Association History

History of the BFA

One typical and ordinary road trip in 1971 led Joan and Virgil Bidwell to an extraordinary lifetime quest of searching for other Bidwells. The couple had a yearning to locate long-lost relatives, so they logically began where anyone would in those days – the phone book! Initially, Joan and Virgil estimated finding 100 or so other Bidwells in the United States. However, after discovering a whopping 33 listed in Columbus, Ohio, alone, they realized their family was larger than initially estimated. With each subsequent road trip and with each town that they would pass, the two would search for Bidwells in local phone books, record contact information, and collect information on family lineage and dates for each contact made.

annie kennedy and daniel davidson bidwellIn 1973, the “inaugural” Bidwell Family Reunion was held in Fairmont, Minnesota. Roughly 90 Bidwell descendants from around the country attended, many of whom were notified via contact information previously obtained from the local phone books. This was an incredible feat in less than two years, considering this was prior to the age of internet!

With each passing year, Joan and Virgil’s determination and devotion to catalog and build family connections grew exponentially – as did the Bidwell database. Other Bidwells shared in the interest as they volunteered to host annual reunions in various locations as well as assist with genealogical research efforts.

Bidwell Mansion in Chico, CaliforniaJoan’s interest eventually turned into an obsession, leading her to spend countless hours visiting genealogical libraries throughout the country including Salt Lake City, contacting numerous Bidwells, reviewing newspaper records, and walking through cemeteries all to gather the information necessary to understand the family connections. At each reunion, Joan would bring her family tree scrolls and educate the attendees by showing their relationship to one another as well as their relationship to one of our original immigrants, John Bidwell of Hartford, CT, from the mid-1600s.

Research efforts culminated with the publication of Bidwell Family History – Volume I in the mid-1980s. Everyone was excited to finally have a personal guide to trace their ancestry!

Joan’s passion for genealogical research and the annual family reunions continued until her passing in 2005. With the publication of The Bidwell Family – Volume I and II in 2011, the Bidwell Family Association was able to help Joan achieve her goal of publishing a second volume containing all the updates and additional research gathered since the initial publication.

We thank Joan and Virgil for sharing their enthusiasm with other Bidwells and especially for their dedication and commitment to the revival of the Bidwell Family Association. We learn though Joan’s research that there had been an active Bidwell Family Association up until the 1940’s which was suspended due to WWII travel safety precautions and which never resumed activity. At a family reunion, one will often say “if Joan were here, she could tell us how we are related.” While we cannot get the answer from Joan, we are deeply grateful for her efforts in creating an enduring genealogical catalog to help us find the family ties that not only connect us to each other but connect us to our forefathers and foremothers of days gone by.

If you are interested in The Bidwell Family – Volume I and II, a limited number of copies are still available. Please visit this page or Amazon to find more information or download an order form here.

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