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Historian takes on town of Van Buren

How does a math and science college major and retired school nurse/teacher become a town historian?

The link is genealogy.

“History was not my big subject,” said Marilyn Breakey, 74. “But in the late 1970s, I got into genealogy and I thought ‘that looks like fun.’ Well ‘that looks like fun’ turned into a 45-year career!”

Breakey was appointed town historian for Van Buren in January and has spent the first part of the year sorting and organizing. She recently inventoried all the files and is in the process of tackling the reference section. Her next project includes sifting through one full drawer of undocumented, unidentified photos, of which she said there could easily be up to 300. She has already found homes for two pictures of a rural school called Prattham.

“I went online, researched it — turns out [the school’s] in Mexico,” Breakey said. “I got rid of two of them!”

While Breakey describes herself as an organizational nut, it’s the time spent learning about the populace that she loves best.

“I’m more interested in talking to the people,” she said. “If someone has some interesting memories passed down from their parents by people here in Van Buren, I would love to hear from them. All they have to do is call the town clerk’s number and she will get the information to me and I’ll get back to them.”

Breakey recently interviewed a 92-year-old woman who was a student in one of the old rural school districts here. She graduated from Oswego in 1943, then a degree-granting Oswego State Teachers College.

“I want to know what the memories are,” she said.

Prior to becoming the town historian, Breakey did some intensive research about the conifer logging community in the Adirondacks. Consequently, she wrote an article that was published in Quarterly, a magazine published by the St. Lawrence County Historical Association.

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