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Climbing the Family Tree Takes Some Skill

Local Genealogist Offers Tips

Photos by Heather Ziegler Diane Rhodes and Shadyside resident Steve Wise talk over search options for locating more information about his family tree.

WHEELING — A chance meeting between St. Clairsville car salesman Steve Wise and local genealogist Diane Rhodes opened a whole new outlook on life for Wise.

Rhodes, who on Saturday marked 20 years as the genealogist overseeing the Wheeling Room at the Ohio County Public Library, met Wise when she and her husband visited Whitesides of St. Clairsville car dealership on Oct. 5. Rhodes and Wise struck up a conversation about families and family trees. Wise told Rhodes he knew little about his father’s side of the family, noting that his father died when Steve was about 5 or 6 years old.

After leaving the dealership, Rhodes couldn’t wait to return to work where she took on the task of finding Wise’s family information. Her diligence paid off, and quickly.

“I knew I could find something. When we went back to the dealership on Oct. 7, I handed Steve his father’s obituary. I wanted to help Steve on his journey to find out more about his family. It’s what I do. I love the challenge.”

Wise, however, was flabbergasted. “I didn’t know anything about my father’s side of the family. Diane became an unbelievable godsend. She knows more about me than I do. She opened my eyes and filled the void.”

Rhodes was able to trace Wise’s family lineage back hundreds of years, informing Wise that he had two family members serving in the Civil War. She also educated Wise to the many resources he can now use to find more information about his family.

“I didn’t know about all these resources,” Wise said. “I can see how far back they go and who I am related to. I was elated in what she found already. I’m still in the awe stage.”

Rhodes said, like many searches she performs to help the public, she started with the West Virginia Cultural online site and the library’s website to track down a newspaper obituary for Wise’s father. From there, the search spread and Wise learned he has relatives from Monroe County, Ohio and from as far away as Switzerland. Wise resides in Shadyside and is excited to continue climbing his family tree.

“She’s brought life to the whole thing,” Wise said.

Rhodes said she loves her job at the library and does what she can to help people who are searching for family histories. While not everything is cut and dry, Rhodes said she developed a pamphlet filled with genealogy research tips to get started. She gives those to anyone visiting the Wheeling Room, which has been located on the main floor of the 16th Street library since 2009.

Prior to 2009, the Wheeling Room was located in a small space in the library basement. It was difficult to monitor that room at all times, she said. The room contained many priceless sources of information. The move to the main floor allowed the space to be expanded and monitored constantly.

The Wheeling Room is kept locked and no purses, backpacks or briefcases are permitted in the room. A library employee at the reference desk will show visitors where they can lock up their items while they are in the Wheeling Room.

Nov. 16 also marked Rhodes’ 33rd year of employment with the public library. Her work garnered her a West Virginia History Hero award in 2017. Rhodes said her own quest to learn more about her family history led her in many directions. She cautions anyone who seeks information to keep in mind that not everything will be accurate. Record-keeping from centuries past is not like that of the modern online world today.

For instance, many people use Ancestry.com, an online ancestry resource. Rhodes said while it can be a useful guide, “it’s not the Holy Grail.”

“I didn’t care who I was related to. I just wanted to know where I came from,” Rhodes said of her own family research. Rhodes enjoyed learning she was of Irish descent.

She utilizes scores of information highways — some very convenient and others very antiquated. Rhodes suggests starting with yourself and working your way back through your family records such as births and deaths. Records can be located at cemeteries, funeral homes, census reports, church records, marriage records, immigration papers, city directories, military service, family tree books, wills and state archives.

In her own search, Rhodes learned her great-great-great-grandmother operated the Gilmore Fur Shop on 10th Street located at the entrance to the Wheeling Suspension Bridge. Gilmore’s husband, William H. Gilmore, fought in the Civil War. She also found an Andrew Wilson, a Revolutionary War soldier, in her ancestry.

“I enjoy the challenge. I tell people to start from scratch, not in the middle.”

To reach Rhodes, email diane.rhodes@ohiocountylibrary.org or call 304-232-0244.

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