BOTETOURT – Stephen Vassar Sr. was a popular man the afternoon of April 12 when he showed up at the Fincastle Library.
The county native lives in Salem and is the vice-president of the Botetourt Genealogy Club. He brought with him a store of genealogical records that he was placing in the library’s Genealogy Room. They came from the late Geraldine Mangus Obenshain who willed a lifetime of records and genealogical information to Vassar “to do with as I saw fit,” Vassar said.
He saw fit to make the treasure trove of Botetourt family linage available to the public.
Obenshain, who died in January, along with the late Charles T. Burton, were consummate genealogists who specialized in Botetourt families.
Her collection includes genealogies she worked on and those from others. Some of the family names are familiar—Camper, Kelly, Gish, Obenshain, Womack, Thrasher, Brewbaker. Others are not as common today—Larch, Mangus, Garney.
Vassar donated 10 cardboard boxes, filled mostly with notebook binders of family genealogies, to the Genealogy Room along with five boxes filled with years worth of The Buchanan News, which published from the turn of the last century until the early 1970s.
Before her death, folks wanting to look into their families’ pasts would visit Obenshain because there was a good chance she had a clue to their heritage if that heritage involved a Botetourt family.
Soon—after the Genealogy Club members and library staff have a chance to document and preserve the material—Obenshain’s work and collection will be available to the public.
Genealogy Club member Kitty Harris said Obenshain had been a genealogist for Botetourt County for 50 years.
“Folks from all over the country went to her home to look up family,” Vassar said.
She grew up at Arch Mill, in the Mill Creek community, Harris said. Her father, Carl Obenshain ran Arch Mill Garage—now a forlorn wooden building on US 11 at the corner of Oak Ridge Road.
Vassar said Obenshain also left him some items he intends to donate to the Botetourt County Historical Museum.
Rena Worthen, who is responsible for establishing the Genealogy Room at the Fincastle Library, raised her hands with a “Praise the Lord” while looking at some of the family genealogies Vassar was giving to the library.
Harris said it was like a visit from Santa Claus as she skimmed through some of the material that was being laid out on a table.
The Botetourt Genealogy Club has about 200 members around the country, Worthen said. She is founder and president. Harris serves as reporter and secretary/treasurer is Loretta Caldwell. Other board members are Darlene Overstreet, parliamentarian; Linda Newcomb, historian, and Doris Mullins, librarian.
The Obenshain collection will join much of Charles Burton’s work and a host of other records that line the walls of the Genealogy Room, which seemed to grow smaller with the addition of the new material.