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'Collecting for 40 years': Billings genealogy group searches for new space to house library

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Posted at 6:27 PM, Apr 29, 2024

BILLINGS — It's the mission of one Billings nonprofit to help community members find more about their ancestors, utilizing a large collection of books and archival material. The Yellowstone Genealogy Forum, however, needs the community's help to find a new space for that collection.

Billings resident P.J. Smith has always been fascinated with her genealogy.

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P.J. Smith

“I’ve been interested in my family history since I was like in middle school, when I started taking French and my mom said, oh, we’ve got French ancestors,” said Smith.

It's why she joined the Yellowstone Genealogy Forum three decades ago, presiding as its president for the last 15.

“This is my great grandmother, Maggie Hundley Garrigus Porter, when she was 80," said Smith as she pointed to a photo from a book in the forum's collection.

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P.J. Smith points to a photo of her great-grandmother

The nonprofit has gathered a collection of over 3,000 books and resources since it was formed in 1977.

“The miniseries 'Roots' by Alex Haley was out that year, and so many people got excited about researching their family history that they decided to form a club here in Billings,” Smith said.

The forum's materials are housed in the Genealogy Room at the Billings Public Library, for now.

“We’ve been in the library since the early 80s. We’ve been asked to vacate it by July 15 so we’re looking for a new home,” added Smith.

The library said it needs the room for new projects so the collection needs a new space to serve its 55 members and the rest of the community.

“We’ve been collecting this for 40 years. It grew from one shelf in the library building to this room,” Smith said.

“It provides interesting information for them. Fills in some gaps in their research and it’s always fun for them to track down a missing ancestor or find out something about them,” said Billings resident and the nonprofit's recording secretary, Mary Parker.

That's what Parker experienced some months ago, when she found a familiar face in a 1950 Montana State University Annual.

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Mary Parker's father-in-law pictured in a MSU Annual from 1950

“It’s my father-in-law's picture, and it shows him as the head of the forensics program,” Parker said.

The genealogy buffs hope they can keep the collection in one piece in Billings.

"It's a valuable collection and it would be too bad to have it broken up. It would be nice if we could find some place where all or most of it was kept in one place so it's accessible for people to do research," said Parker.

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Mary Parker

They hope they can move the collection to a space that's accessible to the public.

“Everybody has ancestors and everybody can use our library to find out more about their family,” Parker added.

If you have any suggestions or ideas for a space, contact the forum's Facebook page.