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Digging up the roots of the family tree

Amanda J. Vicars • May 6, 2013 at 9:15 AM

The history of human life has definitively and ultimately determined the present of the world and its inhabitants' ancestors are the only link to times past lived and experiences past had. Genealogy is the study of those links, centered in tracing lineages and histories of families to better understand who 'we' are as a people.

The Watauga Association of Genealogists (WAGS) of Northeast Tennessee is a local organization specializing in the preservation of community history through the research and contributions of its members in connection with inquisitive citizens of the region and other genealogical associations.

Formed in 1971, WAGS began as a small group of East Tennessee State University faculty and staff members who shared a common interest, brought together by a noted genealogist working at ETSU named Pollyanna Creekmore.

“In March of that year, there were about seven of us that met at the university library,” founding member and editor of the WAGS bulletin Betty Jane Hylton said. “She [Creekmore] noticed there were several of us that checked out the same books on genealogy so she invited us to come one Tuesday. We had such a good time we decided, 'let's do it next month.'”

That next month each participant brought a friend. This continued until October when the need for organization was realized and Dr. Graham Landrum from King College was inducted as the first president of WAGS.

Since its formation, the association has remained open to the public. Anyone may attend the monthly meetings, which still occur on the first Tuesday. To become a member, one must simply attend and pay a yearly $18 fee.

WAGS presently consists of around 200 members across the nation and “we have had up to 600 [members],” Hylton explained.

WAGS member Donna Briggs added, “we meet and have programs and they're informative topics of interest and then occasionally we have workshops where we help people who want to learn something new or beginning genealogists.”

The association publishes a semi-annual Bulletin (in April and October) and has done so since 1972. Eighty-four pages in length, the Bulletin includes marriage, divorce and death records, along with history of the area and queries from new and withstanding members.

“[The Bulletin's] a little bit of everything; we transcribe old records,” Briggs said. “Members can contribute articles that they write about genealogy or their families.”

Alongside the Bulletin, WAGS published several books about the history of Washington County and its marriage and death records as well as a subject index titled “The First Thirty Years: 1972-2001.” Members also assist with the archives in Jonesborough.

The goals of the organization are simple, to “preserve all types of early records; encourage genealogical and historical research; purchase genealogical books and materials to be donated to the Johnson City Public Library; encourage persons researching the same family lines by maintaining a query and surname section in the Bulletin; compile two issues of the Bulletin each year for subscribing members; maintain an active exchange program with other genealogical associations; and provide informative programs at monthly meetings.”

The Watauga Association of Genealogists invites those interested to come dig up the roots of their own family tree.

WAGS meets the first Tuesday of every month in the community room of the Johnson City Public Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Members offer family research help to the public every second Tuesday of the month in the Tennessee Room of the JC Public Library from 6:30 to 8 p.m. For more information, visit their website at www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~tnwag.

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