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."1
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 the world.2
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
- To teach the fundamentals of genealogical research and methodology.
- To teach research skills using a variety of resources and facilities.
- To provide broad and in-depth historical and genealogical subject content.
- To teach the evaluation of resources, proficiency in bibliographic citation, and critical analysis of documentation.
- To provide instruction for those wishing to pursue careers in genealogy and related disciplines.