June 8-13, 2014
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History for the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research can be traced back over half a century.
The first institute was held at Howard College, now Samford University, in September 1962. During its first years
it was called the Willo Institute of Genealogy. The institute was named after its sponsor, Willo Press, a local press
headed up by Elizabeth Wood Thomas. The press specialized in genealogical and historical materials. Thomas is credited
with founding the institute and for having "the vision to realize we need to know how to do genealogical research."
Mr. F. W. Helmbold, the director of the college library from 1957 - 1983, is credited with getting the college library
involved with the genealogical program. Mr. Helmbold was an avid researcher and genealogist. During his years at Howard
College/Samford University, he developed a Special Collection department to emphasize Alabama and Baptist history. He was
also instrumental in the acquisition of the Albert E. Casey collection, an extensive Irish collection with few rivals in
From the very beginning, premier instructors have been associated with the institute. With the leading researchers and
scholars in the field teaching the courses, the institute has led the genealogy discipline in the instruction of family
research and local history. Mr. Helmbold once described the purpose of the institute as being to teach researchers how,
"to establish a true record of events for history, as compared to that recorded from hearsay and tradition."3
The institute has sought to instruct genealogical researchers in the art of detailed historical research beyond knowing
who their ancestors were to the deeper understanding of the times and places in which their families lived.
Over the years, the institute has taken on many forms. In 1962 the institute was a two-day event with forty students
attending and five faculty members. The cost that first year was only $10 plus an additional $2.50 for those who attended
the formal banquet held on the first night.
By 1965, the institute had become a week-long event and had moved to the month of June. By that year, the name had also
changed to the Institute of Genealogy. The institute was advertised as offering two courses, a primary course and an
advanced course, both of which were to be "conducted in the air-conditioned library." The classes that year began at 9 A.M.
and some lasted as late as 9:30 P.M. By 1965, the number of instructors had doubled from the original five during the 1962
institute to ten faculty members.
Under the leadership of Director Jean Thomason, the number of courses offered during the week-long institute
increased to ten, the number of faculty members grew to over thirty, and the number of students grew to over two hundred.
Students travel from across the country and around the globe to attend the popular institute.
- Roberson, Peggy. "Expert Narrates Joys, Rewards of 'Family Tree' Study." Birmingham News, June 21, 1967.
- History of the Samford University Library. http://library.samford.edu/about/history.html
- Harris, Mike. "Genealogy is Called Highly Specialized Historical Study." Birmingham News, June 26, 1970.
Compiled by Jennifer Taylor, Technical Archivist, Samford University Library Special Collection, 2005