Sullivan County Historical Society History Preserver Award 2008
Charlotte M. Osterhout (1928 – 2008)
Charlotte Main Osterhout passed away on May 18 of this year. Before she died, she learned that the Board of Directors of the Historical Society had unanimously voted to present her with the 2008 Award as History Preserver. We trust that Charlotte was aware of the high regard in which she was held by the Society, for by this decision, the Directors permanently included Charlotte with that outstanding group of county historians such as James Burbank, Manville Wakefield and John Conway, to name a few, who previously had received this designation.
In the few months that have elapsed since her death, the Society has acquired an even deeper appreciation of what she brought to the preservation of County history. First and foremost, she radiated patience and warmth with people from all over the country who came to seek information about their ancestors. At that time her exceptionally retentive memory contained a huge number of family connections, which enabled her to share forgotten family relationships with those people seeking to understand their ancestral background. For many people genealogy is the stepping-stone to a broader interest in history and Charlotte also had the ability to relate some of the family details with larger events taking place in the county and beyond.
Adult achievement is prefigured in youth and Charlotte’s upbringing prepared her for her later work. Her roots in the county ran deep. Born in 1928 she grew up on a family farm located on Neversink Road outside of Liberty, which had been in the family since the 1800’s and enjoyed warm associations with family and friends. She early developed the habit of listening to family discussions and noting births, weddings and deaths. In 1954 the family sold the farm’s cattle, although her son Glenn raised 18 beef cattle in high school and today teaches agriculture in Madison High School. A special kind of mind, curiosity and the gift of an exceptional memory are required for genealogical work and Glenn remembers that even as a boy he was impressed with his mother’s ability to recall family relationships. Over the years Charlotte was able to trace her own lineage back 400 years.
In her younger adult years she was busy with family and work. She married Richard Osterhout, who worked with the county highway department and they had three children: Glen, Marla and Carol Jean who died in childhood. Charlotte was a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Evangelical Church and the Sullivan County Historical Society and worked as s a medical secretary. She was also the recipient of the Sullivan County History Preserver of the Year award, a member of the Liberty Belles, a former member of the Town of Liberty Volunteer Ambulance Corps and Secretary/Treasurer of the Hurleyville Cemetery Association. When her husband of forty years died, her mind turned to genealogical matters and she began to pursue that subject more seriously. Soon she was helping neighbors and friends by answering their questions and helping them to develop their own family trees. She never lost the curiosity of her youth. She turned to newspapers and obituary columns to fill in the blank spots of her memory and spent many hours tramping through county cemeteries-some small, some large-and indexing gravestones for future reference. She spent hours exploring these records of the past and they became another source of family connections, which she could share.
If you visit the archives of the Historical Society in the County Museum in Hurleyville, you will be impressed with the number of family histories, which are on file. Charlotte provided useful information for many of them and when these books were completed, a copy was often sent to Charlotte by their authors in appreciation of her assistance. She acquired such a reputation for useful family knowledge that she received requests for information from as far away as California. Even lawyers seeking information about some unknown person mentioned in a will would contact her.
Although her rich memory is no longer available to us, she leaves a legacy, which will benefit county residents for many years. William Burns, Vice-President of the Historical Society and former Archivist/Curator credits Charlotte with her friendly personality and interest in other people as an important influence in building up the Society’s collection of genealogical materials. The archives are open to the public on Wednesdays, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.