Situated on a hilltop in Wallingford on a lot once surrounded by fruit orchards is the Historic Seattle-owned Good Shepherd Center (GSC). Today, the GSC is a vital multi-purpose community center housing a senior center, six live/work units for artists, a rehearsal and performance space, various schools, local and international non-profit organizations, and several small businesses that all together (in “normal” times) attract an estimated 125,000 visitors annually.
Originally built in 1906 as the Home of the Good Shepherd, the Sisters of the Good Shepherd occupied the building and grounds for over 60 years, providing shelter, education, and training to young women and printing and laundry services to local industries such as The Great Northern and Northern Pacific Railroads. After the Home of the Good Shepherd closed in the ’70s, the Wallingford community fought and defeated a proposal to turn the 11-acre site into a shopping center and the City of Seattle purchased the property in 1975. The building was then transferred to Historic Seattle for use as a community center. For over 40 years, Historic Seattle has since worked continuously to honor its past and further its legacy as a place full of vitality where community can thrive.
Of course, the story of the Good Shepherd Center continues to evolve, and this month part of that evolution is the introduction of our newest GSC tenant — the Seattle Genealogical Society! This month, we talked to Jim Secan, the genealogical society’s current president. Below are Jim’s responses to questions we asked about the work of the society and changes that are underway as they make their move into the GSC and prepare for their upcoming centennial and the next 100 years.
What is the Seattle Genealogical Society?
Our mission is two-fold. One, we have taken on the mission of collecting and preserving materials that are of interest historically, primarily, in a genealogical sense. Genealogy is a specialized history — it’s the history of the “little man,” so to speak. We look not just at what the Dennys, Terrys, Doc Maynards, and “so and sos” of Seattle did, but at what the ‘Bill Smiths’ and such did. An not only in the 1880s, but also for the future’s sake, in 2010. We are in the business of preservation of community. We preserve the documents that community have made over the years documenting its history – everything from tax records, birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates — anything that documents someone doing something. We are preserving the paperwork and now the digital works, that a community collects over the years.
The second part of our mission is to provide education to our membership. We are in a similar kind of business (as Historic Seattle). We educate on the parts of history that we deal with, just like you deal with education on the parts of history you deal with. This is particularly important these days when it goes beyond teaching people how to do research in a musty old library. Now, the question is also, “How do you do research on the internet? How do you work with digital materials?” And “How do we best preserve these materials so that they are most accessible?”
Why move to the Good Shepherd Center? What are your plans for the next 100 years?
We’re coming up on our centennial in 2023, and so we are asking ourselves, “What do we need to look like to prepare for the next 100 years?” As part of that, we decided we would relocate. We were looking for a place that would energize our base and energize ourselves. This has been an opportunity for us to look at everything with a critical eye and ask, “Is this something that is key and core to our mission?”
And while the space is smaller than our previous home, it fits into our plans to downsize our library and move away from the books and paper genealogy of our past and to force ourselves to move into a more digitally oriented future. With this pandemic, we have really had to look at how we go about the education portion of our mission because until recently that had primarily been done in person. We are also asking ourselves where we fit in to the larger genealogy educational programs. “What holes are there, and what opportunities are there in this this time that has been so impacted by the pandemic?”
How to interest younger generations in genealogy has also been a big topic of discussion. Many of the people we are trying to attract to genealogy are more interested in accessing things digitally and online. Of course, we are still going to have books and papers, but we are narrowing our collection to focus only on the Pacific Northwest, and items that are unique to our collection. As well, as a society we are moving away from traditional definition of a family which prompts us to ask, “What kind of a program can we set up that would provide the tools for young people wanting to get into this kind of research without imposing barriers of any kind?” We want to go there, but we want to go there with great care.
The Good Shepherd Center, you walk up to the building and think, “How could you NOT love this place!” This is a move into a building that is not only beautiful, but also has a long history. Longer than ours in fact. We are excited to connect and collaborate with Historic Seattle, as well as others both in the building and in the surrounding community. We were originally based in the main Seattle Public Library building downtown; this will be our fifth location since being in the library, and it feels like coming home.
Visit https://seagensoc.org/ to learn more or get involved with the Seattle Genealogical Society. To learn more about the GSC’s history, check out Good Shepherd Center Garden History Tour, part of Historic Seattle’s Preservation Station video series on YouTube. Interested in experiencing the Good Shepherd Center in person and tasting this year’s heirloom apple harvest? Join us for our 7th Annual Heirloom Apple Event on Thursday, October 14, 2021!