Seniors & Aging

April 12, 2014

Booming | Myrtle Beach residents gather regularly to study ancestry, genealogy

The Grand Strand Genealogy Club provides a forum for individual research, education and sharing.

The Grand Strand Genealogy Club provides a forum for individual research, education and sharing.

Meetings are at 10:15 a.m. on the second Saturday of each month at Chapin Memorial Library in Myrtle Beach. There are no dues, and anyone interested in genealogy can join.

In March, Adam Emrick, senior planner with the Horry County Board of Architectural Review, did a presentation for the club on the Horry County Patriot Tree project, which pairs live oak trees with individuals from the county who served in the Civil War.

Karen Stokes, processing archivist with the South Carolina Historical Society in Charleston, spoke at the April meeting.

“As the state’s oldest historical society and its largest private manuscript repository, we serve as an invaluable and unique asset to historians and genealogists who seek information concerning the history of our state, and the role of their families in that history,” Stokes said.

“We meet and try to learn how to be better at the research we’re trying to do,” said Susan Perhala, who serves on the Grand Strand Genealogy Club’s program committee with Marie Peacock.

Gail Reynolds and Lee Brown, director of the Socastee Library, founded the club in 2002.

Reynolds teaches a wide range of genealogy classes through Coastal Carolina University’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute.

People get involved in genealogy for numerous reasons, she said.

“We’re such a mobile society that people are beginning to look for their roots. Some of it is just wanting to know where they came from. Some people are looking for a sense of family,” Reynolds said. “Some people start researching because they have heard a little piece of a story and want to dig back and prove exactly what they were told. A lot of people start out trying to get a single question answered and get totally involved.”

Dennis Fitzgerald, the club president and an Illinois native, has been doing genealogy research for close to 18 years, and has made numerous exciting discoveries, including finding some of his ancestors that fought for the Union in the Civil War.

He also found some of his wife Mary’s family. He and Mary went to California to visit with them and have stayed in touch.

One of the most modern methods of finding ancestors and family members is DNA testing. Fitzgerald said they are looking forward to having someone speak to the club about DNA

Second Vice President William Kahler administrates the club’s website. The site provides numerous links for genealogy research, including some that are free, such as Family Search, the Mormon site that includes a vast amount of information.

“We’ve created a page dedicated to family search and it’s designed to make it easier for people to look at state by state databases and identify when changes are made,” Kahler said.

For about 40 years, Kahler has kept his great grandfather’s Civil War certificate. His grandmother gave it to him, and he always kept it hanging on a wall.

He didn’t ask the questions he wishes he had asked before his grandparents, his parents and his only brother died.

In 2002, he took one of Reynolds’ genealogy classes, and he got “addicted.”

“It boggles my mind,” he said. “The more I get into it, the more I find I don’t know and the more I wish I had asked more questions when I was a kid.”

He not only learned about that great-grandfather, he found other ancestors that fought for the Union, and much more.

As he began to look closer at documents he already had, he learned that the spelling of his surname had been changed. He saw that on his wife Frances’ birth certificate, which was signed by his grandfather, the doctor who delivered her in Ohio.

Kahler said one important thing he has learned is that you must verify what you find and not just latch on to something someone has posted on some genealogy site.

The Internet has brought genealogy research to the forefront and made it easier to do, but it has also made it easy for wrong information to be spread.

You can visit the Grand Strand Genealogy Club’s website at

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