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Proudly Celebrating 50 Years

Our Anniversary (1974-2024)

With a proud history dating back to 1974, the Western New York Genealogical Society is excited to celebrate our work, our impact, and the dedication and passion of our members and volunteers.

50th Anniversary Memories


As we look back over the past fifty years of the Western New York Genealogical Society, we all have our own memories of how we became interested in genealogy and of our time in the Society. Please share with us any special or unforgettable memories you have.


Submissions: Send them to We will share them throughout the coming year.

Shared Memories

January-March Memories

  • Memory 1: Carolyn Dawley (#18) of Chandler, AZ   [1/3/2024]

  • Memory 2: Glenn Atwell (#13) of Buffalo, NY [1/10/2024]

  • Memory 3: Lynda Zaky Wood (#3560L) of Buffalo, NY [1/17/2024]

  • Memory 4: Barbara Keil (#3684) [1/23/2024]

  • Memory 5: Beth Benson (#4034) [1/31/2024] 

  • Memory 6: Nancy Cluff Siders (#2954) [2/7/2024] 

  • Memory 7: Lois Lane (#3782L) [2/13/2024] 

  • Memory 8: Rhonda Hoffman (#3495L) [2/21/2024] 

  • Memory 9: Marie-Cecile Tidwell (#3625L) [2/28/2024]  

  • Memory 10: Doug Batt (#3098) [3/6/2024]  

  • Memory 11: Doug Batt (#3098) [3/13/2024]  

  • Memory 12: Marsha A. Smith (#3978) [3/20/2024]  

  • Memory 13: Nancy Gavin Koester (#3650L) [3/27/2024]


April-June Memories

  • Memory 14: Shirley Vivion [4/3/2024]

  • Memory 15: William Martin [4/10/2024]

  • Memory 16: Brian Cotton (#3512) [4/17/2024]

WNYGS 50th Logo 3.png

Click to view Member Memories (April-June 2024)


Memory 13: Nancy Gavin Koester  (#3650L)

Although I didn't become a member of WNYGS until about 15 years ago, my personal experience with them goes back to 1996. 


I was a lifelong genealogist, beginning at the age of 13, way back in 1978. My grandmother, Bernice Windsor Rich, had been determined to find her connection to Windsor Castle, and her mother (Lena Mather) connection to the Mathers of Boston and the Salem Witch trials. I inherited boxes of documentation from her. But my connection to WNYGS began with the internet. 


My husband's aunt, a wonderful woman named Dorothy Koester Rauch, was the family historian of Dan's extensive Hamburg, NY genealogy. Dorothy remembered her immigrant grandfather, John Koester, and had heard the stories that his mother died at sea on their journey in 1853. In 1996, I finally hooked to the internet, and used (remember Rootsweb?) On it there was a surname index, and a woman wrote a query, that her family story was that her Koester great great grandmother had died at sea. I responded, saying I had the same story, and then a third woman responded, saying  the story was true, and filling in the details. This was also her  husband's family story. That woman? June Partidge Zintz, founder of WNYGS. June invited me to her house, and she and I spent some time comparing notes, and confirming stories. That information then verified all of the plethora of records on the Koester family (in German with no e, and an umla on the o, and and s at the end) and I was in, hook, line and sinker. 15 years later, I gave a presentation at the Buffalo Irish Genealogical society, and I was asked to join the board of WNYGS, where I was a board member for 6 years, and also vice-president.  And that is my WNYGS story!


Memory 12: Marsha A. Smith  (#3978)


I joined in 2021 and am attending via ZOOM as I now live in Walworth NY.  During one program, we broke into small groups and I raised my challenges with locating the grave of my great-grandfather.   I had his obituary; I had the Find-a-Grave entry for his wife's (my great-grandmother) grave. But could not locate his burial site.  Jeannette Sheliga happened to pop into the session while I was speaking, and she noted my shock when some members suggested he may be in a unmarked grave. Jeannette left the small group, and spoke with Sandra Hawkinson, who was there in person at the meeting.  Sandra sent me a note in the chat, offering to help as she is geographically closer. 


So many interchanges and wonderful guidance from Sandra!  After several months we could verify-- with help from Sandra's actual visit to the cemetery-- that my great-grandfather was buried right next to my great-grandmother, in an unmarked grave. Our family followed up on this and have since placed a headstone for great-grandpa, and have added his listing to Find-a-Grave and connected him to his wife and other family members. 


I am so grateful to Jeannette for getting this started, and to Sandra for the many months and emails and research that she did to make this family moment possible. 


My WNYGS membership is a treasure!


Memory 11: Doug Batt (#3098)


Another memory: I first heard of WNYGS from my father-in-law, Hugh N. Siegel (1919-1995, lived near Utica NY) who was researching his family in South Buffalo and Philadelphia. The story behind Our Lady Help of Christians Chapel in Cheektowaga (book also by Atwell and Batt!) was known in his family as well as mine, so he wondered if we were distantly related, which turned out not to be the case. I joined WNYGS in 2000 after my father, who was very interested in local history, passed away. I started working on my own families (Batt and Schultz in WNY, Heckmann and Stephey in Delaware and south-central PA), and of course the Atwell-Batt genealogy was a tremendous starting point. My current project is expanding and extending Hugh's work on his families (Siegel, Nebrich, Sifkovitz in WNY; Taylor, Croft in Philadelphia) which I hope to write up within the next couple years.


Memory 10: Doug Batt (#3098)


Actually, this week's memory did trigger a memory of my own: During a 2009 research trip from my home in Delaware back to Western NY (I grew up in North Tonawanda), I spent a fascinating evening with Glenn Atwell, discussing my research in the Batt, Eckert and Stark families of Erie and Niagara County, as well as other aspects of local history, until the wee hours of the morning. Glenn kindly provided a TON of extremely useful information from his extensive personal archives, and later read sections of the family history of my great-great grandfather John Batt (son of Franz Joseph Batt) which I wrote up the following year, providing many useful comments. During that same research trip, I also spent some time with Ron Batt (my 4th cousin), who had in his possession an 1876 ledger of a grist mill in Tonawanda owned by John Batt. This fascinating document had pages with entries for several other relatives of mine (Xavier Batt, John Baptist Batt, and Michael Stark, a relative of my paternal great-grandmother) as well as other well-known Tonawandans (James Ryan, Alexander G. Kent).


Memory 9: Marie-Cecile (Okoniewski) Tidwell (#3625L)

Marie-Cecile (Okoniewski) Tidwell (3625L) of Amherst, NY, member since 2014


When the Western New York Genealogical Society was in its formative stage in the 1970s, I was living in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, DC.  There I attended a class on helping you discover your family history. As a new wife and mother, I was excited to learn more about how to search the history of our new family. Taking my newfound skills to the National Archives in Washington, I learned how to work with a microfilmed copy of the 1900 census, the most recent census available at that time. 


Scrolling through the film, I found my Polish grandmother’s name, Agnes Ciesielska, in the census. She was living with her father, John, and her younger brother, Wladyslaw (Walter).  I was exhilarated by my find. What a moment!  My grandmother had died when I was nine, but I still felt very close to her. It was years later that I learned that her mother Anastasia Michalska had died earlier in the year of the census. 


My grandmother in 1900 was living on Townsend Street in Buffalo’s East Side. On the same street, lived her future husband, Frank Okoniewski, who unfortunately, died before I was born. Frank and Agnes had six children, my father, Matthew, being the youngest. 


In 2000, I traveled to Salt Lake City to do more research on my family. There I visited the Mormon Church Research Library and Archives. When I asked for the microfilm that could help in my search for my French grandmother’s family in Brittany, I was told that the film was “in the mountain.”  The next day the film arrived and after I used it, it was added to the library shelves. I was amazed that I was the first person to view this microfilm, from the mountain, that contained information about my grandmother and her family and neighbors from this small village in France. 


My grandmother, Maria LeBrigant, was born in the province of Brittany, but later came to Paris to work. My grandfather, Léger Ardelier, was from the central part of France, and served in the French army as a dragoon. When World War I began, his conscription in the army was extended, and at some point, he was in Paris. Maria and Léger soon met, and later were married in a suburb of Paris.  


Similarly, as history would have it, almost thirty years later my French mother, Denise Ardelier, met my father, Matthew Okoniewski, a U.S. Army Staff Sargent, and they, too, were later married in a suburb of Paris, at the end of yet another World War. 


The ability to search for your family’s roots is much easier now than it was 50 years ago, when this society was formed. We no longer have to start our search by traveling to archives and handling rolls of microfilm. Instead, we can start our search from the comfort of our homes. Nevertheless, the feeling of exhilaration one experiences when an ancestor is found listed on a historic record for the first time is still there. It’s what keeps us going!


Memory 8: Rhonda Hoffman, B&ECPL Genealogy Librarian (#3495L)


I first started attending WNYGS meetings in 2010. The meetings were at the Hamburg High School library or cafeteria. The first presentation I attended was on HeritageQuest Online, a B&ECPL subscription database. The presenter was Pat Hililker Forsberg and she was very kind to put up with my ‘librariany’ interjections about the database. Other meeting topics that I remember from that time were an antiques roadshow, gravestone symbolism, and medical genealogy (things have changed so much!). 


About a year later I was asked to join the WNYGS board. Glenn Atwell hosted my first board meeting. He often hosted meetings at Christmastime and his home was always so beautifully decorated. Everyone was very welcoming and I enjoyed being snuggled by Glenn’s orange tabby cat (or was that the visiting neighborhood feline?). The other board members that I remember attending were Penn Watson, Pat Forsberg, Sister Claire, Karen Kolb, Ken Nash, Nancy Archdekin (via telephone speaker from Nebraska), and Dr. Jane Clarke. 


Since then I have had various WNYGS roles including president, JOURNAL editor and production editor, and I am currently the librarian. I will always cherish the society, the experiences it has given me, and the many genealogy friends that I have made along the way.


Memory 7: Lois Lane (#3782L)


Glenn R. Atwell is listed as Editor on the Batt Genealogy (A Record of the descendants of Franz Joseph Batt, Sr. and Barbara Weber AND of the Anthony Batt and Beatrice Gath of Alsace and America, Published by the Batt Family Association of Alsace and America, Inc., Buffalo, N.Y., 1976.  This book was researched by Ronald Elmer Batt, who is my 1st Cousin 1X Removed. (Lois J. Lane Page 38; Ronald E. Batt, Page 39)


Memory 6: Nancy Cluff Siders (#2954) 

​​"I have been a member of WNYGS for approximately 20 years.  My maternal grandparents were born and raised around Colden and Aurora with surnames of McKAY and OLDEN.  Their families had lived in the area for many generations.  A Letson cousin told me about this group, and I joined.  Living thousands of miles away and working full-time, I sadly have not been much help to society.  When I noticed the WNYGS editor's maiden name was PARTRIDGE, I corresponded with her on our common surname.  I was delighted to discover June was my 3rd Cousin!  She was born on or near the original Partridge homestead adjoining the Partridge Cemetery, where my 3rd great-grandfather, Asa Partridge, was buried.     Note:  I have yet to find the original emails where we corresponded and am relying on this 82-year-old mind of mine, which can be in error."


Memory 5: Beth Benson (#4034) 

“My Dad and I didn’t have a particularly close relationship when I was growing up and I rarely initiated a conversation with him if I could help it, so he was quite surprised when I came home from college one weekend and asked him if he knew a “woman dressed all in green who said her name was Catherine.”  He and my mother, who was standing at the stove, turned and gave each other one of those looks that parents do when they’re having a conversation the kids aren’t supposed to hear.  Then he turned to me and said “Yes, she was your great-grandmother, Catherine Green, and she came here from Ireland.  How do you know about her?” 


I had gone to Lily Dale with a couple of friends that week for a reading with a Medium.  We had never done it before and thought it would be fun.  When she got to me she described my father almost perfectly, even where he always sat in the kitchen doing his crossword puzzles.  Then the medium spoke of the women in green who had her hand on my father’s shoulder, saying her name was Catherine.  My father had always been a good story teller – had a bit of the “blarney stone” in him.  Catherine suggested he had stories to tell about his family that I might like to hear.  Since my father never spoke about his family I was sure he had stories about them, but wasn’t sure they were fit to tell! 


But when I got home, he had plenty of stories – Catherine had left Ireland and married my Spanish great-grandfather here in Buffalo and had five children.  My grandfather, one of the five, had married a German girl whose family owned a business in the First Ward where they lived.  He and his wife had 11 children.  Who knew my father had 10 brothers and sisters!  


I learned enough that day to spark my curiosity, and although I didn’t begin working on genealogy for many years, it opened a dialogue between my father and I.  Maybe that’s what Catherine really wanted after all.  Who knows?  But it all started with a trip to Lily Dale.”


Memory 4: Barbara Keil (#3684) 

“Hi…. Whenever it was when WNYGS posted the two upcoming ZOOM programs, I had an OMG moment. I saw the name Margaret M. McMahon, Ph.D and remembered my very first DNA match after I had submitted my sample to AncestryDNA. I had a match with MM whose tree she managed. Because we both had well developed trees I was able to quickly identify that her husband is my 3C1R.”


Memory 3: Lynda Zaky Wood (#3560L) 

Lynda's first event with WNYGS was March 2013 at St. Louis Roman Catholic Church, with lunch at Ulrich's after the meeting. She stated "little did I know, it was a beginning." Since then, she has served on the board of directors, the programming committee, hospitality, transcribing/indexing, on the committee hosting the Western New York Genealogical Conference. Lynda has also visited the Society of Genealogists in London, England to research family history.  She is currently on the preservation committee, the 50th anniversary program committee and serving on the board of directors for a second time. She enjoys volunteering and helping those on the Facebook page. Lynda also hopes to see more young people in the society. 


Memory 2: Glenn Atwell (#13) 

Glenn Atwell (#13) of Buffalo, NY, has been part of the society since its beginning. He notes that he is currently "the oldest member of the society in terms of membership." He was there "when June was planning the society." Because "she belonged to several other genealogical societies...she knew how to go about it." 


In the first issue of the WNYGS Journal, Issue I, Number 1 (June 1974), Glenn is listed as the Organizing Vice-President. He also was one of the JOURNAL's first editors. In Issue XXXIV. Number 1 (December 2007), he wrote the memorial article on the life of the society's founder, June Partridge Zintz (1927-2007), which described their years of working together for the good of the society and of their friendship over the years.


Memory 1: Carolyn Dawley (#18) 

Carolyn Dawley (#18) of Chandler, AZ, a suburb of Phoenix, was an original member of the WNYGS Board and was the society's first secretary. Her memory of the early years of the society is that the founder, June Zintz, was a "powerhouse." Because June was a member of the DAR, the society board meetings were held at the downtown Buffalo DAR facilities. 


Carolyn noted that June worked tirelessly at all she did. She worked hard to get guest speakers and a genealogy library section for the society at a local library. 


As for her own research, Carolyn noted that you will never know "where genealogy will lead you." When researching her husband's family, a man named Matteson, in the late 1600s, had two sons. One moved to Vermont and he was the direct ancestor to her husband. The other moved westward and his descendents eventually settled in New Mexico. When Carolyn decided to add her new son-in-law to the family tree, she found that her son-in-law was a direct descendant of the original Matteson's son who went west. She had to laugh when she informed her daughter that she had married her cousin, albeit, her cousin many generations removed.


And that's why Carolyn says that when you do genealogy, you never know where it will lead you.

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