By Lisa Capobianco
Carolyn Mansolf’s family has connections to the town of Southington that date back to the 1700s. Growing up in the “city of progress,” Mansolf said she always knew her family had a history with the First Congregational Church, but never knew how or when it started.
“My mother always told us we go way back in the church, but she never quite defined what way back was,” said Mansolf.
With assistance from the Southington Genealogical Society (SGS), Mansolf discovered a part of her family’s history, which she calls “mind-boggling.” According to a book called “Ecclesiastical and other Sketches of Southington,” written by Reverend Heman Timlow, who conducted research on families of the First Congregational Church, Mansolf discovered that her maternal great grandfather was the first minister of the First Congregational Church in Southington.
“I am a great-granddaughter of the first minister of the First Congregational Church, and his name was Jeremiah Curtis,” said Mansolf, adding that she also discovered that her paternal great grandfather served as the fifth governor of Connecticut. “To me it’s like a puzzle, little mysteries that you solve—things get revealed, and the Society is there to help you and to teach you.”
Through her involvement with the SGS, Mansolf said she learned how to use different resources to conduct research on her family’s history, such as using a variety of records in Town Hall. Now serving on the Society’s Board of Directors, Mansolf said her involvement with the non-profit organization helped make tracing her family’s history easier, as she was able to ask questions that led her in the right direction for her research.
“If you have a question, they point you in the right direction,” said Mansolf, adding that there are a variety of ways to document the research. “They tell you how to do the research.”
This month, SGS plans to kick off its 30th Anniversary Celebration with a theme of “antique,” offering the public an opportunity to speak with antique appraisers to determine the monetary value of family heirlooms. The celebration will also feature the Society’s history and members will showcase their genealogical projects. On-site research of visitors’ family history will be conducted.
Mansolf said she feels excited for the event, which will give guests the opportunity to ask questions as well as become more familiar with the mission of the Society.
“We’ll have displays of unique memorabilia from our ancestors, we have a wedding gown being displayed from 1909,” said Mansolf, who has put together a history book of the Merriman Burying Grounds, which the society has adopted and conserved since 2000.
Founded in 1984 by Ray Thomas, who currently serves as vice president and belated Southington resident Lorraine Dupuis, the Southington Genealogical Society advocates the “accurate recording, research and preservation of family history,” welcoming all individuals to learn from educational speakers and webinars to share knowledge.
“We’ve grown steadily and slowly,” said Ray Thomas, adding that SGS currently has 90 active members, who all come from different communities in and outside Connecticut.
The Society’s history dates back to 1980, when Thomas took a number of trips to the French-Canadian Genealogical Society that met in Hartford and ultimately in Tolland. After meeting his co-founder there, Thomas and Lorraine Dupuis decided to create their own genealogical group closer to home.
What started as an informal group without a treasury turned into a non-profit organization with elected officers, as SGS became incorporated 14 years ago. Throughout its 30 years of existence, SGS has experienced a variety of milestones. In 2002, the Society was added to the list of genealogical societies authorized by the Connecticut Department of Health to conduct business with all town clerks statewide. With approval from the town to document and care for the existing tombstones of the Merriman Burying Grounds, SGS was able to add a rock wall and name-plate to the cemetery, thanks to the help of a local boy scout and donations as well as material from local businesses.
“Everyone is welcome,” said Mansolf, whose husband serves as the treasurer of SGS. “We get very excited when someone comes in—the excitement is just kind of contagious.”
Although its meeting places have changed over the years, one aspect of SGS remains constant: its mission to not only support the accurate recording of family history, but also to offer instruction in methods of research and to cooperate with repositories and helping other researchers. Every fourth Tuesday of the month, SGS holds a meeting at The Orchards, in the Community Room at The Orchards, where a number of educational speakers have shared knowledge with members. From DNA and genetic genealogy to the evolutionary history of Southington from WWI through WWII to planning family reunions, speakers have a covered a variety of different topics new and old members can learn about.
“No matter what the subject is, you can always learn something,” said Thomas, adding that he also feels proud of the way members of SGS share stories of their own family history with each other.
“We’ve helped other people facilitate the research whether we get it through members sharing their knowledge, the speakers who came in—I think that is our greatest achievement, and I think that is the goal of any genealogical society,” said Mansolf, adding that researchers will face more challenges in the future as more information becomes digital.
The 30th Anniversary celebration will take place Tuesday, April 22, 6:30 p.m. at The Orchards, located at 34 Hobart Street, Southington. The event will feature antique appraisal by local professionals at the low cost of three items for $12. If guests want to bring furniture, it is requested they only bring pictures of furniture. For more information, visit the Society’s website at http://southingtongenealogicalsociety.org/.