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Family history centre gets new start

Convener Diane Edwards and treasurer Chris McDonald at Genealogy Wairarapa’s new Church St space. PHOTO/GEORGE SHIERS

Better days are ahead for geneology centre

Wairarapa’s family history research centre has a new home and a renewed lease on life, thanks to the support and generosity of the Masterton community.

The Wairarapa Branch of the New Zealand Society of Genealogists has moved into a new space on Church St, having vacated its former premises in the old WBS building on Queen St at the beginning of September.

Earlier this year, the almost 40-year-old centre was staring down the barrel of closure: With the WBS building declared earthquake-prone, and memberships [and, likewise, finances] in decline thanks to covid, its committee was left struggling to find an affordable space to rent.

Certain it would be unable to afford storage fees to safeguard its vast collection of resources, convener Diane Edwards estimated the branch would “not survive into the next financial year”.

In July, branch members made an appeal to the community for help via an article in the Midweek, which Edwards said was met with an outpouring of supportive and kind responses.

After a suggestion from a Midweek reader, and with support from long-time estate agent David McHattie, the branch approached Masterton Trust Lands Trust.

Inspired by newspaper coverage, the trust “came to the rescue”, offering the branch a concessional lease for an upstairs space at Radio House.

Having settled into its new home, the committee will be hosting an informal meet and greet at Radio House this Saturday morning, inviting the community to explore the premises and “learn more about family history”.

Edwards said the move to Church St comes as a “considerable relief” and was hopeful better times were ahead after a trying couple of years.

“To have a new home feels wonderful,” she said.

“We had been dreading the prospect of putting our resources into storage, that would have probably been the death knell for the branch.

“Ours is an important resource and, thanks to the support of the Masterton community, we can keep it open.

“We asked for help and we received it. We have been extremely fortunate.”

Edwards said the branch’s new space is “bright, warm and welcoming”, with large windows, good kitchen and toilet facilities, and plenty of space for its treasure trove of resources.

The space is slightly smaller than in the WBS building, which will mean the branch may have to “downsize” and digitise some files.

“For some members, there’s also a bit of a downside with it being upstairs,” Edwards said.

“But we’re going with the flow for now.

“It’s a lovely area, it just feels good.”

Since the branch opened in 1983, members have helped build up an expansive conclave of birth, death and marriage certificates, cemetery and military records, electoral rolls and shipping manifests.

Understandably, relocating four decades worth of resources was “a big job”, so Edwards and the committee were grateful to Rosie’s Furniture Removals, for providing a discounted rate and top notch service.

“The men from Rosie’s were magnificent,” she said.

“The move took six hours. They dealt with a lot of heavy loads, which they had to carry up the stairs.

“But they were cheerful and professional throughout.”

Edwards said the move is “a new start” for the branch and the committee can now put its energy into promoting the organisation and increasing its membership.

“It’s a chance to revive the branch after the disruptions of the past two and a half years.

“We need new members to help invigorate our organisation. We hope to follow up [the recent publicity] with better promotion of our branch meetings and our resources.

“It would be great to celebrate 40 years as a thriving society next year.”

  • The branch will host an open day at its new building, 5 Church St, on Saturday, October 1, from 10am-noon. It will be offering a year’s membership at half price for anyone wanting to join. 

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall
Erin Kavanagh-Hall is the editor of the Wairarapa Midweek. She has been a journalist for the past 10 years, and has a keen interest in arts, culture, social issues, and community justice.

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