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A Short History of SGS

(Updated August 2015)

By SGS History Committee (Ruthetta Seelye Hansen, Kathie Olsen, Wesley Waring, and James R. Seeley)

The Seeley Genealogical Society (SGS) was founded by Rev. Garner Osborn in 1965. A native of Burr Oak, Iowa, he was the son of William Osborn and Alice Seelye, eleventh generation in descent from Robert Seeley.

Suggesting an association to prevent the “loss of vital family information,” he wrote in Issue #1 of the SGS Newsletter, dated March 1965, “BETWEEN YOU AND ME, LET’S GET STARTED!” He intended to send out four issues “this year,” and he did just that. He proposed including all Seeleys “spelled in over 25 different ways.” He envisioned a “Board of Directors, some in each region of the nation,” and the need to charge annual dues. As the “Interim Editor,” he started listing queries in issue #2.

The first SGS president was Lloyd Seely (1968-1971). The second was DeLoss Seely (1971-1980). The first reunion was held in 1980 in Lyons, Colorado, with Donald Eff as president (1980-1983). Succeeding presidents, their tenures, and SGS reunion dates and locations are listed in another section of this Reunion Souvenir Book under “Past SGS Reunions: Dates, Locations, and Officers.”

Alan Phipps’s Research on Immigrant Robert Seeley

According to Alan Phipps’s research, immigrant Robert Seeley was christened July 4, 1602, at Blumtisham-cum-Earith, Huntingdonshire, England, the son of William Seeley, joiner, of the same place. Phipps stated that “no record in England has been found of Obadiah Seeley as the son of Robert.” Phipps believed that Robert’s grandparents were Thomas and Elizabeth Seeley who married in 1560 and lived in Great Gransden, England. A copy of this research is on the SGS CD-ROM, which is available for purchase.

Summary of Hart’s and Stott’s Research on Obadiah Seeley

Fred C. Hart’s research focused on New England records. Hart said that “[n]o records were found that directly connected Obadiah Seeley (b. 1614) of Stamford with Captain Robert Seeley of New Haven”; “an exact time of his arrival in Stamford could not be determined”; and “having found the baptism of a son named Jonas Seeley . . . I now think it is essential to pursue the development of the family of William Seeley of St. Martin parish (Birmingham, England) to determine once and for all if his son Obadiah was actually the Stamford settler.” Clifford L. Stott’s research of English records states, “In 1627/8, Obadiah Seeley, the son of William Seeley of Birmingham, was apprenticed to Nehemiah Wallington of London for the term of nine years to learn the turner’s (lathe-furniture) trade.” An itemized list, found by SGS member Karl Weiler, of the estate of the Obadiah Seeley who lived in Stamford, Connecticut, contains several tools of a turner’s trade. This and other evidence suggests immigrant Obadiah Seeley is probably the son of William Seeley of St. Martin parish, Birmingham, England.

SGS DNA Lineage Project

A DNA test project, managed by SGS member Wesley Waring, established once and for all that there was NOT a close relationship between immigrants Robert and Obadiah Seeley. Later DNA test results have confirmed the lack of such a relationship. Results can be viewed on the Seeley Website.

Significant SGS Events

The Seelye Research Center (SRC) was established in 1995, based on an agreement signed by Seelye Mansion owner Terry Tietjens and the SGS Executive Board. A list of documents shelved there, and their shelf locations, is contained on the SGS CD-ROM and the SGS Website.

During the Sixth SGS Reunion in 1995, members voted to hold the reunion every two years instead of every three. This helped ensure that older members would be able to attend a next reunion.

Adoption of the first SGS Constitution and Bylaws occurred by a vote of membership attending the third SGS reunion in Fort Wayne, Indiana, August 21-23, 1986.

The Descendants of Robert Seeley, First Five Generations was compiled by Esther Houtz Walter in 1977. In 1995 The Sixth Generation Families, compiled by Madeline M. Mills and her daughter, Katherine M. Olsen, was published. In 1997, Mills and Olsen published Descendants of Robert Seeley (1602 – 1667) & Obadiah Seeley (1614 – 1657) Generations One Through Five. Finally, in 2000 The Seventh Generation Families, compiled by Mills and Olsen, was published. The SGS Executive Board decided that due to the size of this volume, no further books on this line will be published by SGS. Several hundred copies of these books have been sold to SGS members and Seeley researchers. They are available on the SGS CD ROM.

The first reunion held outside the United States was the seventh, held in Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada, in 1997. It was co-hosted by Seeleys of New Brunswick under the leadership of Harold Fanjoy. A member of the Canadian Parliament, Elsie Wayne, gave the welcoming address.

In 2003 SGS member W. Paul Taylor compiled and SGS published the first Reunion Souvenir Book. A souvenir book has been published for each SGS reunion since. The book not only serves as a keepsake for those who attended a reunion but also as a compilation of events and decisions made for the information of those members who were unable to attend.

In 2004 SGS members made a trip to Robert Seeley’s England. Organized by Katherine Olsen, the trip took members to places where Robert and his ancestors had lived as well as to many other sites of historical interest.

Another tour organized by Kathie Olsen took place in 2007 when SGS members visited New England after the SGS reunion at Wethersfield, Connecticut. The tour visited sites where both Robert and Obadiah Seeley had lived. An excellent description of this tour, “A Tour of Robert and Obadiah’s New England,” by SGS member LeAnne Seely is contained in the 2007 SGS Reunion Souvenir Book and the November 2007 SGS Newsletter.

In 2012 the estate of deceased SGS members Robert Seeley Johnson and his wife, Evelyn R. Johnson, gave SGS a bequest of $88,919.16.

Development and Evolution of the SGS Ancestor File

The SGS Ancestor File is a system for storing basic data about all Seeleys of any spelling and their descendants. There are two components—the Seeley Surname database and the Other Surname database for the descendants of Seeley women. The current database grew out of a system John Seely devised in 1982 as an index to information on members of the Seeley family. In 2002 Dan Seelye converted John’s original database into a Word document, and John continued to work with it. In 2008 Bob Crocker converted the Ancestor File into an Excel database, and Linda Crocker and Chris Havnar took over its management. At that time the Ancestor File was moved to storage on Dropbox, a cloud-based service that enables both Linda (in West Virginia) and Chris (in California) to update the file. The contents come from submissions by members and/or research and include birth, death, marriage, and parent information as well as connection to Robert or Obadiah (if known). As of July 2015, the Ancestor File contained 49,628 names. The Ancestor file is made up of two databases. The “Seeley Surname” database contained information on 33,901 individuals with the surname Seeley (all spellings), while the “Other Surname” database had 15,737 individuals.

The History and Content of the Seeley Website

The SGS Website at www.seeley-society.net may be viewed as the Society’s scrapbook. It was initially developed by former SGS President Daniel Seelye. Members Jerry and Chris Havnar took over the Website in May 2004, changing it to reflect technological advances. The second page of the Website contains genealogical information, obituaries of Seeleys (all spellings), biographies in the public domain, wedding announcements, veteran information, directories, and vital records. The third page is a link to SGS-sponsored research, including DNA tests. On the fourth page is a listing of queries, answers, and updates dating back to 2000. Finally, the Website advertises SGS publications currently available, published errata to those books, information on SGS reunions, information shelved at the SRC, “In Memoriam” of SGS members, and information on how to become a member of SGS. The Havnars were recognized as the outstanding SGS volunteers for the period 2011-2013 for their work on the Website and many other contributions to SGS.

Facebook as a Communication and Recruiting Tool for SGS

SGS First Vice President W. Paul Taylor established SGS on the Facebook social media site in 2011 in order to keep members informed of current SGS events, provide genealogical information of interest to members, and furnish a tool for possibly attracting new members to the Society.

2013-2015: Approaching 50 Years of Service

Although the topic had been broached many times in the preceding four decades, only the tenacious efforts of SGS President Katherine Olsen (assisted with sound legal advice from her brother) finally drove SGS over the finish line in achieving 501(c)3 status for the Society. All donations are now tax deductible, and many of the expenses of elected and appointed officers are also deductible. This achievement marks SGS as a serious organization dedicated to preserving the genealogy of the family name and, with the Johnson bequest, ensures it will remain so well into the future.

As of the 2015 SGS Reunion in Abilene, the society had published a total of 164 newsletters. The Abilene reunion was the third consecutive gathering in which Newsletter Editor Paul Taylor was presented an honorable mention in the Family Genealogy Societies Section competition sponsored by the National Genealogical Society.

The Seelye Research Center received Esther Houtz Walter’s SGS papers in 2014, comprising the original research on which the Society was founded. The papers are now on display in the SRC in a custom-built display case, funded by former SGS president Jim Seeley. Additionally, under the leadership of SRC Librarian Pam Turner, the modernization and upkeep of the SRC continued with the adoption of an emergency policy for the center’s collection and the installation of water detectors.

In 2015, a certified genealogist, Apryl Cox, was retained to analyze all the Society’s previous research on Obadiah Seeley (SGS# 4) and recommend possible avenues of future research. Her report was completed and provided to the SGS Research Committee, which will assess it and determine whether or how to act on her suggestions.