On January 10, 1978 sixteen people interested in family research met in the library of Blessed Sacrament Elementary School in Chatham. They agreed to become a branch of the Ontario Genealogical Society. The meetings would be held the second Friday of every month (except July and August) in the Blessed Sacrament Library. Their aim was to collect and preserve records of use to family historians and help each other in their research.
The first major project was to transcribe the Kent County cemeteries. A number of those present had taken a genealogy course at St. Clair College in which Arnold Cemetery in Chatham Township had been transcribed. The cemetery transcription committee under the direction of Eileen Richards and Dick Laurie was set up and 259 volunteers completed all the cemetery transcriptions by 1983.
The group’s collection of records and books was kept in the local history section of the Chatham Public Library at first. Later as the collection grew a room was rented on the second floor of the Chatham Library where we are presently. It is open to the public as a research library (not a lending library) Tuesday to Saturday 1-5 pm staffed by volunteers when available. Besides cemetery transcriptions, the members transcribed census records before they were available online, collected church records, newspaper transcriptions, death notices and accepted donations of family histories as well as other books and maps useful to research in Kent, Ontario and Canada with research aides for other areas of the world. The library now also includes digital resources, scanners, and a copier to help visitors begin or continue their family research.
The membership grew in the first year to more than 65 by the end of 1978. Meetings were held in various Chatham school libraries and senior residences and are now held at the McKinlay Funeral Home Reception Centre at 463 St. Clair Street, Chatham, on the second Friday of the month. Membership has fluctuated over the years and is presently at 181 in 2017.