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Center specializes in family history

October 13, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF – For Floyd Smith III, a quest to find his biological father became the genesis for a local research center where people can discover their own ancestry.

“My parents split up when I was a small child, so I never really knew my biological father,” Smith said. “As I got older I learned there were ways to find that information so I set out on a quest to find him.”

Although his father didn’t want to re-establish a relationship, Smith said he accomplished what he set out to do.

“During that journey I accumulated a lot of research material, books and knowledge,” he said. “It got to be too much for my house so I needed to find a place where it could be stored and I could still have access to it whenever I wanted. The logical solution was to build a library.”

Smith’s interest became a reality on March 1, 2004, when the West Nebraska Family Research and History Center opened its doors to the public in Scottsbluff.

“We had 127 books when we opened and now we have more than 3,000.” Smith said. “We’ve also added more microfilm readers, preservation equipment, scanners and printers. It’s all open to the public if they want to do research.”

He said ease of access is a strong positive for the center, as people from around the country have stopped by to discover new information about their own family trees.

One of Smith’s recent projects was assisting a group of women to assemble a book of photos and text chronicling the history of Minatare.

During that process, he also scanned digital copies of every edition of Minatare’s newspaper, under its various names from the Trumpet to the Free Press.

The center also houses newspapers from the entire 100-plus year history of the Mitchell Index.

“Our busy time is during the summer,” Smith said. “People come in for family and school reunions and want to find about old friends. We have the state’s second largest school yearbook collection, behind the one at the Historical Society. Ours includes about 500 books.”

Smith said their focus is the Panhandle area for school yearbooks, but the collection includes schools from every county in the state.

Many of those yearbooks are from schools long since closed – from Melbeta and Lyman to Sunflower and the Liberty School, north of Morrill.

“We’re home to the Nebraska State Genealogical Society’s microfilm collection,” Smith said. “They have more than 1,100 rolls of film. We also have all the marriage records for Sioux and Banner Counties on microfilm.”

Another collection from the center is the original records from the Walton G. Roberts Funeral Home. The Lincoln-based funeral home was in business from the late 1800s to 1968.

Local obituaries are included as well. One of the center’s largest collections is an entire shelf of obituary books, collected from any newspaper in the area.

Visitors can find the entire collection of photograph negatives from the early Severson Studio at the research center. Photos of unidentified people are published on their website for the public to view and possibly identify. That site is at oldcabinetcards.com.

“We also assemble family files,” Smith said. “Any research we do on a specific family we file together for family members to research. We have people contributing to those files all the time.”

The center is also home to the Rich Dermer collection. He was a nurse at the hospital and was heavily involved in local Germans from Russia group. He collected a large volume of research, some 80 binders, on the German-Russian families in the area. Upon his death, the books were donated to the center.

The West Nebraska Family Research and History Center also has a worldwide membership to Ancestry.com and is an affiliate library for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with access to their massive genealogy collection.

Smith finds a lot of satisfaction in discovering old records and where they lead. One event was when he had the opportunity to introduce an elderly woman to the biological son she gave up as a baby.

“The thrill of the hunt is what interests me,” Smith said. “I like to solve puzzles and that’s what a family history research project is. Even when family members think there’s little genealogical information on them, a lot of history comes alive once they start digging. As time goes on, more and more records are created so you can find stuff.”

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