Genealogy. It’s not just for professionals anymore.

Now lay people can get in on the action, thanks to companies such as 23andMe, and other biotechnology companies and TV shows such as “Finding Your Roots With Henry Louis Gates Jr.”

Yet it’s not as easy as it sounds. For starters, where does one start. Here in Clermont and surrounding municipalities, the answer is Pastfinders of South Lake Genealogical Society, a group dedicated to helping educate our community in the art and science of tracing family history and finding family roots.

“The adventures of family history are much more than learning about names and dates. We continue to learn about the lives, challenges, sacrifices and success stories from our own families. This really helps us to better our lives and to appreciate what we have today,” said Pastfinders President Anjanette Mercer.

Learning a family’s history, she said, opens many doors to discoveries, such as why they came to America.

“Many families have experienced life-changing struggles. Some of our families sacrificed with persecution from political, religious, environmental and other challenges, before emigrating to the U.S.A.,” she said. “My family started in Lebanon, escaping to Jamaica and from there, to America.”

Regardless where anyone is from, said Mercer, Pastfinders is present to help everyone learn their family story and to look for a better life.

What it has going for it that is of benefit to people wishing to research is the fact it is the only Lake County-run library to have a complete genealogy room. Also, with the library reopening after the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the organization had the opportunity to reorganize its section.

Its adherents swear by it.

“I love the Pastfinders and have been involved since the 90s,” said Shirley McDaniel. “It has opened up a new world for all of us to learn about our ancestors over the past 30 years.”

McDaniel is from North Carolina and when she started doing research it was at the Orlando Library in its microfilm department, before coming to the Pastfinders of South Lake.

“Here, I learned all of the ways to do my research through libraries, court documents, the census, published books, court house documents, marriage and military records as well as now through the internet,” she said. “I have found and met long lost cousins who I had never known about or met before here and in North Carolina. Together, we have shared stories and photographs.”

Since starting Pastfinders in the late 1980s, Sandra Oliver a Charter member since 1989 and currently the  director for Pastfinders, has seen it grow, as well as seeing how South Lake County has grown.

“Our initial group of five Clermont area people has steadily grown, as we now have over 100 members from 12 different states. I am very proud of the way we’ve grown from our first 15 books to a complete library section,” said Oliver. “I love how we can help others enjoy their research while tracing their family roots.”

One reason is the comfortable atmosphere, according to member volunteer Marjorie Hamel.

“The Pastfinders group has become a welcome home and life-changing experience for me,” she said. “It is a true joy to have made so many friends who share the same genealogy interests.”


“Our biggest challenges are fundraising and finding volunteers. After 33 years, most people still don’t know we exist or that we have research materials for places outside Lake County,” said Mercer.

Pastfinders regularly hold virtual discussions, lessons, meetings, movies, speakers and special events. Their library section is a treasure trove of books, photographs, documents and resources; plus they just added 80 new books that were donated.

The library also offers free access to and other genealogical sites. Pastfinders of South Lake Genealogical Society are committed to preserving local South Lake area history. They offer access to the Digital Library of America in connection with the Lake County Library System to research, preserve, protect and share our Lake County history.

All Pastfinders workshops and classes shared by South Lake County Genealogical Society are open to the public. Most are free to attend. Their meetings are held from September to May. They host several virtual and in-person classes.

For More Information

Pastfinders Genealogical Society of South Lake County is a nonprofit 501(C)(3) group that is supported by volunteers and donations. It is located on the second floor of Cooper Memorial Library, 2525 Oakley Seaver Drive, Clermont.




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