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Taking our genealogy treasure hunt on the road, Dave and I dodged a couple snowstorms and ventured to Dubuque to explore repositories. I’m going to write about some of them in more depth in additional posts, but for now I want to explain the options.

Center for Dubuque History
Loras College
Academic Resource Center
1450 Alta Vista
Dubuque, Iowa 52001-4399
Phone: 563-588-7163
Contact: Michael Gibson, Archivist

Carnegie-Stout Public Library
360 West Eleventh Street
Dubuque, Iowa 52001
Phone: 563-589-4137
Contact: Michelle Hellmer (Adult Services Manager)
Amy Muchmore (selects items for genealogy collection)

Dubuque County Historical Society located at the
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
350 East Third Street
Dubuque, IA 52001
Phone: 563-557-9545 or 800-226-3369
Contact: Tish Boyer, Collections Manager/Registrar

Wartburg Theological Seminary Archives
333 Wartburg Place
Dubuque, IA 52003
Phone: 563-589-0320
Contact: Nancy Carroll, Archivist
Unfortunately, we were not able to visit this archives because they were moving from one part of the building to another and she had student assistance lined up for the day of our visit. However, Nancy was very helpful during our phone conversation.

This is the repository for the German Lutheran Synod of Iowa, 1854-1930 records, and Region 5 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Included are thousands of letters sent to Iowa church leaders 1850-1900, primarily between administrative units and pastors settling in an area and forming new congregations. Also of interest are the records of many dissolved congregations in Region 5 (Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and upper Michigan).

Dubuque County – Key City Genealogical Society
collection is incorporated with the
Family History Center
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
685 Fremont Avenue
Dubuque, Iowa 52001
Phone: 563-583-6851
Contact: Steven N. Eastvedt, Director

I had called ahead and said I would be there on Saturday morning at 9:00, when they opened. Dave and I waited until 9:20; no one appeared. I was very sorry to miss the opportunity to see this collection. A few years ago, the genealogical society needed to find a place for its collection. The Family History Center not only agreed to incorporate this valuable collection, but FHC digitized the collection and it is now available on computers at the Center. I wanted very much to see how this works. In addition, I was hoping to see what records this group has that are not available elsewhere.

As tourists we also visited:
Mines of Spain
E. B. Lyons Interpretive Center
8991 Bellevue Heights
Dubuque, Iowa 52003-9214
Phone: 563-556-0620

We would like to return in warmer weather so we could visit more places, including the Julien Dubuque Monument, the Shot Tower Historic Landmark, the Historic Federal Building and Post Office, and take the Fenelon Place Elevator up the side of the bluff. In addition, several parts of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium are out-of-doors and we elected to stay indoors. The Mines of Spain have many designated hiking trails which would be more enjoyable in warmer weather.

Another piece of the puzzle… hidden genealogical treasures in Iowa:

Danish Immigrant Archives
Grand View University Library
1351 Grandview Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50310

phone: 515-263-6199
website: http://www.grandview.edu/

I met with Sheri Muller, Archivist. This facility focuses on three specific areas:
1) the collection of Nicolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig, a Danish theologian
2) Grand View University and its history, including student information, except athletic information has been retained by the athletic department
3) the Danish American Immigrant Experience

This last area is my focus…

The Danish immigrants were a diverse group and this is exhibited in the diversity of the collection housed here. While the collection is not genealogy oriented, it contains many materials of interest to genealogists: photographs (though sadly many are not identified), writings and memoirs, Danish-American newspapers and a growing collection of family histories. The archives also includes some Danish Brotherhood, community organization, and Friends of Denmark during WWII information. Additional materials include the Danish folk schools where the immigrants learned about American culture and to speak English.

Another section includes the archives for the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (DELCA). Grand View Seminary operated from 1896 to 1960. Seminary records are held here, as well as some church histories, and annual meeting minutes.

Sheri explained that the archives holdings include a considerable information for a few families or specific people, rather than a broad range. If a researcher’s family is included in the collection, the archives could yield gold.

The hidden treasure is Thorvald Hansen’s Danish Immigrant Archival Listing: A Guide to Source Materials Related to the Danish Immigrant in America to be Found in Repositories in the United States, Canada, and Denmark (Grand View College and the Danish American Heritage Society, 1988). As indicated, the university assisted in this publication of this valuable reference guide. Sheri said that when she receives a query, this book is the first place she looks.

I have recently read two books about Iowa’s pioneer women:

Riley, Glenda. Frontierswomen: The Iowa Experience. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1981.

Riley, Glenda, ed. Prairie Voices: Iowa’s Pioneering Women. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996.

I was thrilled to discover these books. They are about Iowa pioneer women, not just Midwestern women, not Nebraska women, not Minnesota women, but Iowa women. I read them in publication order, however, I think they could be read in either order. I enjoyed both.

Difficult as it is to bracket this in our minds, the Iowa frontier period is generally considered to have only lasted 40 years: 1830 to 1870. Furthermore, we have become accustomed to learning about the pioneer period through the eyes of men. It is refreshing to realize that women had voices, also.

Prairie Voices is original source material: the diaries, memoirs, and letters with the voice of specific women. I enjoyed reading the words the women wrote: the color, the emotion and the determination.

In Frontierswomen, the author weaves the stories of basically the same women into a narrative divided into topical areas dispelling stereotypes frequently associated with women on the frontier. She discusses the westward trek, work women did (both in the home and outside), diversity and commonality, education and strong-mindedness, and the influence of war in their lives.

Anyone with pioneer women ancestors who lived in Iowa, even for a short time, would find these books enlightening and compelling. In some cases, you could nearly just substitute the name of your own ancestor into the story. No matter, you’ll develop a new perspective and appreciation for these women and their lives.

Continuing the search for hidden genealogy treasures:

Iowa Jewish Historical Society
Caspe Heritage Gallery
Martin Bucksbaum Fine Arts Wing at The Caspe Terrace
33158 Ute Avenue
Waukee, Iowa 50263

Phone 515-987-0899, ext. 216
website: http://www.jewishdesmoines.org

I had an appointment and, though early, I received a very gracious welcome by several staff members. These included the Executive Director, a Board Member, the Collections Specialist and the Technology and Education Support Specialist. Following introductions I was encouraged to take my time browsing through the exhibits.

Oh, my! This facility is awesome. The exhibits are logically arranged and easy to read and understand. The society boasts a collection of over 10,000 artifacts representing lives of Jewish Iowans and is constantly seeking more family stories and memorabilia. I was impressed with the quality of the exhibits and the professionalism of the staff. It is obvious the society understands the importance of preserving their history for future generations.

The historical society organized in 1996 and the museum was begun in 2003.

The Iowa Jewish story begins in 1833 when Alexander Levi, born in France, arrived in Iowa and opened a grocery store. In 1837 he travelled with others to St. Louis and became the first naturalized citizen of the Iowa territory. The exhibit begins with Alexander’s genealogy and story of his great vision.

Three waves of American Jewish immigration: mid-1600s, 1830-1840, and 1880 onwards are identified; only the latter two apply to Iowa immigrants.

I was captivated by the stories of specific people, such as the story of Irvin, Phyllis and Celina Karp who were fortunate to work in Schindler’s factory. Phyllis brought with her to America a ceramic cup from the factory saying, “This will remind me, every day, that there is a better tomorrow.”

Child of Our Time – A Young Girl’s Flight from the Holocaust was written by Ruth L. David. This book tells of being separated from her parents and placed on a train to Great Britain. Here she lived in a hostel with other frightened children who did not speak English and whose caregivers were not always caring. Ruth now lives in Ames, Iowa.

Another exhibit tells the love story of Rose Waldman and Jacob Szneler who were liberated from one of the Nazi death camps, met and married in 1946 in a refugee camp and resettled in Des Moines in 1950.

Many immigrants arrived in central Iowa in the early 1900s and immediately after World War I. Many names of these immigrants are recognized by central Iowans. In 1954 Martin Bucksbaum and his brother Matthew started General Development which grew into General Growth Properties, shopping mall developers. Harry Bookey started a meat packing plant. A. H. and Anna Blank founded Blank Children’s Hospital in memory of their son Raymond; they also made major contributions to Mitigwa Boy Scout Camp, the Blank Park Zoo, the Des Moines Art Center, Drake University, the University of Iowa and the Science Center of Iowa. In the 1930s Myron Blank realized that movie goers would purchase popcorn to snack on, then would become thirsty and purchase beverages. Well-known businesses founded by Jewish members of the Des Moines area include Greenberg’s Jewelry, Banker’s Trust, Iowa Sheet Metal, Suzette Candies, Weinberg Furs, Frankel’s Clothing, Younker Brothers Department Store and Whylie Eye Care.

I also recognized the names of some doctors highlighted in the exhibit including Dr. Sinesio Misol, Dr. Marvin Dubansky, Dr. Joshua Kimelman, and Dr. Albert Mintzer (who delivered all three of our sons). The exhibit explains that many Jewish people pursue a career in medicine because they 1) want to preserve and maintain life, 2) seek physical and moral purity, 3) perceive learning as a high value and closeness to God, 4) have a right and duty to see a doctor, and 5) see this as a means to reach middle class status.

As I was looking at one of the exhibits an article from The Greater Des Moines Jewish Press referenced Dr. Henry Corn and the IJHS Oral History Project. The “oral history” part caught my eye. I asked about this project. By coincidence the staff was working that day on a first-step project to inventory their oral history collection, as they recognize its family and historical value. They have many boxes with perhaps 500 tapes and transcripts, but they currently are not available to a researcher because nothing is organized. The eventual goal is to preserve, digitize and make the collection available. This collection is part of the genealogical treasure at this museum, but patience to allow the staff time to process is critical.

Before I left, the group told me that a representative from the Iowa Genealogical Society is going to teach an upcoming genealogy class at the museum and I was invited to come. I know the instructor and know she will do a very good job. I will attend if possible.

Visiting this museum is a memorable experience and your life will be richer for it.

What a gem! And, who would expect to find a first-class coal mining exhibit in a public library?

I recently had lunch with a friend in Waukee and her “drawing card” was to suggest that we visit this exhibit.

Of Italian descent, Hiram Ori grew up in the coal mining community in Waukee; his parents and other relatives worked in the Shuler Coal Mine. His estate included a bequest of approximately $700,000 for an addition to the library to feature a coal mining exhibit and a meeting room.

The exhibit includes many artifacts, photographs and other documents from the mining community. It also includes some oral histories with memories of mining, the homes, the company store, life in the camp, and Waukee history. All very interesting.

With the community’s Italian background, the interviewees also tell about the coming of “the grape train” which brought grapes from California to be made into wine. The story continues with pressing the grapes, preparing the barrels to make a good wine, and the three grades of wine; the best grade was never sold.

Another story includes the arrival of yams and telling of youth climbing to the top of the yam-filled rail car and tossing them down to the people standing on the ground.

The use of touch screen technology for sharing the oral histories is something I have not seen in a small museum and it certainly adds a new dimension to history. Seeing the people’s faces and hearing their voices as they tell the stories make the memories more personal and meaningful; so much better than reading the story on a piece of paper. I was impressed!

By the way, Waukee is probably the fastest growing town in the state of Iowa. There must be many reasons… foresight, education, and inspiration are probably in the list.

Waukee Public Library
950 Warrior Lane
Waukee, IA 50263
Phone: 515-987-1280

http://www.waukee.lib.ia.us/waukeepl

Another location with hidden genealogy treasures:

Special Collections Department
Council Bluffs Public Library
400 Willow Avenue
Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503

Phone: 712-323-7553
Website: http://www.councilbluffslibrary.org/

Since the Special Collections Manager was going to be out of the library the day of my visit, she had arranged for Marlys Lien, The Adult Services Manager, to met me. Marlys, then, introduced me to Jo Weis, who is very familiar with the genealogy collection in the Special Collections area (and is also active in the Pottawattamie County Genealogical Society which operates the Frontier Heritage Library).

Jo started out showing me the extensive collection of microfilm, which includes many area newspapers, Pottawattamie County vital records, naturalizations, wills, deeds, and Council Bluffs city directories and telephone books.

Next, she took me to the Reference Work Room where I saw drawers of photos, and shelves of books, atlases, and original newspapers—a nice collection.

However, I think Jo was saving the best for last! She then showed me a phenomenal collection: shelves and shelves of 3-ring binders of clippings, neatly organized by topic, dating 1930s to 1990s. Since the binders are “black,” they are known as the “black books.” This 60-plus year collection covers a wide range of topics. She says some of the most popular are: Houses, Buildings, Business, Biographies, Gambling/Casinos and Schools.

Later, Marlys showed me the many online databases available to library card holders. I was caught by surprise! The library allows non-county residents to purchase a library card for $5/month or $60/year. To see what databases are included, go to their website, select the eLibrary tab, then click on Databases. Note: Ancestry.com is only available for in-library use, however, the other databases are available to card holders. Just hover over each icon and read what is available. You may be be surprised!

While the many resources in this library would be very helpful to genealogists, the black books are definitely the hidden treasure in this library and access to significant research databases is an added bonus.

The more personal, on-site visits I make, the more convinced I am that I would never learn about some of these things by visiting a website or calling the repositories on the phone.

Another installment in the hunt for genealogy treasures in Iowa.

The Frontier Heritage Library & Museum
Pottawattamie County Genealogical Society
622 4th Street
Council Bluffs, IA 51502

phone: 712-325-9368
email: pcgs@pcgs.omhcoxmail.com
website: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~iapcgs/

What a treasure this society has! Original records! Shelves and shelves of them!

Pottawattamie County Genealogical Society members, Bob Anderson (current President), Barb Christie and Marilyn Erwin met us at the library. The society formed in 1992 and they purchased this building in 2001. A renter in part of the building helps pay the mortgage. The building has a back room, equipped with a small kitchen, that can be used for large meetings or small conferences. Everything was well-lit and neatly organized. A large, inviting conference table is the perfect place for researchers to work.

Pottawattamie County is “double wide” compared with most Iowa counties and had two court houses until 1993 when the clerk’s office in Avoca was closed. The Avoca court house was built in 1885, the building was placed on the National Register in 1982 and is now a museum.

The goal of the society is to “furnish a One-Stop Research Center for all information on Pottawattamie County.”

After the county records were microfilmed, the originals went to the dumpster due to lack of storage space. This group retrieved them!!! As a result this library has many original records: marriage and death records, will books, probate packets and probate books, insanity records, divorce records, law and equity books, district court books, guardian bond books, delinquent real estate tax lists, court calendar books, juvenile court records and more. Some to 1919 and others to about 1940. In addition, they have all of the original records from the Avoca court house. They told us that often the staff in the county offices sends researchers to this facility.

We also saw Council Bluffs city directories beginning in the 1880s, a large collection of area school yearbooks, obituary extracts beginning 1857, town histories for the surrounding area, and abstracts of deaths and marriages from The Frontier Guardian newspaper (1849-1852). They have some original newspapers from surrounding communities. And, they have notebooks with clippings of birth announcements and other notebooks of obituary clippings and cemetery indexes. In addition they have a selection of Pottawattamie County maps.

A big surprise: they told me that ONLY ONE township of this extra-large county is on Ancestry.com for the 1895 Iowa state census. The library has the entire census on microfilm and they don’t understand why Ancestry does not have the other townships.

Another surprise was seeing the Gale Biographical Index Series from 1979 and early 1980s here. This is a nation-wide index to thousands of biographies and it is rare to see it in a small library.

The library has a small (15-20 linear feet), but growing collection of family histories.

These volunteers are very dedicated and have accomplished amazing things. They have abstracted many marriage records as well as court house records from Avoca and prepared these publications for sale. They especially enjoy answering queries; helping other researchers find their ancestors.

Thank you! We enjoyed our visit.

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