PUBLISHED: 4:46 PM on Wednesday, August 13, 2008
Genealogy of a town: third volume of 'Gastineau Channel Memories' completed
JUNEAU - For more than one hundred years, a number of Juneauites born outside Alaska have had a similar story to tell: they originally came for a summer, or for a year - and then never left. But why they came, why they stayed and what they have done since is unique to each family documented in "Gastineau Channel Memories 1880-1967, Volume III," the final installment in the Pioneer Book Committee's series recording the stories of Juneau and Douglas pioneer families.

photo courtesy of Pioneer Book Committee
  "Gastineau Channel Memories, Volume III" represents 10 years of work by the Pioneer Book Committee: (from left) George Bonnett, Leo "Bud" Jones, Mary Ann Welp, Clifford Cole, Shirley Carlson, Mike Blackwell, Jeannette Doucette McLeod, Betty Marriott, Marie Darlin, Dee Williams, Katherine Messerschmidt Shaw, Jean Link and Malin Babcock.
The Pioneer Book Committee, part of Juneau's Igloo No. 6 of the Pioneers of Alaska, first formed in 1998 to compile stories of local Gold Rush pioneers for a statewide Gold Rush centennial project. The group collected 48 stories of local pioneers in the volume "Alaska Gold Rush Pioneers of Juneau-Douglas Area 1880-1921," but realized they were leaving out hundreds of stories and a large piece of Juneau's history.

"We decided there would be so much history lost if someone didn't start writing it down," said Marie Darlin, Pioneer Book Committee chair.

And so the committee began a citywide genealogy project. They started contacting longtime Juneau and Douglas families and inviting submissions of family histories.

The Aug. 16 release of the "Gastineau Channel Memories 1880-1967, Volume III" marks the culmination of a 10-year project collecting a total of 601 stories, covering 747 different families. The third volume alone contains 141 stories of 160 families.

After the previous volumes were released in 2001 and 2004, the committee was contacted by dozens of people who wanted their stories included as well.

"The word gets around and you start getting these calls (from people saying), 'I want to write my story,'" Darlin said. "It's taken us three books to get all the stories."

For the third volume, the committee pooled their contacts and resources to make sure they had submissions from groups of people under-represented in past volumes, such as former teachers and past Fish and Game employees.

Darlin said that as committee members read and edited submissions, she frequently heard exclamations such as, "I've lived here my entire life and I didn't know that!"

Even those readers who are newcomers to Juneau should recognize some of the family names in the book. The book's stories contain the origins of a number of local businesses, such as Don Abel's and Reliable Transfer.

In addition to the family photos accompanying the stories, old photos by John Hermle show the area during the years pioneers arrived in town. Photo essays showcase important parts of life in the early days of Juneau, such as the Juneau Cold Storage, the construction of the Federal Building, the mail boat "Estebeth" and the fleet of steamships that first brought all the pioneers to Juneau.

"Most everybody, in their stories, remembers which steamship they came to Alaska on," Darlin said.

The book is dedicated to those who had worked on previous books but died before the third volume was completed, as well as all of the Gastineau Channel pioneers who have gone before. The "Gastineau Channel Memories" series will help ensure their contributions to the community are not soon forgotten.

There will be a book signing Aug. 16 at 1 pm at the Nugget Mall. Members of the committee will be present to autograph the book, and all contributors have been invited to pick up their copies at that time. Following the book signing, copies will be available at Hearthside Books and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.

"Gastineau Channel Memories 1880-1959, Volume I" is out of print but available online at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum's website, Volume two is available at Hearthside Books and the Juneau-Douglas City Museum.