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Find your link to the past

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

The official kick-off for summer in Pocahontas County is also the beginning of small town festivals. Last weekend, those festivals included the modest, yet entertaining Cass Homecoming.

A unique event – which acts as a large school and family reunion – it includes live music, train rides and “visiting.”

Among those returning to their roots was the Pocahontas County Genealogy Group. Their booth is a familiar sight at most county festivals. It may look like a booth where you can purchase books about Pocahontas County’s history, but there is so much more, especially when Roger and Jan Orndorff are the ones manning it.

The Orndorffs have spent years traveling to many county festivals and events to bring history to the present generations. The couple joined the Genealogy Group in 2005 and was instrumental in helping to identify gravesites in the county, as well as publishing most of the In Loving Memory cemetery books.

“We joined with Gail Hyer, Mary Fisher and Doug Jackson,” Jan said. “They started this project where they were interviewing elderly people. We heard that they were going to do some genealogy work, so we joined the group. Roger and I were already looking at some old home places and looking at genealogy for his family and my family – looking at cemeteries. So, the group decided that, since Doug and Mary had done so many cemeteries, we would just focus on cemeteries. That’s how we got involved.”

The couple helped with research and recordkeeping for the cemetery books which record the graves in every cemetery in the county, including private family cemeteries and individual burial sites.

That’s not all they do, though. The Orndorffs also help people who come to the county to find their ancestors and fill in the blanks in their family trees.

Jan explained that members of the group help those looking for information specific to an area with which they are most familiar.

“If it’s the Hillsboro area, then Ruth [Taylor] helps them,” she said, “If it’s the northern end, Roger and I help them. Then, The Pocahontas Times – doing the research with that, it’s been a godsend.”

The Orndorffs have spent decades working on their own genealogy and have amassed quite a database, which helps when they are asked to help others. There have been times that they have found a common relative when helping a researcher.

“Especially Roger, because his roots from Highland, Pendleton, Pocahontas, Bath, all of those, so he has quite a database,” Jan said. “Nine times out of ten, if someone’s asking him about a relative, he’ll look on the computer and they’re fifth cousins or something.”

Jan herself found out it really is a small world when the couple attended a genealogy training session. At the session, hosted by the Lewisburg Historical Society, Jan met Ruth Taylor who was drawn to Jan’s maiden name, Copen.

“Ruth came over to me and said, ‘my granddad used to board with a Copen lady,’” Jan said. “And I said, ‘yeah, that was my grandmother.’ So, we came back to the genealogy meeting and they wanted to know what we learned. Roger said, ‘we learned that her grandfather and her grandmother were shacking up.’ Which was true, so to speak.”

The Copen boarding house was just below the Cass grade school. Jan said her grandmother began to take in boarders because she needed help around the house after she became a widow.

Those are just a few of the stories that come out of a small conversation with the Genealogy Group. It doesn’t take long to find a connection to the county or even the people helping you.

The Orndorffs will be at several festivals this summer and early fall including Little Levels Heritage Fair, June 28-30; Dunmore Daze in August; and Huntersville Traditions Day in October.

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