RICHLAND --Renee Petersen's father never talked about family history.
So when the Richland resident stumbled across documents that she couldn't explain after her father's death, she turned to research.
Unanswered questions such as Petersen's have transformed many Tri-Citians into historical detectives searching for the answer to question "Where did I come from?"
Sharpening those skills, sharing stories and finding more resources have brought her and other detectives to the Tri-City Genealogical Society for the past 50 years.
As the society prepares to celebrate its 50th anniversary May 4, the passion for research remains the same although the technology and the popularity of genealogical research have changed.
In the beginning, society members used the purple-ink, hand-cranked mimeograph printing process to copy documents, said Lee Smith, 72, the society's past president. Now computers and scanners are the tools of the trade.
The group of 23 Tri-Citians who met at the Richland Public Library on May 4, 1961, has grown to about 150 members, he said.
Since that first meeting, the group also has completed several big projects, including creating a digital catalog of the 66,000 people in photos that CREHST Museum collected from three closed Richland photo shops, Smith said.
Members now are transcribing school censuses from the early 1900s. Smith said they have made it to about 1920.
The society has a unique partnership with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said Susan Faulkner, society president.
They combined resources for the Richland Family History Center starting in 1986, with the church providing the facility, and the society providing many of the documents that fill the two-story building, she said. That library, at 1314 Goethals Drive, is open to the public.
Some of the family histories that fill the shelves in one room were written by the society's members.
Smith's family history isn't on that shelf, yet. He finished his father-in-law's family history before starting on his own.
Smith said he grew up as an only child in California, where his parents had no family. "I didn't know who I was," he said.
Through research, he discovered his ancestors had changed their name from Schmid to Smith in 1880. His great-great-grandfather immigrated to the United States from Germany with his mother in 1854. Smith wonders if that ancestor being illegitimate is what brought his family to the New World.
Now he's collecting bits of his ancestry to pass on to his children and grandchildren, using the RootsMagic Family Tree Software to arrange and save what he's found.
Thus far, Smith said, he has 1,500 direct relatives in that database. He's not sure if he will make it into a book, but RootsMagic has that capability.
Petersen turned to blogging rather than a book to share the fruits of her labor. The 68-year-old started putting her finds online in August, and still is recording the lives and deaths of one family line.
She has started with a great-great-grandfather, Charles Kidgell Jr., who died at 38 in 1872 after a horse kicked him in the chest and he got pneumonia.
There have been surprises along the way, including finding out that Kidgell's wife Sarah Ann had more marriages than Petersen thought.
Petersen did end up answering the question originally sparked by her father's documents. She finally determined that her great-grandfather took an adopted name, Tomlinson, as his last name when his mother remarried, although he was born a Wherrett. Her father's middle name was Wherrett.
But answering the name mystery hasn't dampened Petersen's curiosity, and she's still on the hunt to fill holes in family lore.
The Tri-City Genealogical Society's is offering a free 50th anniversary celebration at 6:30 p.m. May 4 in the Doris Roberts Gallery of the Richland Public Library, 840 Northgate Drive.
* For more information, see www.tricitygenealogicalsociety.org or call Lee Smith at 509-545-5534 or Susan Faulkner 509-554-1050.