NCGS in the News

Donating family research for future generations

This five-generation photo is from Helen Russell. Russell contributed her family’s photos and history to the society for future generations to find. The photo includes Helen at left, holding her son Jack, her father, Donald Ackerman, Donald’s parents Pauline Lute and David Lute and Pauline’s mother, Myrtle Clark, seated.

Originally published in Niagara Gazette & Lockport Journal — 08/11/2019

If you have visited the Niagara County Genealogical Society library, at 215 Niagara St. in Lockport, you know we have a number of family histories and photos that aren’t found anywhere else. This is, in part, thanks to the many families with local connections that have donated their own personal collections.

I know most people don’t like to think about their own mortality but as genealogists, we need to consider what will happen to our research after we are gone.

Helen Russell and Kevin Gaskill are cousins who reached out to me to make just such a donation. The items included a family bible dated 1904 (receipt included), daguerreotypes and photos with a written family history.

Helene is thoughtful as she speaks of her genealogical research and the bible’s journey:

“All of my cousins on my father’s side lived within 50 miles of one another; my siblings and I lived about 450 miles away from their town of Gasport in the Washington D.C. metro area. I saw my cousins once a year during my teens, then life intervened and I started my own family. At some point, my children had to create a family tree as part of an elementary school assignment, and I went to my parents to compile the data. It was then that I learned some of my ancestor’s names.

When my son was an infant I had a five generation photo taken with my father, Donald C. Ackerman, his mother, Pauline (Penwright) Lute, and her mother, Myrtle (Friedline) Clark. I obviously knew some of this history, but not all. Families become complicated when there is divorce and estrangement. I had met my father’s father once as a child.

Then came a trip to Salt Lake City, home of the Mormon genealogical library. I took the names I had and was able to trace ancestors on my Ackerman side back to 1662 arriving in New Amsterdam, also known as New York City, and I was hooked. I purchased software and subscriptions and began my journey of finding my ancestors.

The Internet was an integral part of my research. I posted questions to websites and searched the answers for potential matches. I followed the Lockportian site to find Penwright relatives.

I found a distant Penwright cousin who graduated from RoyHart High School living in the DC metro area. I became a cyber stalker, trying to find these relatives and meeting them. I have found two distant cousins who shared my interest in our ancestors. I met one while on a business trip to San Diego. She had a wealth of information as she married into the Penwrights and was a relation via the Smith family, Myrtle Clark’s mother’s maiden name.

I came into possession of my great-great-grandmother’s photo album when my father passed in 2011. I posted digital copies of the photos on my Facebook page. My cousins helped to identify some of the pictures. Along the journey I heard the verbal family histories that you don’t find in the documents from the time.

While genealogical research relies on the artifacts like birth/ death/marriage, the human stories rely upon the shared experiences many of which are not written. I have reunited my mother with a step-brother and found a cousin to my grandmother who had been adopted. I have become part of that history in many wonderful ways via my genealogical research. “

Helen Russell and her mother with a photo donated with her family history
Kevin Gaskill and NCGS Board Chairperson Shelley Richards looking thru his family donation.

If you’d like to make a donation of your family’s history, reach out to your local genealogical society for more information. Unfortunately, most libraries don’t have oodles of extra space (two file cabinets, 10 unmarked binders and several stacks of paper is my research reality right now!) so it must be organized. Planning now will keep your research out of the landfill later.

Carol DiPirro-Stipkovits is the President of the Niagara County Genealogical Society, a guest lecturer and a member of the National Genealogical Society. If you have ancestors related to today’s story, reach out to her at

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