cousins, eventually found where the grave site was located.
As it turns out, a group dedicated to preserving the memory of fallen Civil War heroes called the United Daughters of the Confederacy were very interested in hearing the story of Zimmerlee's great-grandfather. After connecting over the Internet, the Oregon chapter has made plans to travel to Prairie City in Grant County to set a new marker on the grave site. The group plans to hold a service in June commemorating this long gone soldier.
Based on a similar dedication witnessed earlier this year, Zimmerlee indicated that this type of service is more than a simple dedication. Typically several members of the group, all decked out in authentic period costumes complete with rifles and regalia will gather at the Prairie City Cemetery.
One `soldier' will recite the complete known story of the civil war veteran's life, while a woman dressed in dark mourning attire places fresh flowers, which were brought from the home state. Another steps forward with soil and water (also gathered from the soldier's home state) and sprinkles it over the grave.
Through this process, the site is rededicated and properly memorialized. And, it makes a nice closure for this particular chapter of a local historian's search for lineage. "It's a great service," she explained. "It's so interesting and quite beautiful."
Much of the information Zimmerlee used to uncover her personal family history came from or through the resources available at Bowman Museum's genealogy department.
In addition to the written resources and files of local family histories, they offer Internet access through an online computer, a hefty file of microfilm containing local newspapers and other important documents and cross files of known past residents of the area.
Whether you are an avid genealogist or simply curious about local history and would like to know more about Crook County notables, Bowman Museum's genealogy department is a good place to visit. The members of the Genealogy Society are eager to offer assistance and seem to really enjoy the opportunity to help local historians uncover their roots.
For more information about the Crook County Genealogy Society, call the Bowman Museum at 447-3715.