Gunnedah's Shirley Coote is one of the town's 'hidden treasures' and her commitment to the community was recently recognised at a state level when she was named a finalist in the NSW Volunteer of the Year Awards.
Mrs Coote was completely overwhelmed as Gunnedah mayor Jamie Chaffey presented her with a framed certificate from the NSW Centre of Volunteering along with flowers and chocolates.
Cr Chaffey congratulated Mrs Coote and thanked her on behalf of the community for the work she does in recording family histories and helping keen genealogists to find their ancestors through the Gunnedah Family History Group.
Mrs Coote was nominated by the history group, which operates from Gunnedah library, meeting on the second and fourth Wednesday of the month from 9.30am to noon.
Shirley Coote was assisting locals with family inquiries long before she formed the group in conjunction with the late Val Fearby. The group has access to Ancestry and other records through the library's computer system but had been in recess due to the COVID-19 restrictions.
Gunnedah's 2016 Citizen of the Year, Mrs Coote was recently honoured with life membership of the Gunnedah District Historical Society, where she is affectionately known as the 'family history guru'.
What started out as an interest in her own family history around Manilla led her to graveyards and headstones.
Back in 1995, Mrs Coote released a booklet detailing burials in the Manilla district and Keepit Dam. With the support of Gunnedah Historical Society members, she began recording graves at the Hunter Street Cemetery which was dedicated in 1864.
The impetus came from the efforts of the late Millie Mirow and Betty Ormiston who presented seven copy-books to the society in 1983 detailing 1782 headstones.
Mrs Coote pressed on with the task checking council card indexes, cemetery maps, newspaper articles, undertaker and church records.
As a result, in 1996, she published a booklet titled Gunnedah's Lost Folks - resting in Hunter Street Cemetery and some unknown places. Mrs Coote is continually updating her digital records and her passion never wavers .. although the octogenarian admits that these days "her energy sometimes does".
Mayor Chaffey spoke at the 2020 Virtual New England/Northern Inland Volunteer of the Year Awards via Zoom, and including Shirley Coote there were three other Gunnedah residents nominated - George Truman, who has put in many years of volunteer work for the Gunnedah Urban Landcare Group; Ramona Wynne, a young woman who has turned her own life around and is now inspiring others through Youth Insearch; and Marlie Thomas, who has become a familiar face in Gunnedah through her representation of her people at Welcome to Country and other ceremonies.
The young Kamilaroi woman has gone on to become not only a youth leader with Youth Insearch, but a climate activist who has spoken in front of 80,000 people.
Anyone interested in learning how to trace their family history can make inquiries at the shire library or though the Gunnedah Water Tower Museum Facebook page.