History worth preserving: Genealogy Club works with county library

Published 8:19 am Friday, January 4, 2019

Family histories often contain as much value as the families themselves. A community of people in Elizabethton has been working day by day to preserve centuries of this information under one roof, so people a century in the future can feel the same sense of wonder and discovery as they do right now.

The Genealogy Club started out as a committee developing a genealogy book titled “Carter County and Its People.” After the book published in 1993, the people working on the book decided to continue to work on preserving that history.

City Archivist Joe Penza said the work the club does is invaluable for the community.

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“I go out to talk with businesses and individuals to collect records,” Penza said. “There is great research value there.”

He said genealogy constitutes the vast majority of personal research done at the public library.

“People do not often come in to look up historical records about the Covered Bridge for example,” he said. “The most common form of research is genealogy.”

Penza said the archives constitute the bulk of local tourism to Elizabethton. He said people from 25 to 30 states come to Elizabethton to discover ancestral links and history they never knew existed.

He said seeing people find those “missing links” that connect their history with important people in history is part of why he loves his job.

“I am a third-generation American, so we do not really have that kind of rich history, but other people do,” Penza said.

He said his job helps connect people with their past, their flesh and blood, and he said this connection is part of their identity.

The Genealogy Club meets on the second Thursday of every month from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in the archives room of the Elizabethton/Carter County Library at 201 N. Sycamore St.

The club is associated with the Watauga Historical Association and partners with them for a number of activities and acts of historical preservation.

Penza said the library is able to assist anyone who is looking to either examine historical documents or artifacts or even those looking to learn how to preserve them.

“We can help them figure out how to archive documents into digital, or even to help preserve textiles and other artifacts,” he said.

Above all, Penza said the club is open to anyone who is willing to have an open mind.

“The club is for people who like mysteries, who like to follow the history and see where it leads,” Penza said. “Sometimes people learn they are tied to famous mayors or other leaders, while others learn they are descended from notorious people like criminals and mass murderers. It is all about seeing where the facts lead you.”