Sunday, August 11, 2013

Josephine Williams

New Vienna resident Josephine Miller Williams is featured in this 1990 article written by New Vienna native, Daniel Nixon for the Wilmington (Ohio) News-Journal as part of a series titled Clinton Corner: A weekly visit with the people of Clinton County.

Josephine (1910-2007, NVHS'28), daughter of Ennis Miller (1885-1966) and Nellie Elliott Swartz Miller (1886-1967) was born in/near New Vienna in 1910.  She married Homer Keith Williams in 1932.  Homer (1904-1993, NVHS'23), also born in New Vienna was the son of Charles Wyatt Williams (1856-1926) and Sarah Alice Keith Williams (1867-1929).  They were the parents of twins, Mary Jo (Weitz) and Martha (Knauff) 1958 graduates of NVHS.

Transcription follows.

1990 Josephine Williams clipping from Wilmington (Ohio) News-Journal - Dec. 3.  
Headlined: Williams addicted to genealogy.  Picture captioned: 'Genealogy Jo' at historical society
1990 Josephine Williams clipping from Wilmington (Ohio) News-Journal - Dec. 3, page 2

Williams addicted to genealogy
by DANIEL NIXON Staff Writer
Clinton Corner: A weekly visit with the people of Clinton County

There are 82 cemeteries in the county and Homer K. and Josephine Williams of 92 S. Third St. New Vienna, know each of them – intimately.

If you have perhaps noticed small green and white signs naming those family cemeteries off the roads and backroads of Clinton County, a large part of the credit goes to the husband and wife team researchers.

"Homer had to finish the work.  I got such a bad case of chiggers I couldn't go out anymore," says Josephine.

"We thought it was important that these places be recorded and not forgotten," says "Jo," or as her friends at the Clinton County Historical Society call her, "Genealogy Jo."

On file at Rombach Place is the Williams' cemetery research, who is buried, birth dates and deaths.  But it didn't stop there for the Williams.  As Jo says, "You just can't put down who died without starting to find out who they were related to and where and when."

Historical society Director Rhonda Curtis says, "We have many excellent volunteers, but none more so than Genealogy Jo.  She's kind of special."

It was the cemetery research that led to an interest in genealogy, a subsequent passion for more information and the cavalier moniker of "Genealogy Jo."

Once a person develops a reputation as a genealogist, letters for information seem to find the proper destination like letters to Santa Claus simply addressed "North Pole."

Sometimes letters would come directly to the Historical Society requesting information.  Sometimes they would take a more circuitous route to the office of county recorder, probate, common pleas or simply a post office.  Eventually they became the responsibility of the Williams', not without some irony.

There is a nominal charge for having the research done, says Jo.  Some people would try to avoid the historical society and send a second letter to the courthouse.  "Well, the people in those offices don't have the time to look for that information so they give it to us.  It was funny, because sometimes you would see a letter already written to you the first time," says Jo.  It's like being a detective, taking pieces of a family puzzle scattered across the years and combining the parts to make a whole.

She doesn't drink, but when it was suggested that genealogy was perhaps akin to the mounting obsession one has searching for berries in the woods, she shook off the analogy as too mild.

"It's more like drinking," says Jo flatly.  "You take one drink and then another and another and you can't stop."

Today the Williams' have turned much of their research and letter-answering duties over to another addicted genealogist, innocently hooked when trying to help his son with a school report on family history.

Genealogy Jo began genealogy because she says she can't sit still and read.  "We both go to the library regularly and Homer, he can sit and read for hours.  But me, I've got to be doing something."

For a woman who claims not to be one to sit still, she compiled three looseleaf notebooks at the library of biographical tidbits gleaned from microfilm copies of early county newspapers such as the "Clinton Republican" or the "Wilmington Democrat and Herald."  Those notebooks are also on file at the historical society's growing archives of local information. (1)

She went issue by issue, year by year and jotted down any reference to anyone in the paper: their birth, their death, marriage. business announcements or tangles with the law.

"People think they're going to read the microfilm and find exactly what they're looking for," says Jo.  The reality is more time consuming.

An obituary, the most common looked-for information, is easily overlooked, assuming it was printed in the first place.  "Death or births could be anywhere in the paper, just a paragraph stuck somewhere," says Jo.

"People are surprised to see how much national news is in the local paper then, and a lot of ads, on the front page, too.  If the president made a speech, it was printed word-for-word.  If the governor gave a speech – same thing.

"Well, of course, that was the only way people had of knowing such things then.  There just wasn't very much local news."

On the other hand, those early newspaper editors, and presumably their readers, were much more enthralled by shocking local tragedies.  Suicides, when they occured [sic], were reported as such.

"Oh, yes," says Jo, "the gorier it was, the more they wrote it up, I remember one story of a woman who abandoned her baby in the snow.  It was all described in the newspaper, where the baby was found, who she was.  It just went on and on."

From newspaper research at the library, Genealogy Jo began work at the historical society.

When she began, there was one filing cabinet containing newspaper clippings, genealogy sheets and anything else of reference about Clinton County families alphabetized according to surnames.

At about the same time, valuable old newspapers – a genealogist's working capital – were about to be discarded from the courthouse.  "They had no place to store them." says Jo.

She accepted the task of sorting through each paper, clipping articles and adding to the family history file at the historical society.

"When the folks here at the Society asked me how many envelopes I thought I'd need, I said a couple of thousand," and she tilted back her head to laugh, "It took more than that and Homer thought I had lost my mind."

Perhaps he was thinking there was truth to a sign on a shelf in the historical society's genealogy room:  "Genealogists never die; they just lose their census."

It took Jo a year and three months to sort through each paper, clipping articles and filing them.  But in a sense, the work is never done.

Each evening, she clips fresh information from the local papers to add to the five filing cabinets of more than 5,000 county family histories.  "There's a lot of people who don't know how much material we have got her," says Jo.

When Genealogy Jo set out on the trail of her own family, the Miller's, the research was relatively easy – up to a point.

"My great-grandparents came in here early and stayed here," says Jo.  That made it simple.  No hunting across the countryside.

She then traced them back to 1790 only to find two full pages of census listings for D. Miller, the Miller progenitor.  But which one was her D. Miller?  "I gave up," she says with a laugh.

Although Jo and her husband have eased out of the heavy research and letter writing duties they had done, she remains one of a group of volunteers at the historical society who staff the genealogy department always ready like technicians at a hospital emergency room.

"Sometime we can sit here for three weeks and nobody comes.  Other times, everybody comes at once," says Jo.

Those who visit the Historical Society's archives are asked by the genealogy staffers to register and leave a message of which family they are searching – a sort of genealogy of genealogists.  "That way, if somebody comes in hunting for the same people, they've got an address they can write," says Jo.

It is a cheerful room that old General Denver left to house the histories of county families.  The sun streams in the windows lighting up the titles on the spines of volumes of county history, national census material, mortality records, Quaker records and books by Clinton County authors.

The sunlight seems to reach back across the years as Jo studies photographs, names family relationship and punctuates her comments with "I remember when."

"I must quit saying that – and quit humming old songs."

Appropriately, Genealogy Jo celebrated her 80th birthday while at work at the historical society, a day when everybody seemed to show up to do research; a genealogist from Cincinnati, two from Tennessee, two from Springfield, four from Kansas, another from Manhattan.

In the midst of all those genealogy researchers was Jo's birthday party.  "All those people.  Everybody got ice cream and cake," Jo laughs, "And from out of state, they must have thought they had never gotten into such a place."

* * * * * * * * * *
 (1) The compilations mentioned are available for reference or sale at the Clinton County Historical Society in Wilmington and include:
  • Newspaper Abstracts Clinton County, Ohio 1886-1889 abstracted by Adrian Roberts, Josephine Williams, indexed by Joyce Hopkins Pinkerton, Clinton County Genealogical Society 2005
  • Clinton County Newspaper Abstracts 1889-1894 by Joyce Pinkerton, Josephine Williams, Hazel Williams, Adrian Roberts, published by The Clinton Count Genealogical Society 2000
  • Abstracts of Wilmington, Ohio Newspapers 1895-1899 by Josephine Williams and Hazel B. Williams, compiled and indexed by Joyce Pinkerton, published by The Clinton County Genealogical Society
  • Clinton County Newspaper Abstracts 1915-1921 by Josephine Williams, Adrian Roberts; compiled and indexed by Joyce Pinkerton, published by the Clinton County Genealogical Society 2009
  • Clinton County Newspaper Abstracts 1924-1928 abstracted by Josephine Williams, typed and indexed by Joyce Pinkerton, published by the Clinton County Genealogical Society 2009
  • Clinton County Newspaper Abstracts 1929-1932 abstracted by Josephine Williams, typed and indexed by Joyce Pinkerton

1 comment:

  1. good to know I can do some research someday, perhaps, via the Clinton County Historical Society---that had not previously occurred to me. If I were wealthy, I would pay a genealogist to do research for me, thanks!