By SHIRLEY PULAWSKI
OBSERVER Staff Writer
A Dunkirk couple received a prestigious award on Saturday at the Fredonia Opera House for their work indexing genealogical and other historical records in the county over many years.
OBSERVER Photo by Shirley Pulawski
Chautauqua County Historical Society’s Michelle Henry presented the Elial T. Foote Local history Award to Lois Barris at the Fredonia Opera house on Saturday.
The Chautauqua County Historian and the County Historical Society began to sponsor the Elial T. Foote Local History Award last year. County Historian Michelle Henry said the award will not necessarily be made annually. "We aren't going to give this out every year. It is only going to be received by folks who have gone above and beyond to promote ... and share local history," she said.
This year's award went to Norwood and Lois Barris, a Dunkirk couple who spent many years in their retirement indexing records. "Historical records aren't much good if you can't find what you're looking for," Henry explained, and said the couple entered a large amount of data from old cemetery, church, census and other records within the county. The two published guides and over 58 publications are now available from the Chautauqua County Genealogical Society, most due to the efforts of the couple, according to Henry.
"Their publications have become the ultimate resource, not just for county residents but to researchers around the globe."
Lois Barris accepted the award on behalf of herself and posthumously for her husband. "Well, it's a 'good news, bad news' kind of day," Barris told the crowd overflowing the Trustee's Room on the second floor of the village hall/opera house building. "You all know what the bad news is," she said of her husband's passing in September of 2011. "The good news is pretty spectacular. Norwood and I are lucky to be receiving this award for something we loved doing together. We were lucky to find something to do in our retirement that we really enjoyed doing together," she explained. "I'm only sad that Norwood isn't here to share it with me," she said, choking back tears.
The award is named after Elial Todd Foote, a physician who served as county sheriff, New York state assemblyman and county judge. Foote's efforts to preserve and document the county's history began in 1820. "He once chastised legislators for using the minutes of the (legislative) meetings to light the wood stove," Henry told the crowd.
As Foote traveled around the county in his capacity as judge, he recorded most of what is known about the first settlers and the first few decades of the county's growth and development from the recollection of those he met.