It started under the leadership of Stan and Fran Jeffers, when a small group of interested area genealogy buffs pooled their genealogy resources to form a central repository for a genealogy research library. Their concept was to share resources and cross-reference all research and researchers to build the collection and make it available to the general public. The Decorah Public Library offered them space in 1993 for their research center. Twenty-three years, later this all-volunteer genealogy research center is in a new location with more work space, and handicap accessibility. And it's busier than ever! The organization continues to grow and now has room to thrive.
The Association enjoys meeting people who come from far and wide to find their roots in the greater Decorah area. Many of them return annually to gather more information and to fill in the blanks. Some visitors just drop in to say hello and tell Association members how much the existence of the organization means to them. Some visitors share their published family histories with the group after the fact, and some want to know more about the time their ancestors spent here, what was happening, what was it like to live in and around Decorah then. Some go on to visit the places their family members lived and worked. Sharing knowledge of the area is one of the greatest pleasures of the organization.
About their Membership:
"Our daily leader since October of 2003 is Midge Kjome. She coordinates the volunteers and does research. Her specialty is in Norwegian immigration history and had a good working knowledge of Norwegian. Kevin Lee is our organization's leader. He is also very knowledgeable in local history. He specializes in cemetery marker restoration and knows the local cemeteries intimately. We have a team of regularly scheduled volunteers who help with all aspects of our operation. Some have been with us for many years, like Ann Duder, Gerry Sorenson, Angie Reynolds, Colette Dahms, Carrie Lee, and Vi Bohr; some are newer, Boyd Wasson, Dick Wuest, and Roy Nelson. All together they make our center a great place to spend our time."
A Growing Interest in the Past:
According to members of the Decorah Genealogy Association, genealogy is the most popular hobby in the world today. As Europeans spread across North America, Decorah was the destination for many immigrants moving west across the nation. The group asks-- "What better place to establish a genealogy research center?"
Challenges and Triumphs:
Because DGA is a private, not-for-profit organization, they have to earn funding by promoting their product, namely genealogy and local history. Their membership is spread across the United States, but they maintain a small local core of people who volunteer their time and energies to keep the doors open five days a week, year around. According to the group-- "Besides providing help with research, the organization provides programs on genealogy and local history to the general public, including our outreach programs to area nursing homes and other organizations. A challenge is to get more active participation in the smaller communities in the county."
Charting the Future:
The Decorah Genealogy Association hopes to share the joy of discovery of our local history and the role of families in creating and re-creating the community over time. They insist that Winneshiek County is an amazing place. "The natural resources, the villages and towns, and most of all, the people-- create a great atmosphere for living and recreation. There is always something happening - something for every interest."
Visit them! The Decorah Genealogy Association loves to show off their new location at 808 River Street (behind the Senior Center). Bring them your questions about your ancestors or about local history. They look forward to meeting you!