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Historical society and genealogy centre celebrate milestones

Volunteer Beverly Sprague takes people on a tour of the facility.

Story and photos by Sharon Harrison
Two milestone anniversaries doubled the celebrations in Ameliasburgh on Saturday. The Seventh Town Historical Society marked 50 years, while the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre celebrated 25 years at the County Road 19 premises the organizations share.

The full day of events included presentations on how to acquire a United Empire Loyalist designation, cleaning gravestones, tours, family genealogy and discovering land records.

Live music, with an uplifting selection of tunes by the Belleville Concert Band, and celtic/folk band Seventh Town kept people entertained. And, of course, there was cake, for which the double celebration required three large cakes.

Diane Godbout, president of the Seventh Town Historical Society presented two awards at the event, which she said had never been done before, and she hoped would continue every five years. Thelma Coulter was honoured for her work as “social convener” and Hugh Heal was honoured for his more than 20 years of service with Marilyn Adams Centre and Seventh Town.

Diane Godbout, Seventh Town Historical Society President presents volunteer Hugh Heal with an award for his long-time service.

“We can’t thank him enough,” said Godbout. “He’s been our treasurer for approximately 16 years and he has worked so hard, and we wouldn’t be where we are today without him. “He has been everything; has taken on odd jobs and cleaned everything, including washing dishes; you name it, he’s done it!”

“I haven’t been president!” quipped Heal.

Hugh Heal spoke about gravestone makeovers.

Later Heal spoke to guests about gravestone makeovers. He donates his time and funds to cleaning, repairing, restoring, replacing and re-standing monuments in the County and Quinte area. Since 2004, he has worked on more than 650, mostly marble, gravestones and he explained some of the tricks and techniques he uses to bring old stones back to life.

Heal said the green colour on the stones is lichen. “Usually, the first thing I do is use a high-pressure washer,“ he said, adding he also uses grinders and sanders and metal pins and glue to put stones back together once they have been cleaned.

Godbout noted the County’s mayor Steve Ferguson is the first mayor to visit the premises without an invitation. “We were delighted because we think we are the best kept secret here in the County.”

Diane Godbout, Seventh Town Historical Society President with PEC mayor Steve Ferguson, as he said a few words about the facility and its value to the community.

“This facility is just a treasure, especially when it is effectively non-descript from the street and the contents within are absolutely staggering,” said Ferguson. “As someone with an enduring interest in history, especially local history, I am a big believer in local historical societies and research facilities. Here in the Genealogical Centre an outstanding job is done to protect and preserve historical information and records so important to this community.”

The building contains thousands of records, along with stories of the area waiting to be researched, discovered, talked about and shared with other family members.

“We are very fortunate to have these resources readily accessible and available so people can explore their past, their genealogy and their history, according to their own interests,” Ferguson added.

Preparing to cut the anniversary cake were Steve Ferguson, PEC Mayor; Rick Phillips, Hastings County warden, Diane Godbout, Seventh Town Historical Society president and David McCue, Quinte West councillor.

Quinte West councillor David McCue and Hastings County warden Rick Phillips also said a few words of congratulations and presented certificates. Hillier councillor Ernie Margetson was also present. Morning opening ceremonies featured Bay of Quinte MPP Todd Smith, and Belleville mayor Mitch Panciuk.

Angela Johnson and Peter Johnson UE gave an informative presentation on how Loyalist descendants gain their designation as United Empire Loyalists.

The Johnsons have Loyalist roots in Ameliasburgh township, and both are Co-Dominion Genealogists at the national level. Peter is president, Bay of Quinte branch of United Empire Loyalist Association of Canada, and Angela is chair, Quinte Branch Ontario Genealogical Society.

Ernie Margetson, Hillier councillor, chatted with Peter Johnson, who spoke about UE designations.

Peter spoke to how census records are not necessarily accurate documents when attempting to secure evidence for a UE designation.

“Up until 1851, it only showed the head of the household and you can’t be sure everybody listed in that household is the child of the parents there, so you have to be careful,” said Peter, who said there are a few rare examples, noting 1803 and 1806.

Angela said family bibles are accepted with documentation, the same as a census record, if it is written by a third party.

“The one stipulation we put on bibles is we need to know the location of the bible and we need a copy of the front page, if available, because it has the publication date of the bible,” said Angela. She spoke to proof of a Loyalist ancestry, which included a name appearing on the executive list, a name on a Loyalist regiment muster roll, a land petition for an ancestor stating their service during the American Revolution, a discharge certificate, and confiscation lists.

During the morning activities, research specialist, Larry Carmichael spoke about how they help family researchers trace their ancestors, with the County’s Huff family used as an example.

Tours of the facility ran throughout the day, with volunteer Beverly Sprague showing the digitization equipment, survey and plan books, and filing cabinets full of deeds and wills.

Also on display was part of Marilyn Adams’ antique collection from her house. “Most of this was likely her parent’s stuff, but she was also an avid collector,” said Sprague. She also showed the military room, of which many of the pieces and collections had been donated.

“We have a wonderful space,” said Sprague, “and we have plenty of storage space, which is great.”

Ameliasburgh Township was originally known as Seventh Town and was settled by United Empire Loyalists in 1784. The Seventh Town Historical Society, which opened to the public in 1994, operates the Marilyn Adams Genealogical Research Centre which was created from a trust inherited from the estate of Marilyn Adams, a County native.

The purpose-built facility houses many important collections, books, maps and historical artifacts. There are more than 1,600 family genealogies housed in the library, original Hastings County land records, and the Victoria Cross Archive: ‘The Facts Behind the Men Behind the Medals’ among them. The Seventh Town Historical Society has 15 current active volunteers and always welcomes new volunteers.

Ferguson, who is involved with the Prince Edward Historical Society, said these types of milestone anniversaries are not reached without dedicated volunteers.

“We are driven by a shared passion and interest to protect, promote and preserve the history and heritage of Prince Edward County,” he said.

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