Contributing Writer

Rene Worthen has worked to fill the Genealogy Room at the Fincastle Library with family and county histories. The Botetourt County Historical Society presented her with the 2017 Emily Gordon Honts Award last fall for her longstanding efforts to preserve county history. The award is named for the late Emily Honts who served as Executive Director of the Historical Society for many years.
Photo by Hannah Austin

If recent articles in the paper have sparked your interest in history, then perhaps it is time to share where you can go to find out more about the history of Botetourt County, and what role your family may have had in shaping what it looks like today.

Finding out more about your family’s history is easier than you think, if you know where to look; and the best place to look would be with Rena Worthen at the Fincastle Library.

Worthen has been working at the library for over 20 years, and in that time, she has created a legacy— the Genealogy Room in the Fincastle Library.

“When I started here,” Worthen states, “we had three filing cabinets and a small bookshelf of information. When they remodeled the library, I put in the request for an entire room. I didn’t expect them to actually listen to me.”

The Genealogy Room, fondly referred to as the “gym” by the library’s employees due to the amount of activity it receives, currently houses more than 10 bookshelves, five filing cabinets, and an entire digital database on the history of families in Botetourt County.

There are yearbooks from Botetourt, Roanoke and Floyd Counties, church registries and funeral home records, most extensively for Nicely and Rader funeral homes, but even including some old businesses that have since disappeared. There is information on cemeteries, and even a few family Bibles in the archive.

And then, there are the collections completely exclusive to the library. Researchers of various families have compiled multi-volume histories of their ancestors’ work in the county. These collections contain researcher’s notes, hand-written letters, newspaper articles, wills, journals and more.

There are collections for the Brugh and Wysong families with more than 25 volumes each, the Hipes/Hypes and Hammond families have seven volumes, and the Obenchain collection, the largest in the archive, has an incredible 62 volumes.

Even if you are not a member of one of these families mentioned, it is very likely you can find out more about your own family’s past in the archive. The amount of information stored in the room is incredible, and Worthen seems to know all of it.

“I want to have 1 million files before I die,” she says as her own personal goal. With over 500,000, she is well on her way. Knowledgeable and easy to work with, she is probably the best resource in the county, and will help you find the answers you are looking for.

If you are interested in pursuing your own history, the Fincastle Library might be a good place to start.