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Noted county historian leaves lasting memories

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Genealogist and local historian Sue Baker, 81, died Sunday. In addition to spending countless hours researching and writing books on the county's Civil War era, Baker often helped people trace their roots. (Photo provided)
Genealogist and local historian Sue Baker, 81, died Sunday. In addition to spending countless hours researching and writing books on the county's Civil War era, Baker often helped people trace their roots. (Photo provided)

GREENFIELD — In the preface of her book, “Civil War Soldiers,” Sue Baker wrote, “I have spent hours and hours deciphering names that had been transcribed from original regiment records kept by an army company clerk whose fancy flourishes of penmanship and phonetic spelling constantly became cantankerous puzzles for me.”

That is but a brief glimpse into the mind of the county’s top genealogist and one of the county’s highly respected historians, who died Sunday.

Baker, 81, dedicated her life to tracing the past. As a genealogist and author of numerous county history books, including “Civil War Era,” a book she co-authored with local historians Joe Skvarenina and Elayne Stewart, Baker had a passion for detail and a gift for exploring it.

“She was my mentor and a good friend,” Skvarenina said. “She was always kind and friendly and had the patience to give me the guidance to find the facts.”    

With a meticulous manner and an outgoing personality, Baker, a Greenfield native and 1950 Greenfield High School graduate, had the perfect demeanor for the type of work she loved to do – researching history and uncovering hard-to-find facts, Skvarenina said.

“She just had the habit of being able to find something that no one else could find,” Skvarenina said. “When I was stumped, I would always go to Sue Baker.”

Her friends and colleagues say when Baker and her husband, James, weren’t out doing painstaking researching and walking through old county cemeteries, she was deep into tracing some family’s history.

“I think she was more into chasing family roots than anything else,” Skvarenina said.

Stewart, one of her longtime colleagues, is also a local historian and said anytime someone would call her looking to trace their heritage, she knew right where to direct them.

“I always felt comfortable giving them Sue’s contact information,” Stewart said. “Sue knew so much about the history of the county and people alive and also those buried.”

Referring to Baker as a “walking history book,” Stewart said she and Baker became friends through the Hancock County Historical Society many years ago.

Not only did Baker do countless hours of research, friends say, she and her husband also helped preserve many memories from old cemeteries. 

“Her husband, Jim, deserves credit too,” Stewart said. “He was a willing participant, and the two of them went and explored all those Hancock County cemeteries; and that was painstaking work.”    

Stewart said it was clear Baker had a passion for looking back and creating books and family tree albums to keep the past ever present.

“She was always getting all kinds of phone calls from people all over asking her, ‘What do you know about this, and what do you know about that,’” Stewart said. “She was such a fountain of knowledge.”

Brigette Jones, president of the Hancock County Historical Society, said Baker’s work will be a fitting legacy.

“She went the extra mile,” Jones said. “The books that she wrote are invaluable for what I do. I refer to them constantly.”

She recommends Baker’s books to anyone doing research on the county.

“She was very meticulous,” Jones said. “Particularly in her Civil War book … If she knew that they were buried somewhere, she’d include that information in that book.”

Baker’s best-known book, “Hancock County, Indiana Tombstone Inscriptions: One Hundred Years, 1833-1933,” is a must-have reference for many researchers.            

Baker was also part of the county genealogists association from its inception in 1998 until it disbanded in 2009. Former member Betty Kerrigan said while she never had the chance to meet Baker in person, her work spoke volumes.

“She was highly respected by all of us,” Kerrigan said. “Hancock County was fortunate to have her.”  

Stewart said it would be fitting if local officials would create some type of Sue Baker appreciation day. Without her, friends say, it would be hard for future generations to have the chance to delve deeply into the county’s past.

“Our historical society deals a lot with history, and we have the artifacts, but Sue had the people and the history of the people,” Stewart said. “What a legacy she left behind. Her books speak volumes about the kind of person she was.”

A service will be held at 2 p.m. today at Park Cemetery. Friends may share a memory or send a condolence at erleweinmortuary.com.

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