2008 Difference Makers
9/25/2009
Meet our 2008 genealogy Difference Makers.
We began our Difference Maker series in 2008 to celebrate genealogy's unsung heroes—people who've preserved records or eased access to them, helped others who otherwise wouldn't be able to learn about their family history, or raised the profile of genealogy research.

Readers nominated dozens of volunteers! We selected one person to profile in each 2008 issue of Family Tree Magazine and asked readers to vote one 2008 Difference Maker of the Year.

Congratulations to Tom Barrett of Booneville, Ky! Almost daily for more than four years, Tom Barrett has driven the backroads and crawled through the weeds of Owsley County, Ky.

Armed with a GPS locator and digital camera, Barrett “has voluntarily adopted a mission to document the cemeteries of Owsley County and surrounding areas.” That’s according to Anne Garber of Cincinnati, a fellow member of the online Owsley County History and Genealogy Society (OCHGS), who says the group calls Barrett “the History Hunter.”

He started hunting cemeteries after long-distance group members asked him to take a few pictures. “I knew where a lot of cemeteries were located, being raised here. I also get tips from local people,” Barrett says. Others help upload headstone photos to their online archive and put them on a $15 CD.

Two courthouse fires make Barrett’s mission even more significant. Garber calls it priceless: “He’s confirmed family folklore, old Bible entries and sketchy notes left by those before us, while enduring bramble thickets, fallen trees, snakes, and deteriorating walls, gates and tombstones. Barrett has taken 12,000 photos in 308 cemeteries so far, and recently began a tombstone replacement project.

He told us he's gotten e-mails from all over the country, including one from a lady in California whose story about how he found her grandparents had him reaching for a box of tissues.  For preserving history that might otherwise be lost, he’s a Difference Maker.


Meet the rest of our 2008 Difference Makers:


Anthony Ray, January 2008
Anthony Ray isn’t your typical member of the Antelope Valley Genealogical Society. Ray, who heads up three committees, is a 16-year-old who’s been doing genealogy for three years. “Most of our members are in their 40s and 50s and older,” says Shirley Harrington, the society’s president. “But we’ve all taken Anthony under our wings. He fits right in. He’s grown-up in so many ways. Age is never a factor.”

Within a year of joining the group at 13, Ray became chairman of the publicity committee. He also chairs the cemetery committee. Now he’s forming a Hispanic genealogy team that’ll organize low-cost classes on Catholic church records and other topics geared to this growing segment of researchers.

At recent society meeting, Ray presented “How I Researched My Five Hispanic Families,” describing the search for his Sortillon, Ortega, Berreyesa, Peña and Trujillo branches. He's also started a Berreyesa/Peralta descendants Web site. “He’s very focused and committed,” Harrington says. For making genealogy friendlier to a diverse audience, Anthony Ray is a Difference Maker.


William “Best Bill” Fleming, March 2008
If you join the Quebec-Research mailing list, you might think “Best Bill” is your administrator. But Fleming—nicknamed "Best Bill" for his message sign-off—doesn’t have time for administering, what with answering 46,382 queries from list members since he joined in 1995.
That’s one way his genealogy obsession, which started at age 16, overflows to others’ trees. “I love helping people,” the Liverpool, NY, resident says. “I’m lucky enough to own some of the rarest source information for Canadian research …  the 113 volumes of the Blue Drouin [containing Quebec marriages from 1760 to 1935].”

List members anticipate Fleming’s reports on his frequent cemetery walks, which sprinkle history, wry commentary, wildlife sightings and random thoughts among the inscriptions. “I receive e-mails from list members saying they now visit cemeteries,” Fleming says. “They seem to have a greater appreciation.”
Nominator Dorothy Morris of Riverview, New Brunswick, says Fleming “has a great sense of humor and all he asks in return for information is a thank-you.” Best Bill is a Difference Maker for his aid to thousands and warm way of welcoming them into a genealogical community.


Tom Green, May 2008
If not for flag historian Tom Green, a young student might still have the wrong idea about who first stitched Old Glory. Green shares his passion for flags through educational presentations. “When I begin to talk about Betsy Ross I don’t give her name, but tell the story and ask the students who I’m talking about,” he says. “Once, a little girl said ‘Martha Stewart.’”

The Pearland, Texas, resident, who founded a Sons of the Republic of Texas (SRT) chapter and belongs to the Sons of the American Revolution, was fascinated with the Texas Republic flags displayed at the Alamo. He’s collected or made about 35 early Texas and 40 early US flags and spoken to more than 20,000 schoolchildren about them. Last year he gave 162 programs to schools, historical societies and civic groups. “I want to do what I can to awaken an interest in history in as many children as possible,” he says.

Green’s Texas roots run deep (but not, as far as he can tell, to the general for whom the state’s Tom Green County is named): His great-great-grandfather James Coltharp came to the Republic around 1843. “[Green] is the most giving and kind person you will ever meet. He loves history and finding out more all the time,” says fellow SRT member Dale Williamson. Tom Green is a Difference Maker for generously sharing that love.


Darlene Weaver, July 2008
When Darlene Weaver, of Circleville, Ohio, became volunteer director of the Pickaway County Historical Genealogy Library in 1996, the library’s few books and two file drawers occupied two rooms of an old house. Twelve years later, neatly filed and indexed county and state records filled all 14 rooms, six closets and a bathroom, necessitating a spring 2008 move to spacious new digs.

“[Weaver] will tell you her fellow volunteers are the reason the library is such a success, which in part is true, but volunteers know it’s Darlene who has the vision,” says nominator Cinda Justice of Williamsport, Ohio. Weaver and 30 volunteers staff the library and preserve records. Weaver spearheaded the library’s Attic to Archive project, which had staff unfolding, cleaning, numbering and filing some 22,000 probate court files. “We indexed every case file and made a CD,” says Weaver, who relishes the challenge of finding new resources.

“She’s the first to donate time, money and materials to each project,” Justice says. For her efforts to preserve historical records and help genealogists access them, Darlene Weaver is a Difference Maker.


Alonzo Sherman, September 2008
Imagine 284 pounds of indexes. That’s how much the results of the Huron Shores Genealogical Society’s indexing project, if printed, would weigh. The group tackles city directories, church records, tax rolls, the Tawas Herald, the Wurtsmith Warbler and much more. Their indexes are on a $10 CD and free on Michigan GenWeb.

At the center of the project is Alonzo Sherman—the “glue that holds it together,” says Barbara Johnson, of Eden Prairie, Minn., who sent in his nomination. Sherman is retired but he spends a full workweek in his Oscoda, Mich., hometown indexing, coordinating a dozen volunteers and managing the database. “It’s gratifying to have our patrons mention they wish the other counties they do research in would have so much information,” says Sherman.

He also creates the group’s newsletter and volunteers in the library, where Johnson encountered him. “My visit was incredibly more productive because I had the privilege of meeting him,” she says. For improving records access, Sherman is a Difference Maker.
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