Astoria to welcome Lewis and Clark ancestors with ceremonyLewis and Clark never returned to the Pacific Northwest after their historic trek to the Pacific Ocean.

But hundreds of their relatives are heading this way, converging on Astoria for another historic first - the only known national gathering of descendants from the Corps of Discovery.

As many as 500 or more people who can trace their lineage to the 33 expedition members will spend the weekend visiting sites made famous by their ancestors, including Fort Clatsop National Memorial.

The event begins Friday at the Clatsop County Fairgrounds, where the visitors will be welcomed in an opening ceremony including an honor guard and Chinook Indian. Saturday includes a salmon barbecue courtesy of the Astoria Lions Club, followed by an after-hours gathering at Fort Clatsop. The next day includes a tour of sites in Pacific County, Wash., and a group photo on the beach at Seaview.

The gathering was organized by the Clatsop County Genealogical Society as a "thank-you" to both the descendants themselves and the local community for supporting the group's ambitious project to track down all the living Lewis and Clark relatives.

That project, believed to be the first comprehensive effort to catalogue the lineage of the entire expedition, has resulted in the publication of a two-volume book listing 1,669 names of Corps of Discovery descendants.

Copies of the books arrived earlier this week, to the relief of Sandra Hargrove, genealogical society president, and project organizers.

Hargrove was teaching a class in genealogy at Clatsop Community College in 1999 when the idea of tracing Lewis and Clark descendants came to her. She saw it as a way to teach her students how to trace their own histories.

"I thought it would be a good training tool," she said.

The project eventually mushroomed, as news of the project spread among descendants. Some were already heavily involved in genealogical groups tracing their families' backgrounds, while others only recently discovered their links to the famous expedition, Hargrove said. She and other project volunteers helped many people collect the necessary documentation - birth and death records, census figures and other paperwork - necessary to prove their links to an expedition member.

"Some knew, some thought, and some weren't sure," she said. "We didn't want to miss a descendant."

Hargrove said one woman contacted the group while trying to track down links to a more recent ancestor, only to discover she is a descendant of one of the expedition's sergeants, Nathaniel Pryor.

With historical documentation sketchy about many of explorers - only seven are known for sure to have had offspring - the project added "collateral" relatives - descendants of siblings or aunts and uncles of expedition members. That allowed relatives of Meriwether Lewis, who left no heirs of his own, into the list.

Neither Hargrove nor any of the other project volunteers is a Lewis and Clark descendant. Being residents of a region so important to the Corps of Discovery's story, though, it seemed logical to make the explorers the focus of their research, she said.

"We felt 'we're in Clatsop County, and that's were they came,'" she said.

As of Monday, 470 heirs had confirmed their attendance at the gathering, and more calls were coming in as she spoke, Hargrove said.

The event leaves plenty of time on Friday for mingling - many of the visitors will be meeting distant relatives for the first time, Hargrove said.

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