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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

http://www.iagenweb.org/sioux

http://www.iagenweb.org/sioux/GSCGS/GSCGS.htm

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.

Interesting…

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.

On a Roll!

I’m on a roll with sorting and organizing! And the roll has gained such momentum that I want to work on it during nearly every spare moment! This is a good thing. I’ve tried to explain previously the enormity of the project I am facing; only my husband really knows. Let me assure you; it is huge!

My mother was typical of many (perhaps most) genealogists. She loved to do research and she did a considerable amount. Problems: 1) Mom only documented some of her sources and 2) she had difficulty organizing the information she found. For the most part she used the notebook method, but I’ve found multiple notebooks on the same surname, with much of the same information. To complicate the situation, she created a new family group sheet every time she worked on the family. I find photocopies of the same obituaries in multiple places. And, it isn’t unusual to find information for a completely different family surname stuck in the wrong binder. On top of that, I’m finding Mom was notorious for making notes for multiple surnames on the same piece of paper. Oh, my!

It isn’t just my mother’s collection I’m dealing with. My grandmother collected and saved, and my mother inherited a collection from her aunt and uncle. So, when I brought home the boxes, scrapbooks, photo albums, and binders from my mother, the contents was the conglomerate from all of these people. As I’ve worked on the materials, I’ve realized that my mother was overwhelmed!

Filing has never been my favorite activity, but I’ve been spending hours doing just that, and sort of enjoying it. I’m filing everything from Mom’s binders and boxes of loose papers into hanging folders in my file drawers. Some people would wonder “Why!” Why shouldn’t I just enter everything directly into a computer program? I’ve asked myself that question, also. However, I concluded that it is easier to get all of the information sorted using a filing system, first. That way when I enter someone into computer software, I’ll have everything that I know about that person in hand and won’t have to keep flipping from one person to another.

Mom should have owned stock in sheet protector manufacturing companies. Recently I told my husband that I can foresee the end of using large quantities of sheet protectors. I can see using archival sheet protectors for original documents; not for every family group sheet! I also told him that I foresee the eventual end of using hanging folders.

I hope I’ll live long enough to get these files scanned and the data entered into computer software. My goal to eventually write several books. Every step takes me closer to leaving something meaningful for future generations.

For now I need to get back to sorting and filing!

OK… I’ve spent a couple days doing more sorting and organizing projects.

Project One: Moved some information in binders to file folders. Starting with the several binders of information my mother had for the Pehrson surname, I labeled hanging folders for my great-grandparents (the immigrants) and for each of their twelve children. Under my grandfather, I created additional hanging folders for his children and for my generation. I will add folders for descendants of the other eleven children, if/when necessary. I emptied the binders and placed my mother’s family group sheets in these folders, along with other appropriate information. Keep in mind: my mother created several family group sheets for each person… as she found information, instead of adding the information to a master sheet, she created a new sheet, which might or might not have the same information as previous sheets… someday I will compare the sheets and analyze the information… that waits for another day… at this time, I’m simply trying to sort and assemble the information in one place. I emptied four 3-ring binders and have awesome-looking files! I wonder which family surname I should tackle next…

Project Two: Sorted some old Christmas letters. I found some of the Christmas letters that my parents/mother received over the years. I saved the ones from family members and the closest friends, sorted them by person/family who sent them, and placed them in manila file folders. I then placed the file folders in the appropriate hanging folders in my filing cabinets for those families. I placed the folders for close family friends in the hanging folder for my parents. As I find more letters, I now have a place to put them.

Project Three: Combined two sets of family photographs. I combined my mother’s 3-ring binder of Pehrson photographs with my binder of family photographs. In this case, no duplicates, no snapshots, and neither set is very complete. I will eventually find more photos; it’s just a matter of finding the right box.

More baby steps completed in a giant project.

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