Pekin-based genealogy group receives statewide honor

Mike Kramer
Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society President Susan Rynerson looks through a volume of local records. TCGHS recently won a Community Service Award from the Illinois State Genealogical Society.

When the Tazewell County Genealogical and Historical Society formed in 1978, the Pekin-based all-volunteer group held its meetings at the kitchen table in a member’s home.

In the intervening four decades, TCGHS acquired a building at 719 N. Eleventh Street and remodeled it. The facility is now a regional research center with a library that contains nearly 15,000 books, a microfilm room and local newspapers from up to 130 years ago.

“Genealogists rely a lot on newspapers,” TCGHS President Susan Rynerson commented

The society recently won acclaim for its contributions to the field of genealogy in the form of a 2020 Community Service Award from the Illinois State Genealogical Society.

“We have many societies throughout the state,” said ISGS President Rand Veerman. “But there are only a handful of stars. Tazewell County is one of those stars. They have a magnificent library and, in terms of doing research on German (immigrants), there’s nobody else in (downstate Illinois) that comes close. They have the goods.”

TCGHS serves a much broader community than Tazewell County, Rynerson noted. Visitors come to or contact the society from all over the country, and guests from Germany have come to Pekin to peruse TCGHS-maintained directories on German immigrants to the area.

“If you find your family in (the directories), it will take you back several generations in Germany,” Rynerson said. “I understand we have ... one of two complete sets in the state. Obviously, Pekin has a lot of German heritage.”

Perhaps the most notable project that TCGHS took on this year was the digitization and conversion to microfilm of a cache of newspapers from Emden that were between 50 and 130 years old. According to Rynerson, TCGHS preserved about 11,000 pages of local history, which will be available to members on the organization’s web page.

In addition to celebrating TCGHS’ achievements as an organization, ISGS also selected TCGHS webmaster Mike Dickson for individual commendation in the form of a special recognition award. According to Rynerson, Dickson rebuilt and upgraded hardware on four computers in the TCGHS library and launched a new website to replace the society’s outdated platform.

“My thanks to our board and members, who have given me encouragement and support for various projects over the past several years,” said Dickson. “I expect the society will proudly display my special recognition award along with the community service award.”

Plainly, members of an organization that grew from a group meeting at a kitchen table to an award-winning research facility possess an abundance of one key characteristic: enthusiasm. Rynerson stated that while genealogy may be a hobby for some, it is a passion for TCGHS members.

“I want (records) preserved for future generations so they will know their heritage and how they got to the United States,” said Evelyn Burdette, TCGHS head of research. “We lose our heritage if those things are lost or destroyed.”

While a genealogical society can maintain a massive cache of research material, Burdette recommended the presence of an amateur genealogist in every extended family to preserve family-specific records for future generations. She warned, however, that genealogy can be habit-forming.

“It will get your curiosity up once you start,” said Burdette. “The more you learn about your family, the more you’ll want to know.”

Rynerson added that knowing a family’s history and one’s place in it tends to make that history personal. That, in turn, tends to give one a proprietary feeling toward that history and the ancestors who helped shape it.

“It makes history come alive,” she said. “It’s one thing to know that, in the mid-to-late 18th century, the seat of government was at Philadelphia. It’s another thing to know ‘My ancestors lived in Philadelphia in 1777.’”

For more information on TCGHS, visit or call 477-3044.