West Houston Area Genealogy Society (WHAGS)
Our society had a humble beginning. A tiny group of retired teachers began meeting over coffee and doughnuts to discuss genealogy. Since there was little money involved, the ‘treasurer’ carried the monies for the group in a coin purse. Yes, we started out very small in the 1980’s with this group of friends meeting to assist each other with genealogical matters. Meetings were held at the Bear Creek Community Center located in Bear Creek Park. Sometimes the ‘leader’, Jo Linder, invited the group of about 10, to her home to learn how to do genealogy research over coffee and with lots of companionships!
Mic Barnette, a genealogical researcher, and writer, had a column on genealogy in the Houston Chronicle (1994-2004). The president of the society gave Mic a call, asked him to mention the group in his column and provide support for our growth. Mic was very generous; he even came and spoke. The group of friends suddenly grew to a mass of 70+. The founding group was overwhelmed by the sudden growth. They thanked Mic for all his help and asked him to continue his support just not to mention us in his column again. He laughed and agreed not to publicize the society further. After this, the group slowly shrank back to 20-30 members.
Back then, when the group needed money, a Zip-loc bag was passed around for contributions. Joyce Barry agreed to handle the money and the group did just fine for a number of years. Activities back then included subscribing to the Federation of Genealogical Societies and when a member died or left the group a book was given to the Clayton Library in his/her memory. Speakers were free in those days. The group was helped along by some of the best speakers, many of whom went on to become nationally known. A number of individuals and organizations helped the society through the early years. The Bear Creek Community Center even let us use their copier for meeting notes. All they asked was for us to provide our own paper.
Socializing was important to the group. For years the group met at the Omni Hotel at Interstate 10 and Eldridge for lunch before regular monthly meetings. A great time was had by all as they shared their latest finds and inevitable brick walls. Yet another way some members of the Society socialized was to join The Humble Area Genealogical Society (THAGS) in their annual week-long trip to the Family History Library in Salt Lake City.
Another milestone was setting up our genealogy library on shelves provided by the Bear Creek Community Center. Members, who knew how to set up the protocols for a library, volunteered their time. We received assistance from many helpers. A wonderful library was created.
The society was set up as a non profit 509(a)(2) in 2009 and named Bear Creek Genealogical Society & Library. The word ‘Library’ was added to the name to allow the Society to apply for grants. No grants have been applied for to date.
The Tax Day Flood in 2016 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 both flooded the Bear Creek Community Center. After being flooded twice, Harris County made the decision not to reconstruct the Center. We needed a new home and a place to locate the library items not lost to water or mold. So in 2017, we relocated to the Westlake Volunteer Fire and Community Center on Saums Road, and we changed our name to Houston West Family Genealogy Society.
In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we took all events virtual using Zoom, and we launched a new website to make us more accessible to the public and to our members.
In 2021, we began offering our presentations in a hybrid format, so people could attend in-person as well as virtually via Zoom. Looking for a simpler name for the society, we again updated our name to what it is now: West Houston Area Genealogy Society (WHAGS). This name change triggered several other changes including a vastly updated website: WHAGS.org, a Facebook Group, and more.
In 2022 we hosted a Beginners' Genealogy Workshop, our first foray into a paid program for non-members. We also launched a weekly informational email to consolidate our various communications with membership into a single, consistent format. Also in '22, a logo was designed and the emailing became The Leaflet.
Presidents of the Society:
1994-1996 Laela Jo Linder
1996-1997 Joyce Carter Peterson
1997-1998 John P Nash
1998-1999 Sharon Wakefield
1999-2006 Several individuals worked to keep the Society going during these years, including Paulinette Bruni, John Nash, Marie Hoelter and Mary Ann Bonneville. As far as anyone remembers there was not a president between 1999 and 2006.
2006 Marie Hoelter
2007-2008 Debra Baker; Brenda Smiley
2008-2020 Gary Tober
2020-2021 Jenny Sharrer
2021 to present Gail Colby