Marathon County Genealogical Society
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History of the MCGS, 1975-1995 - Part 1

By Marilyn Sjostrom et al.
Part 1 | Part 2


In the fall of 1974, Nancy Hanke and Annamae Noble, two local genealogists, felt there might be enough other interested persons in the area to form a genealogical organization to meet and share research experiences. After a notice was placed in Letters to the Editor in the Wausau Record Herald , the first "genealogical workshop" was held at Nancy's home Tuesday, November 19, 1974.

On February 11, 1975, twenty-four people met at the Marathon County Historical Society for the first official meeting of our group. A fact-finding committee reported that it would be beneficial to form a genealogical organization to be called the Marathon County Genealogical Society. Officers were elected: Nancy Hanke, president, Tracy Helmer, vice president, Annamae Noble, secretary-treasurer, and Jerome Lund, historian. In March, twenty-nine people attended the meeting. The group, however, did not affiliate with the state society until 1978. Pat Morse, Lorene Olbrantz, and Nancy Hanke were appointed to write by-laws for the group and have them ready by September. Dues were set at $2.00 per year, and a committee was formed to start a file of surnames being researched by the members. In 1976, it was announced that our surname file was complete, little knowing how many times we would add to it and update it. By 1979 our "complete" surname list had 1,500 names and was still growing.

Our first 1975-76 organizational meetings were held at the Historical Society. In 1979 we began meeting at the Marathon County Public Library as the group grew. We received an invitation to hold our meetings at the Latter Day Saints Church in Rib Mountain in 1982 and did so for a few months. In 1983 Martha Marquardt suggested we try meeting at the Commission on Aging Building on River Drive, Wausau, which is more centrally located. This has proven very satisfactory with plenty of parking, and we are able to reserve the meeting room for our evening meetings a whole year at a time.

In 1976 printing a monthly newsletter was suggested; Mary Kay Sparks was appointed as editor. The first issues were printed on a ditto machine. By November, we decided to have the Northern Valley Workshop print our newsletters and they still do.

The first of many trips to the State Historical Society of Wisconsin at Madison was suggested, and eighteen people were interested in going. In the following months, programs included an explanation about the use of the 1900 census which had just become available and an Everton workshop at Shawano. Our group sent information to the Genealogical Helper so we could be included in its directory of local societies.

By September 1976 we had received our first request for information. The number of letters grew until we had to set guidelines for answering them, and we now have a coordinator, Beth Stahr, to handle requests. We began to be asked to speak at other meetings and members have appeared on radio shows and have written articles for local newspapers. Several members have taught "How To" sessions in the area.

At one of the early meetings, we urged the Marathon County Public Library to buy more genealogical books; we were told that there had never been many requests for that type of material. By 1979, the library collection had so many genealogical books that they printed a handbook listing their resources. The Wisconsin/Marathon County collection is growing and is now housed in a beautiful, spacious new building which was dedicated January 1995. We have held a number of tours and open houses at the Library over the years.

We had 64 members in 1979. We voted to publish the newsletter only six times per year and launched a contest for a new name and logo. June Zentner presented the winning name, Pinery Pedigree , and was awarded a one-year membership.

Members had been donating books to form a society library. Soon we realized that we should buy books to add, the first was the series Atlantic Bridge To Germany . As our library grew so did the need for storage and availability at meetings. Virgil and Marilyn Strehlow were our librarians followed by Delmor and Laurel Hoffmann in 1984. Virgil and Marilyn were awarded lifetime memberships in 1983 for being co-librarians for many years. At the present time we are able to store our books at the Marathon County Commission on Aging building where we have held our meetings since 1983.

In 1980, we awarded the first two lifetime memberships to Jerome Lund and Pat Grasse for all their contributions to the society. They and numerous volunteers were busy recording and indexing cemetery inscriptions as well as indexing the Marchetti book.

In 1981, Martha Marquardt, our present vice-chairman and membership chairman, was elected to her first term. A Memorial Fund was established in 1982 for the purpose of adding books to our library in memory of loved ones. About this time, one of our members brought an ad for a genealogy book about her family; it could be ordered from Beatrice Bayley in Ohio. It sounded too good to be true, and it was. In 1986, Beatrice Bayley was fined $1,000 in Wisconsin for deceptive advertising. She is not heard from much any more, but we still get similar offers from Elizabeth Ross, Sharon Taylor, and others.

We celebrated our society's 10th anniversary on February 16, 1985 with a dinner meeting and program. Certificates of recognition were given to charter members and past chairpersons. Pat Kell was awarded a lifetime membership for her work as editor of the newsletter from 1978 to 1984. She was again editor from fall 1985 to 1989. Don Schnitzler of Marshfield was editor 1984-85 year. In 1989 Jerry Viste became editor of the newsletter and he began including a member's Marathon County pedigree chart in each issue as well as a 1882 township history and plat map series.

Soon a new word started showing up in genealogical magazines and at workshops: COMPUTER. At our March 1987 meeting, Jerry Viste presented a program about how computers could be used in genealogy. The LDS Library offered a computer program that could be used. By 1991, computer genealogists in this area had begun having their own monthly meetings. By then several programs were available. Words like "database" and "on line" started showing up in our minutes. The IGI (International Genealogical Index) and Ancestral File information are now available on computer at the local LDS Family History Center. Our Register of Deeds office is now putting all of the Marathon County vital records on computers and have asked us for volunteer assistance with this huge task. Martha Walters has begun indexing the rare 1882 plat book on her computer and has organized our society's membership surnames on a database which was used for this commemorative 1995 MCGS Surname Index publication. Even the early skeptics have conceded that computers are here to stay.

Also in 1987, our society joined the Wisconsin Genealogical Council. Edith Carpenter and Maryanne Norton were awarded life memberships in our society. The secretary-treasurer's office was divided and the following year our present treasurer, Pat Morse, was elected to that office. By then we had 110 members.

Some programs have become annual events because of their benefit to both beginning and advanced genealogists. In 1976 we began touring the Marathon County Public Library and hearing about new resources there. The idea of a joint meeting with other genealogical societies in central Wisconsin was first suggested in 1977. It has become an annual event which now involves five societies. Each year a different society is host. Our first workshop for beginning genealogists was held in 1978. Our first workshop with well-known authorities was held the following year with Jim Hansen, Maralyn Wellauer, and Joy Reisinger as speakers and local members assisting. That same year we held the first of many research sessions at the Area Research Center on the UW-Stevens Point campus, graciously hosted by Ruth Steffen.

In 1981 we were made aware of the library materials at the Marathon County Historical Society archives. Their librarian Maryanne Norton and later Mary Jane Hettinga have worked very closely with our society in assisting in our efforts and preserving old records. We have participated in annual state and local events that make the public aware of our resources. We first took part in the WGC Gene-a-Rama in 1987, Wis. River LogJam in 1991 and the Wausau Ethnic Fest in 1993, giving us the opportunity to sell our publications and answer genealogical questions.

Many times during our twenty years our society and individual members have written to local government officials, to state assemblymen and senators, and to congressmen to state our position on pending legislation. In 1975 Congress was thinking of closing all census records to the public. In 1977, the State Assembly was going to save storage space by allowing local governments to destroy old or unused documents. In 1980 we opposed the decentralization of the National Archives by the formation of twelve districts throughout the United States. In 1984 the state legislature wanted to close access to all public records. In 1985, old county land records were moved to court house storage but later returned to the expanded Register of Deeds office.

In 1986, a law was passed limiting access to all vital records later than 1907. Genealogists managed to convince authorities of the records' value, but each court house staff interprets the law its own way. In 1988, The Wausau Daily Herald began a new obituary policy and began charging a fee for a full obituary, the type with the most genealogical information. Our Society convinced the Daily Herald of the value of putting the complete date of death in obituaries and this policy has also been extended to weddings, thereby solving an age-old frustration of family researchers and newspaper clippers. Last year an Assembly bill was introduced to raise the price of a certified birth certificate to $13. Just think of the implications for genealogists if all of these ideas had been approved.

The history of our society mirrors the history of the county. In 1976, the Wausau hospitals offered to provide a speaker to tell of the need for a new hospital in the Wausau area. In 1978, Maryanne Norton spoke at one of our meetings about saving the old railroad depot on the east side of Wausau; she represented the newly-formed Historical Preservation Committee in Wausau.

1987 brought a request from the Postal Service that we use a 9-digit zip code on all our society mailings. The same year brought us the .5% county sales tax which affected our publications sales. The LDS Church in Rib Mountain opened its Family History Center in 1991 much to our delight! A referendum that year gave the go-ahead to building a new Marathon County Public Library in Wausau and the finished building opened just last month.

In 1994 Kathy Jansen, Project Coordinator of the Grand Avenue Cemetery Project, spoke to our Society about restoration efforts at Pine Grove, St. Joseph's and St. Michael's Cemeteries. An estimated $60,000 is needed to repair the Pine Grove entrance arch and reset toppled and broken headstones. Work has begun although contributions are still needed.

Our 20th Anniversary was celebrated February 14, 1995, at the Wausau Inn. Life memberships were awarded to Laurel and Delmor Hoffmann, librarians since 1984, Martha Marquardt for serving as vice-chairman and membership chairman since 1981, and to Gerald Viste, newsletter since 1989. A slide program, "Roots Trip to Pomerania" was presented by Don and LouAnn Zamzow of Schofield.

Part 1 | Part 2

Copyright 1978-2005. Marathon County Genealogical Society. A local associate of the Wisconsin State Genealogical Society.