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Vernon and District Family History Society soaks up 40 years

Organization dedicated to family research to hold open house at Peace Lutheran Church Nov. 26

Picture this in your mind. It’s not hard if you’re a certain age.

It’s 1982. A new society has formed in Vernon designed to help people with their family’s history. Only 40 years ago, there was no No Google Search? What is that?

The Internet wasn’t around.

No, those with interest in their family’s history and tree had to go to the Vernon Library or Vernon Museum to do some preliminary research. You could take a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, and visit the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ incredible library and family history centre for more clues.

Or you could write to the U.S., to European countries or the United Kingdom to collect parish records

The Vernon and District Family History Society, today, operating out of the lower level of the Peace Lutheran Church on 30th Avenue, does have Internet access, making genealogy and family history research much easier.

The society celebrates 40 years with an open house at the church (1204-30th Avenue) Saturday, Nov. 26, from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“Come and see what we’re all about,” said society president Larry Gilchrist. “We’ll have a number of volunteers available to help with research in various countries, as well as answer general inquiries. And there will be a big table set up to discuss DNA testing. We’ll show you how to take the rest of the steps toward building a good family history.”

Gilchrist himself chuckles at the fact he used his yearly trips to his Ontario cottage to find out family information and has them printed on 11 x 17 sheets at his home. Today, he can gather the same info on a piece of regular 8.5 x 11 paper thanks to one click of a computer mouse.

It was exactly 40 years ago on Nov. 24, 1982, that 10 people gathered at the Bella Vista home of Kay Biller and held the first meeting, forming a charter executive that included president Claude McKim of Vernon and vice-president Russell Udy of Armstrong.

“The society was formed to help those who are searching for their family roots, to have access to information gathered by others with the same goal,” says the minutes of that first gathering. “Research material can be gathered by a group faster and cheaper than by each individual on his or her own…”

The minutes also stated that 40 years ago, researching family history was becoming quite popular. And that’s still true today. The Vernon society boasts more than 80 members, and two websites such as and are incredibly popular.

Gilchrist said there is a difference between genealogy and family history.

“With genealogy, you trace the genes and concentrate on birth, marriage and death, and not much else,” he said. “With family history, you’re building a picture of what the person was the like and the time period surrounding it.”

He used an example sent to him by former society president Arlene Smith, who discovered her grandmother, May Kermode, played piano for silent movies at Vernon’s old Empress Theatre, located behind what is now the CIBC building on the corner of 30th Avenue and 32nd Street, before talking movies came out.

Smith writes: “My grandmother (May Kermode) arrived in Vernon from Stonewall, Man. two days after her 21st birthday on April 28, 1910, to marry a man 19 years her senior, Jack Kermode. Her parents would not sanction the marriage when she was 19, and my grandfather Jack, who had worked for the Polsons in Manitoba came west at Mrs. Polson’s suggestion and waited for May to become of age. They were married in Mrs. Polson’s living room and Mrs. Polson provided the Maid of Honour.”

Smith said there were two other people who played the piano at the movies, one being Mrs. Margaret Davidson, whose son, Neil, was a founder of Davidson Lawyers and was Mayor of Vernon from 1979-81.

The Vernon and District Family History Society open house is open to everyone, as is membership in the society. The group meets the second Wednesday of every month.

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Roger Knox

About the Author: Roger Knox

I am a journalist with more than 30 years of experience in the industry. I started my career in radio and have spent the last 21 years working with Black Press Media.
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