Dust & Grime

I have written about the shelving in my genealogy room, approximately 110 linear feet of shelving, most of it is the heavy duty steel, office type. Unfortunately, no adjustable shelves, but three-ring binders fit comfortably with 3+ inches of clearance at the top (enough room to pile loose papers on top of the binders). Fortunately, the shelving is a cream color, not a warehouse grey.

It has been twelve years since we added onto our house and created my lower level genealogy room. While moving items from the shelves to the filing cabinets, I have made an interesting discovery. Dust and grime have settled into the tops of my notebooks, scrapbooks, photo albums and piles of papers! Imagine that!

It is a good thing I am moving most of the notebook materials and loose papers into the filing cabinets. This should be a safer environment for them.

By the way, the filing cabinets are sitting on 2″x4″ blocks to allow ventilation under them, and we have two dehumidifiers in our basement and keep a close eye on their function.

However, what about the scrapbooks and photo albums? Currently many of them are laying on my shelves, gathering dust and grime. As I’ve toured Iowa’s various repositories I’ve noticed that many archives store scrapbooks in preservation boxes. I have too many scrapbooks in too many odd sizes to do this within my retirement budget.

However, while visiting another archives, I noticed many of their scrapbooks were wrapped in something and laying on the shelves. I asked the archivist what they use for wrapping their scrapbooks. Tyvek was the answer. Light bulb flash in brain: what about using the tyvek product that is used in home construction? Would that be any cheaper than ordering tyvek from a preservation company?

I started my research, reviewing websites for three archival supply companies (Gaylord, Hollinger Metal Edge, and Light Impressions), pages for building construction materials (Lowe’s and Home Depot) and searched for general information on “tyvek.” Findings: Materials from both the archival supply companies as well as the building construction companies are labeled “tyvek.” DuPont owns the rights to the tyvek product name. Tyvek is a light weight, pH neutral, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) product that protects from water, dirt, dust, UV rays, and is resistant to tearing, mold, and mildew. Sounds like the perfect product for preserving scrapbooks!

My husband thought I’d have to buy a roll 12 feet wide and miles long costing hundreds of dollars. But I discovered that Lowe’s sells a 3′ x 100′ roll of DuPont Tyvek HomeWrap for $35.99. This fits my budget!

Would an archivist agree with my thinking? I submitted a query to the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG) email list. A respected archivist responded, “You are correct. Tyvek is tyvek.” Another professional responded with the reminder, “The only difference is that the Tyvek used on buildings has a logo on it. As long as that side isn’t facing the item you’re protecting (I know, you didn’t need me to tell you that), you’re fine.”

Hurrah! Looks like I have figured out how to keep dust and grime out of my scrapbooks and photo albums. Looks like I need to find hours in the day to do another project!

Continuing our exploration for hidden genealogy resources in Iowa:

Dutch Heritage Room, DeWitt Library
Northwestern College
101 7th Street SW
Orange City, Iowa 51041


Aah, Orange City! I had never been there, but I’ve always lived near Pella, an earlier Dutch community. The Dutch settlement of Orange City was established as a colony of Pella.

Greta Grond and Doug Anderson were especially helpful as they explained the Dutch heritage of the area. Besides the usual college records, the archives includes a large collection of Tulip Festival scrapbooks covering 1936-1990 as well as other Sioux County histories, memoirs and genealogies. Henry Hospers was the initiator of the group who moved from Pella to Orange City and he was a long-time newspaper publisher. His collection is held here. A digitization project of their collections is continuing and being placed on their website.

The archives also holds a collection of RCA (Reformed Church in America) church records for disbanded churches in Iowa, North & South Dakota, and Minnesota. Check the online Finding Aids for more information.

Another significant piece of information is that De Volksvriend, a Dutch language newspaper founded by Henry Hospers and published from 1872 to 1951, has been digitized and is available online through the National Library of the Netherlands. An explanatory page for non-Dutch speakers and a link to the images is found on the archives website. A helpful article about De Volksvriend is “Dateline Orange City, Iowa: De Volksvriend and the Creation of Dutch American Community in the Midwest, 1874-1951″ by Robert Schoone-Jungen, Annals of Iowa, volume 69, Summer 2010, pp. 308-331. This newspaper is particularly significant because it served as a communication hub: correspondents from many other Dutch settlements used this newspaper as a means of communicating with each other.

I don’t usually purchase books during these visits since it could break my budget, but this time I purchased Images of America: Orange City by Doug Anderson, Tim Schlak, Greta Grond, and Sarah Kaltenbach (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2014). Filled with many photographs, it is very helpful for understanding the community and the heritage.

Before we left town we had eaten our picnic lunch in the Windmill Park and purchased Dutch letters and three different kinds of meat. Everyone we met in the park, in the shops and at the college seemed so genuinely welcoming.

All in all, it was a delicious experience!

Continuing the series to find hidden genealogy resources in Iowa:

Greater Sioux County Genealogical Society
Sioux Center Public Library
102 South Main Ave
Sioux Center, Iowa 51250



There is more here than meets the eye!

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with Wilma J. Vande Berg in the genealogy alcove at the public library. And, I agree with the people who told me that Wilma is the “know-all” person for Sioux County genealogy!

Let’s go back a little, to July 2003. because it is amazing this genealogy area even exists today. In July 2003 someone threw lighted firecrackers into the book drop and burned the library down! Fortunately, the genealogy materials were in the basement in a vault-like room surrounded with concrete walls. Soon after the fire was extinguished the genealogy file drawers were pulled from their cabinets, piled into a trailer and hauled to Wilma’s walkout basement where she worked with fans and ventilation for months to remove the odor. In the meantime, the city had bigger problems: salvage what they could and build a new library. Wilma said that approximately 50,000 books were sent to Chicago in refrigerated trucks to be freeze-dried and restored.

I liked the way the genealogy area is arranged: work tables and chairs in the center with shelves of genealogy materials on three sides and filing cabinets along the fourth side. The area is welcoming and well organized. It also shows a dedication of the library (and by extension, the community) to the needs of genealogists–to preserve the past.

Wilma showed me the vertical files with about 9,000 surname files, very impressive. She said that when researchers come in they can usually find their family name in these files.

Organized onto the shelves and tucked in an archival storage area are many other items of interest: WWI and WWII soldiers, photos, original newspapers, family histories, newspaper indexes, etc. Be sure to check the website for a more complete listing of their holdings.

She showed me their marvelous DRS 3000 Digital Retrieval Workstation that loads microfilm to a computer where it is viewed on a computer monitor. The images can then be zoomed in or out and lightened or darkened, as needed, and sent to a printer. Later I did an internet search for this system and discovered that this specific one is no longer made. However, I recommend that other genealogy or historical groups investigate this kind of option. As I’ve traveled around the state a common comment has been that “we can no longer get parts to fix our microfilm reader/printer.” I was certainly impressed with the workstation concept.

Many Sioux County newspaper images can be accessed through http://siouxcounty.newspaperarchive.com, however, the public library board is working with another company to move the images to a site which should be less prone to problems.

GSCGS certainly has a dedicated group of volunteers. It is always nice to see such a group effort. Wilma said they have anywhere from six to ten people who come on Wednesday afternoons to work. They work a while, then have coffee!

She also has several people who are working on a project to post obituaries onto their website. Currently they have about 23,600 obituaries online adding about 500 more every month.

Besides the dedication of so many volunteers, the website is the real hidden treasure here. It is nice how GSCGS is using something already in existence, the USGenWeb/IAGenWeb project instead of creating a new website for researchers to find. There can be real advantages to “one-stop shopping.” As I tried to use their website, however, I had difficulty finding the huge obituary collection; then I saw it… the obit icon on the left side of the screen! So obvious, but I couldn’t find it. Be sure to dig… you may be surprised at everything you will find.

There is more here than meets the eye!

A Bountiful Harvest: The Midwestern Farm Photographs of Pete Wettach, 1925-1965 by Leslie A. Loveless, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 52242, 2002

Sometimes we are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Recently, a friend handed my husband a book saying, “This book has Marieta’s name on it!” It didn’t really, but she suspected I’d be interested. My friend was helping a family downsize their mother’s things. This book was among the collection.

As I read the book, I was fascinated by the story and I was fascinated by the photographs.

Pete Wettach preserved images of Iowa farm families in the 1930s, 1940s, into the 1960s. By day he worked for the Farm Security Administration (later the Farmers Home Administration) which helped small farmers purchase land. Pete had ample access to the families as he travelled from farm to farm visiting his clients and helping to guide the families in their farm and household management decisions. While not an official government photographer, Pete was interested in the story that could be told about the lives of the people he worked with, so he often set up his camera and family members posed for photographs. In the evenings, Pete would develop the negatives and print the pictures, then he would sell many of his photos to the farm magazines. Sometimes the families had the privilege of basking in momentary stardom when their friends saw their picture in a popular farm publication.

In A Bountiful Harvest, Leslie Loveless does a great job helping the reader understand the significance of Pete’s labor of love.

Several facets of this book hit soft spots with me. First, with her Brownie camera, my mother also took some pictures showing rural farm life beginning in the 1930s. Second, I grew up on a farm during the second half of Pete’s freelance photography career. Third, I have also had a darkroom, developing negatives and printing pictures, a couple times in my life. And, finally, the very last page provides information that could help genealogists with a little used resource. After doing a little more research, I plan to write about this.


For years I’ve had many of my genealogy files in 3-ring binders. I’ve had a set of 3 binders for the surname of each of my great-grandparents (8 total sets). Each surname had a specific color code for the labels on the notebooks. Each of the 3 binders: Genealogical Record Book (family group sheets, etc.), Documents, Photographs. As a notebook filled, I added more notebooks. For one surname I have 38 binders. For years I’ve thought this was the ONLY way to organize my genealogy.

I had lots of shelving space. As I’ve gotten more stuff and didn’t have time to add it to the notebooks, my shelves became overloaded with boxes and piles in addition to the binders.

THEN, along came some time to sort and organize! That was when I realized that future generations aren’t going to care about notebooks of land records, cemetery records, census records, military records, etc.

It FINALLY clicked that future generations are going to ask questions about people, not records. No wonder I’ve been assembling a collection of filing cabinets. Did you know that filing cabinets are a more efficient use of space than 3-ring binders?

I am organizing my files by surname and names within the surname in birth order. I’ve set the tabs for each generation in a different position moving across the hanging folders¬†and color-highlighted the names according to generation. I can open a drawer and easily see birth order for everyone in each generation.

I’m not done, but I have files established for each surname and I have been emptying the binders into the files. I’ve also been tackling many of the piles and boxes. My strategies: 1) work on the easiest first, and 2) keep plugging away.

When I am ready to enter information into my genealogy program, I hope to have nearly everything for each person in their file.

As I was driving the 2+ miles to visit my mother in the memory unit where she resides, I happened across several items placed along the curb with a big “FREE” sign. Included were four 4-drawer HON steel filing cabinets! I immediately called my husband and he lost no time jumping in his pickup and retrieving the filing cabinets. Thus, I got sidetracked: the rest of my day has centered around reorganizing my storeroom, moving those filing cabinets into it and thinking about what to put in them.

For the record… we now have three 2-drawer filing cabinets and eleven 4-drawer cabinets primarily devoted to genealogy/family history. Most likely, they will all be full by next spring! I’d like to be done with the majority of my sorting/tossing/organizing by then. I cannot overemphasize the enormity of this project!

Today, my husband claimed one of the cabinets for his genealogy!

Continuing my sorting of Mom’s collection, I have found nearly a paper box full of high school and college yearbooks. What to do with these?

I am going through each one looking for relatives. When found, I photocopy the page(s) as well as any related pages and title page, and place in the person’s hanging file. This has been very interesting, especially reading some of the one-line comments with the photographs of the seniors.

One of my favorites was for my mother’s brother, “Because a man doesn’t talk is no sign he hasn’t something to say.” (1) This apparently describes a personality trait for an uncle I never knew (he was a pilot and killed in China in an plane crash near the end of WW II). My brother is also very quiet; a family trait?

My mother’s aunt was the joke editor for her senior yearbook. Mae’s joke:

Howard Miller and Mae B. were sitting on the porch. Howard: “If I had money, I’d travel.” Mae reached out her hand and fondly put it in his, then ran into the house. Howard amazingly looked into his hand. There was a nickel. (2)

I’m going to donate these yearbooks to the Iowa Genealogical Society, as they are just starting a collection of yearbooks.

Yearbooks may provide unexpected color for an ancestor’s biography.
(1) Howard Butler, Indianola (Iowa) High School Pow-Wow, 1935, p. 9.

(2) The Pow-Wow of Indianola (Iowa) High School, Volume Nine, 1923, unnumbered pages, joke pages were near the back of the book.


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