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A Short History of SGS

(Updated June 2023)

By SGS History Committee (Ruthetta Seelye Hansen, Kathie Olsen, Wesley Waring, and James R. Seeley; updated by Jesse S. Crisler)

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 Seely, 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 include Robert Cox (1983-1989), Marshal Seelye (1989-1997), Daniel Seelye (1997-2002), Jim Seeley (2001-2007), and Kathie Olsen (2007-2015). The current President is Lynda Simmons. Dates of subsequent SGS Reunions and their locations are listed under “Past SGS Reunions, Dates, Locations, and Officers” in each Reunion Souvenir Book.

Garner Osborn, founder of the Seeley Genealogical Society
Garner Osborn, founder of the Seeley Genealogical Society.

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, Huntingdon-shire, 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, [Connecticut], with Captain Robert Seeley of New Haven, [Connecticut]”; “an exact time of his arrival I 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. Ken McCrea later managed the General Seeley DNA Test Project until 2011, when he was succeeded by Walt Seelye. Then in 2021 Kara L. Seeley-Donaldson became the Project Manager.

Significant SGS Events

The Seelye Research Center (SRC) was established in 1997, 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 both 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 years to help ensure that older members could attend in the future.

Wesley Waring, founder of DNA Lineage Project.
Wesley Waring, founder of DNA Lineage Project.

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. Since then the Constitution has been revised several times in 1995, 1999, 2003, 2005, 2011, and 2013, each time to reflect changing roles of officers and significant modifications of policies. The latest revision occurred at the virtual Membership Meeting and Reunion on May 22, 2021, when members unanimously voted to accept a complete overhaul of these documents, resulting from work comprehensive work by Pam Turner with input from the Executive Board.

The SGS Board filing genealogical documents in the SRC.
The SGS Board filing genealogical documents in the SRC.

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, the bulk of which has been placed in CD savings accounts with some expended on research undertaken by professional genealogists Apryl Cox and Bruce Murduck.

Although the topic had been broached many times since 1965, only the tenacious efforts of then SGS President Katherine Olsen (assisted by sound legal advice from her brother) finally drove SGS over the finish line in achieving Title 501(c)(3) status as a nonprofit organization with tax exemption extended retroactively to March 1, 1965, when Garner Osborn published the first issue of the Newsletter. 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.

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) & Obadiah Seeley (1614-1657) Generations One Through Five, a thorough revision of Walter’s book. 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 also available on the SGS CD-ROM.

The SRC received Esther Walter’s family files in 2014, comprising the original research on which the Society was founded, which she had also used to compile her book on the first five generations of Seeleys in America. Her papers are on display in a custom-built cabinet, funded by former SGS President Jim Seeley. Additionally, under the leadership of SGS 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.

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 Paul Taylor, SGS Second Vice President, compiled and published the first Reunion Souvenir Book and the next six books. A Reunion book has been published for each SGS Reunion since; LeAnne Seely compiled the 2017 book, and Jesse S. Crisler, SGS First Vice President compiled the two most recent editions.

Pamela D. Turner
Pam Turner, SGS Librarian

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 Olsen took place in 2007 when SGS members visited New England after the SGS Reunion at Wethersfield, Connecticut. The tour visited sites where both SGS members during the New England tour of Seeley sites.

Robert and Obadiah Seeley had lived. An excellent description of the 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 issue of the Newsletter.

Development and Evolution of the SGS Ancestor File

John R. Seeley
John R. Seeley

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 databases 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 Seely’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, SGS Chief Genealogist, and Chris Havnar, now a Director of the Society, took over its management. At that time the Ancestor File was moved to storage on Dropbox, a Cloud-based service that enables both Crocker (in West Virginia) and Havnar (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 and Obadiah, if known. As of May 2021 the Ancestor File contained 55,601 lines of data. The Seeley Surname Database contained 37,229 lines of data, while the Other Surname Database consisted of 18,372 lines of data.

The History of the SGS Website

The SGS Website at www.seeley-society.org 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 Havnars undertook a complete expansion of the site’s content, but additions to the site slowed down after the death of Jerry Havnar in 2015. The Havnars jointly received the Volunteer of the Year Award from the Society at the 2013 Reunion in Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 2018 SGS employed Logan Seelye, a professional web designer and, coincidentally, the grandson of Daniel Seelye, to revamp the site once again, including completing the transfer of all information from the old site and allowing multiple persons to update and/or add information.

Facebook as a Communication and Recruiting Tool for SGS

SGS First Vice President Paul Taylor established SGS on the Facebook social media platform 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. As of May 2021 “likes” on the page have increased to 646.

SGS Since its Golden Anniversary in 2015

Beginning in 2016 the Newsletter published five research reports compiled by Apryl Cox: three on Obadiah Seeley, one Robert Seeley, and one on Augustus Seeley, the latter a subject of three additional reports by Bruce Murduck also published in the Newsletter.

As of May 2021 the Society had published a total of 188 issues of the Newsletter. Editor Paul Taylor has received an Honorable Mention several times from the National Genealogical Society in the Family Genealogy Societies Section competition. The Newsletter now appears in full color and since 2015 has been delivered to members primarily through email, thereby saving the Society the continually increasing expense of printing and mailing copies.

Because of the Covid-19 pandemic SGS resorted to social media for meetings of the Executive Board in 2020 and 2021, holding three via Zoom, which worked well enough that the Reunion Planning Committee determined to hold the 2021 Reunion virtually as well. Though less than four hours in length, the Reunion saw presentations by five members, approved current revisions of the Constitution and Bylaws, and sustained the recommendation by the Executive Board that the 2023 Reunion be held in St. Louis, the site originally proposed for 2021. Only the inability of unofficial SGS photographer Paul Taylor to take candid shots of participants marred an otherwise successful Reunion, ably presided over by Lynda Simmons, current SGS President.

Paul Taylor
Paul Taylor, SGS First Vice President and Newsletter Editor.

Changes among SGS Officers

In the summer of 2021, when SGS President Lynda Simmons’s local church leader asked her to assume responsibility for the spiritual and cultural welfare of women in their congregation, she reluctantly submitted her resignation to the Society. Anticipating such a possibility, the Constitution states that the First Vice President of the Society will complete the unexpired term of a President who resigns, but when current SGS First Vice President Paul Taylor felt that he could not take on the duties of President, Second Vice President Jesse Crisler instituted a presidential search, which ultimately led to Connie Birth; she was subsequently elected by a special election held via email.

Almost immediately, other changes also occurred. As President, Connie could no longer function as Membership Chair and so appointed Shanna Besendorfer, who had been Assistant Membership Chair, as her replacement with Kathleme Seely Heltemes as her new Assistant. Then in 2022 the unexpected death of Chris Havnar, at the time serving as one of the Society’s Directors as well as Web-master and Co-Chair of the SGS Ancestor File with Linda Crocker, created more vacancies. Though she had been both Librarian of the Seelye Research Center and CD-Rom Project Director for many years, Pam Turner agreed to replace Chris as Director, while Logan Seelye, who had designed the new SGS Website a few years earlier, became Webmaster. Connie also appointed Barbara Lewis as another Seeley Lineage Project Manager to serve along with Kara Donaldson. Finally, James Reinhardt volunteered to replace Paul Taylor as Editor of the Newsletter, and the Executive Board simultaneously decided to alter the publication schedule of the Newsletter from three issues per year to four. With all elected and appointed positions now filled, the Society was ready for the next Reunion and Membership Meeting to be held in June 2023 in St. Louis.

Lynda Simmons
Former SGS President, Lynda Simmons.
Connie Birth
In 2021 Connie Birth succeeded Lynda Simmons as President.
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