The Villages Genealogical Society

VGS History: "The Early Years"

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by Bev Hulett
    The Villages Genealogy Society was formed after I requested that an interest survey be taken that eventually revealed there were enough people interested in genealogy to merit a group. I had belonged to genealogy societies in Pennsylvania and that was the reason I wanted to request one here in The Villages.  After all, the Rec. Dept. had 208 other activities at the time, so why not genealogy?
 
     An organizational meeting was held 30 July 1993.  There were 13 organizing members, Carolyn Foster, Lew and Maerose Berry, Don Ingram, John Rollence, Jean Morelli, Joe Sims, Jerry Stevens, Betty Joe Cooper, Pat Van Kouwenberg,  the Bortzes and myself.  
     I remember making a list of items to discuss and consider.   A friend warned me that if I brought up all those topics, I’d be asked to lead the group.  At that meeting I indeed was asked and I agreed to share the leadership with octogenarian Carolyn Foster.  She soon moved on to organizing a DAR chapter and so I evolved as the moderator.  We met in the Cary Grant Room at Paradise Center; The Villages population was about 9,000.
 
     For our programs, we took advantage of the members skills in those early years; an attorney-member talked about probate records, a Scot did Scottish research, a computer-literate did Computer Applications, etc.  We were small enough to take the entire group on research trips to the Orlando Library, the Lake Mary LDS library, the University of Florida Library.  As we grew, we began an annual workshop, setting up tables for specific areas of research, manned by those members who felt most accomplished in that field.  Members brought their own work for display, to share organization and research ideas. That always attracted new members. In 1994 we invited Buddy Brokaw to speak.  She taught a Genealogy course at Lake Sumter Community College in Leesburg.  We met year round, using the summer months for problem solving, moving to a larger room to accommodate our growth.  We even started a few Special Interest Groups that lasted for a few years. Within four years we had grown to 87 members.
 
     In September of 2000, we moved to Julio Iglesius Room in the La Hacienda Recreational Center as our membership grew.  To keep the member list current we initiated a $1.00 annual fee, and so culled the inactive members.  Amazingly that soon created enough money to have outside speakers, Rhonda McClure, Arthur C.M. Kelly, Ann Osisick, “Dear Myrtle”, and Ann Bergelt were some of our first “real experts”.  By this time, 1998, Will Hoehndorf had agreed to serve as President, and we elected officers, created by-laws, and began charging dues.
 
     The first all-day seminar in 2001 was a risky venture as we had no money to pay for Henry Z. Jones’ $1800 fee (which included his parking fee at the San Diego airport).  Fortunately we had enough attending the seminar to cover the entire cost.   Our next seminar speaker was George G. Morgan and we were off and running toward the first-class organization The Villages Genealogical Society has become under the leadership of Betty MacDuff who became president in 2006. Over the past 5 years our membership has grown to almost 700 members.