Sue Owen had no interest in genealogy until receiving a 1968 telephone call from her brother, John Leverett, who had just returned from a trip to Boston. There he found a large ornate tombstone behind Old First Church bearing his name, John Leverett. The man whose name was inscribed on the stone arrived in Boston in 1632.
"He became governor of the Massachusetts (Colony), and one of his sons became president of Harvard," Owens said. "He had three sons: John, William and Thomas."
Owen's brother left her the message that would send her on an engrossing journey into her family history.
The message said simply, "Sue, you have more time to research this. See if we're related."
"That got me started in genealogy," Owen said, "and I am still looking, trying to find the link." Owen, who was born in Texas, with roots in Georgia and Alabama, has a forebear named William Leverett, she said, who died in the South. She believes William, son of John Leverett of Boston, might have gone South. She added that there were courthouse records in the South that were destroyed by fire, and she has not been able to make a connection.
Her genealogical journey began a week after the telephone call from her brother, Owen said, thanks to Payson resident Joann Thompson.
Thompson ran an ad in the newspaper inviting anyone interested in genealogy to come to the first meeting of a new group, that eventually became the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society.
Owen attended that first meeting along with Thompson and Mary Rogers.
Almost 40 years later, Owen is still interested in the window genealogy offers into the past. She is a regular volunteer at the Northern Gila County Genealogical Society Library, a library she helped create.
Owen and her late husband, Robert Owen, sold land next to their home to the genealogical society for the library, and she expressed her appreciation for the fact that the NGCGS installed a gate in the fence leading to her property, providing easy access from her home to the library.
The genealogical library is available to all Rim Country residents with an interest in tracing their origins.
It is not necessary that one have roots in Gila County, or even in Arizona, to search in the NGCGS Library.
"We're proud of our little library," Owen said. "We're up to date and online." They have Internet access to the Boston Public Library, The Godfrey Memorial Library, The Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Bookmarks of Family History Favorites, and, of course, Northern Gila County Genealogy. They can also order books, microfilm and microfiche from the Sutro Library and the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration.
Among available volumes are regional and international books and those concerning Native Americans.
"We specialize in Gila County," Owen said, "but we have resources for every state in the union and many foreign lands also."
The library collection includes some rare books. Kay Loftfield of Payson donated an extensive set of Civil War books: "The War of the Rebellion, a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies," published in 1899 by the Government Printing Office. There is also a rare Civil War volume, "Harper's Pictorial History of the Civil War," published in 1866 by The Fairfax Press.
The library has many records on microfilm and microfiche. (On microfiche), "I found the marriage date of my Grandmother and Grandfather Leverett in Vernon, Texas," Owen said. "That's where I was born. I wrote for a copy of the marriage license. The clerk sent me their original marriage certificate. They had never picked it up."
Owen had similar luck concerning her other set of grandparents. "My maternal Grandmother and Grandfather Moody were married in Tarant County, Texas. The only lady I have hired to do research for me went to the courthouse in Tarant County, Texas, and it was under construction and remodeling. In the bathroom, on a stool, were the marriage records of the approximate date I sent her. She opened the box and found the original marriage certificate of my maternal grandparents."
Owen, who has served as both president and vice president of the NGCGS, spoke with pride of their complete records of the Payson Pioneer Cemetery.
"The records were compiled by Lena Hampton Chilson, and kept until her death," she said. "We continue to keep the records up to date. As a newcomer to Payson, I went to ask Lena Hampton Chilson if we could share her records of the Payson Cemetery that she had kept through the years. She took me down to her basement, with a dirt floor, and she opened her safe and entrusted me with her valuable records, to have them copied, and they are now available to all of Payson."
Other local records include family histories, many genealogies of early pioneer families of Gila County, plat maps of original settlers, census records, tax records, obituaries and newspapers dating from 1947 to the present.
If you go:
The Northern Gila County Genealogical Society Library is located at 302 E. Bonita St. It is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and by appointment. Call (928) 474-2139.