EVANSVILLE, Ind. (AP) — For Kentucky natives Sharon and George Williams, a 30-year period missing in the lives of their ancestors that has them scouring dusty tomes and local records during Willard Library's Midnight Madness underway this week.
From a Dutch ship sailing from the Netherlands to the United States in the mid-17th century, to land records confirming family presence in Henderson County in Kentucky and Warrick County in Indiana during the late 1700s, the Williams' have discovered a rich family history that spans centuries and countries around the globe.
The husband and wife duo from Elizabethtown, Kentucky, have been researching George Williams' family history for the past 10 years. They have made numerous stops to Willard Library, Boonville, other Warrick County sites and Henderson in their quest for information about 30 years in the mid-1700s that are unaccounted for.
George Williams, 67, said they have found evidence of his ancestors in Pennsylvania in 1763, then evidence of the same branch of ancestors in the Indiana and Kentucky area by 1799, but they are looking to fill in that 36-year gap.
The Williams' participated in Willard's Midnight Madness last year as well, after attending Henderson's W.C. Handy Fest.
Midnight Madness is a weeklong event — with various classes for beginners to advanced genealogist enthusiasts, as well as extended hours for the library's special collections. The library opens at 9 a.m. and stays open until midnight, the Evansville Courier & Press reported (http://bit.ly/1r7ojZ3 ).
Classes this week have ranged from information about tombstone art and epitaphs, to what people can learn from local coroners' offices and reports. Other classes included census information, how to navigate land, church and other records, as well as how to research German heritage.
Sharon Williams, 65, said the Willard Library is a local treasure, and has been extremely helpful when digging for family records. She said piecing together a family's history is like trying to collect many different pieces to a puzzle. One of those puzzle pieces was a handwritten will from 1829 that the couple found in Warrick County.
"When you see something like that, it really gets you going," George Williams said. "Especially as far as keeping your interest piqued."
George Williams said he and his wife — who got him interested in genealogy — are "fanatics" about the research and that they love taking trips across the country to learn more.
"When we go on vacation we don't site see," Sharon Williams said. "We go to dusty court houses and libraries."
Sharon Williams is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization whose members can trace their lineage back to a Revolutionary War patriot.
Melinda King, 65, the registrar with the Capt. Henry Vanderburgh chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, was part of Midnight Madness on Tuesday — taking those interested in joining the organization through the research and application process. She said it's her job as registrar to talk to people about the organization, as well as help those interested gather data and research.
She said in the past 1-1/2 years, the Vanderburgh DAR has had 35 new members, and the organization has been gaining interest. The Vanderburgh chapter has members of all ages, from 18 to women in their mid-90s.
"To be a member you have to prove by evidence your lineal descent from a Revolutionary War patriot," she said, although a person's connection to a Revolutionary War patriot doesn't have to be to a soldier, but could be someone who signed an oath to the colonies, or supported the war effort in some way.
One new member, Ellen Hegeman, 65, said she gained membership in November after learning about the DAR at last year's Midnight Madness. It took Hegeman about three years and several trips to ancestral hometowns to get the information she needed for membership. But finding those important documents and key information is an incredible rush, she said.
During her research, Hegeman found two handwritten wills from her fourth and fifth great-grandfathers — written on aged paper and kept in readable condition from 1823.
"It was like a religious experience to handle something went back that far in my family," she said.
Susan Hansen, 60, the Vanderburgh DAR's chapter leader, said it's an adrenaline rush, and "it's just a good feeling," she said.
"It's so exciting," King said. "But then you want to know more."
Lyn Martin, who handles Willard Library's special collections, said the library has sponsored this event since 1996. Martin also teaches a class on finding information in census data.
"I think the first year we had eight programs, and now we're up to over 20 programs," Martin said. "Our collection spans the whole United States, as well as international references."
She said during the Midnight Madness week alone, there will be 800 to 1,000 visitors come through the library.
"We have staff members up here who are able to help do research and are knowledgeable about the collection and the genealogy research process," she said.
This week, it's not only the collection that is open until midnight, Martin said, but the staff members are there as well.
"We're tired at the end of the week, but we're pretty happy, and we think we're making people pretty happy, too," she said.
Information from: Evansville Courier & Press, http://www.courierpress.com
This is an AP Member Exchange shared by the Evansville Courier & Press.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.