I have been a member of the Warren County Genealogical Society (Indianola, Iowa) since 1979. I was newsletter editor for several years and know that finding content can sometimes be a struggle. Thus, I frequently write articles for the newsletter.

In this post I am highlighting two of my most memorable articles: the one I wrote after my mother-in-law passed away in 2008 and the one I recently wrote remembering my mother. Both joined WCGS shortly after I joined and both taught us many lessons.

Here are links to the articles:

Thelma Pehrson WCGS Member Since 1979

Willa Jean Grissom-some things we can learn from her life

The articles can also be found under the “My Publications” tab at the top of this page.



Saxton Reunion 2017

No one would know me, but I decided to go anyway. This family reunion has been held nearly every year for seven decades. I am seventy years old, but I have never attended the reunion. My parents attended a few, the only one I knew for sure was 1985 because they have photos to prove it. According to information on some of my mother’s family group sheets, I think they may have also attended the reunion in 1983 and possibly 1988, perhaps others. However, we lived on a dairy farm a couple hundred miles from the reunion location, attending the reunion wasn’t usually feasible. My first cousin attended the reunion last year. When she got her notice of this year’s reunion, she sent me a copy. I immediately signed up. Though many of the family members originally lived in Marion County, Iowa, and later moved north to Kossuth County, many kept moving north and ended up in Fairmont, Minnesota, the location for current reunions.

Organizing Data: My preparations for this event took a couple months, and I wasn’t even on the committee. Some time ago I sorted all family groups sheets and other information that I had on this family. My mother’s family groups sheets were less than organized, in fact she often had multiple sheets for an individual with various pieces of information.

Data Entry: I could not be sure of what Mom had until I reviewed all information on all sheets. I did this as I entered the information into my genealogy program. This took many hours, since some of the families had many children.

Portable Printer: As I was working on the families, I realized that I needed a way to share information at the reunion, and perhaps some of the people would have information they would share with me. I have a laptop computer, but did not have a “portable” printer. We ordered one, so I could print information “on-the-spot” for interested people.

Scanner App: Dave has an app on his iPad that he often uses to scan materials. He took it to scan anything that other attendees might bring of interest to us. I also have the app on my iPhone, but knew I’d be busy with other things at the reunion.

Photo Albums: Mom and I had Saxton photo albums, some of the photos were duplicates, but others were not. My father had identified as many as he could, but I wanted to see if people at the reunion could help identify more. I collated the photo albums into one, organized it by descendants of the primary couple, and clearly identified the sections of the album.

Family Tree Chart: Finally, I used a new (to me) charting program to produce a 24-page descendant family tree that showed where the earlier generations (prior to about 1985) fit in. We taped the pages together so it could be laid out on a table or taped to a wall.

We arrived early and we were immediately presented with a 438-page, 1991 printed/soft-cover, bound book, Family Tree of Charles Bartemus Saxton and Lury Matilda Stilwell, compiled by Ferne Saxton Brimmer. Awesome book!

When I tried to explain my descendancy, however, I was met with blank stares and the comment “you must be from the other side!” At first this was confusing; then we figured out what they meant. Supposedly, two Saxton brothers came over from England on the same ship and upon arrival decided to go their separate ways. The reunion attendees “assumed” we were from the “other” brother.

We posted our very long family tree chart on the wall and several people were interested in finding their names on the chart. Some people asked me to print off their family group sheets which they would update and send to me, so I was glad I had the printer.

I thought maybe some of the attendees would remember my parents, especially my father who always took his guitar with him and entertained with singing and yodeling. In fact, one of the pictures from the 1985 reunion was of him playing. I had enlarged several of the pictures from the 1985 reunion. One of my parents with a favorite Saxton woman. One of a large group of the attendees. Fortunately, one lady could identify many of those people for me. However, no one remembered my father or mother; it has simply been too long.

The reunion organizers had representatives from the children of C.B. and Lury Saxton stand and tell everyone of family updates. Then, the organizers looked at us and I moved to the front.

I introduced us (me, my cousins Nancy and Irene, and my husband) and told them that we all descend from the same side of the family tree. I explained that the parents of the C.B. and siblings are buried at a cemetery near Knoxville and I had even visited the cemetery earlier this summer. I explained who all of C.B.’s siblings were and which one I am descended from. I explained that one brother ended up in Maryville, Missouri, and I have visited his grave. I asked if anyone has visited Colville, Washington, where the youngest sister went. No one had. I explained that I hope to be visiting that area next year at this time.

One question everyone had was, “how are we related to Ida Saxton, wife of President McKinley?” I told them I’d have to research that. When I got home, quick research indicates that proving this relationship will be difficult, if not impossible.

One woman who had travelled from eastern Montana to attend, told me that it was very nice to meet a good genealogist. I smiled.

In the end, my efforts were not fruitless. I got my files organized and data entered into my genealogy software; there is nothing like a deadline to get something done. One person brought a scrapbook with obituaries and funeral folders, which Dave scanned. And now I am updating my records with the information in the 438-page book of C.B. and Lury’s family. I’m glad we attended.

Writing the family stories… I’ll probably be writing for the rest of my life. My mother is 98 years old; hopefully, that means I will be privileged to write many stories.

This winter I’m digging into a story that will eventually be published in the Iowa Genealogical Society’s Hawkeye Heritage. Genealogists know it is when you start writing you realize what research you still need to do. I tend to start writing with some completed research to get some “words on paper,” then I continue writing as I research. Contrary to what many writers advise, I spend considerable time on a section: writing, editing, rewriting, then, when I’m temporarily satisfied, I move on to the next section. With my current project, the story is complicated by the fact that I’m suspicious of the main character’s integrity: can I believe everything he said? His 318-page Civil War pension file has formed the core of the story… No doubt there is a reason for this many pages. As I search for answers, the time for completing this project is extending and the scope is expanding. Fortunately, no set deadline.

As a proofreader for the National Genealogical Society’s NGS Magazine I have the advantage of reading each issue literally cover-to-cover a few months before the general membership receives their copy. The October-December 2015 issue has an article, “Scrivener: An Organizational Tool for Genealogical Writers,” by Melissa A. Johnson. When I read the article I was immediately enthralled! I researched the software, tried it out for a few days, watched some YouTube videos, and was sold! The more I work with Scrivener, the more I appreciate its capabilities! Oh, how I wish I had known about this product when I was writing the “Guide for Iowa Research” for the National Genealogical Society’s Quarterly!

For now: challenging subject and exciting new software! Love it!

For a few days last week during the latest winter weather, I tackled more of the boxes in my back storeroom. These are boxes of research notes and memorabilia from my mother, my grandmother, my mother-in-law, two great-aunts, and our own lives with children and grandchildren. At one time, boxes filled a spare bedroom, the storeroom, and the shelves in my office.

Good news: 11 four-drawer filing cabinets have some empty space.

Net result in this latest effort: nine boxes emptied, two overflowing boxes went to the recycle bin, one large garbage bag to the dumpster, a stack to our shred box and the remainder filed. And, I still have room in the filing cabinets for more!

While we continue to have items in the spare bedroom, the storeroom and on the shelves in my office, I see hope for getting the remaining items out of the spare bedroom soon. Also, the storeroom is beginning to see “the light of day”… pun intended; this room doesn’t have any windows!

Three years since my December retirement date; I continue to chug along like “The Little Engine that Could.”

More stuff! Overhead projector transparencies! A while back I looked at one section of my office library shelves and realized that two entire 45-inch shelves were filled with 3-ring binders of old presentation materials. These are from the years when I enjoyed giving genealogy presentations to various local groups. I spent hours and hours researching and preparing for these public speaking events.

Specifically, the notebooks on my shelves dated 1999 through 2004. The binders were full of my notes, reference materials, handouts, publicity flyers, and the transparencies. I remember how I carefully stored them in sheet protectors and discretely numbered each one in case I ever dropped the pile and had to put them back in order! I wonder how much money I spent on boxes of blank transparencies and sheet protectors? To each event I generally transported a screen and a very nice, but large and cumbersome overhead projector purchased at an Iowa Genealogical Society garage sale (when I began using PowerPoint, I donated the projector back to IGS–they probably didn’t want it any more than I did).

My strategy with the overflowing binders on my shelves:

1) since I no longer enjoy preparing and giving presentations, and
2) since some of the material is out-of-date,

I decided to scan and toss! The likelihood that I will give any more presentations is very small, but, just in case, I will not have to start from scratch should I want to reference any of this material.

As I went through the binders I was quite surprised to discover some valuable information that I can use for reference in my upcoming writing projects; thus, it was worth the time to review my research from more than a decade ago! And, by scanning it, I can reference what I need without having the notebooks cluttering my office.

I admit it: I saved some paper materials from four of my favorite presentations, but the transparencies have gone to the landfill to deteriorate over the next million years. Too bad we haven’t always been as aware of the permanency of these materials as we are today.

More “stuff!” This time it was the stack of notes and syllabus materials from all of the conferences I have attended. As most of the material went into our recycle bin, I made a spreadsheet of the conferences, dates, topics, and primary speakers. Interesting! I have attended conferences regularly since 1999: most Iowa Genealogical Society (IGS) fall conferences, IGS spring conferences, five national conferences, some regional conferences and two national institutes. In all, the list includes 35 educational events in 17 years.

Not only did I learn from the speakers, I developed many contacts through networking with other attendees. I always paid for the expensive conference meals so I could sit at tables with other serious genealogists and ask my questions. When vendors lugged books to the conferences, I overspent my budget to purchase abundantly! Once home, I studied many of them cover to cover. I also purchased tapes from the national conferences and have listened to many over and over.

My parents always encouraged me to “take advantage of opportunities!” Today I am a much better genealogist for having attended, listened, talked, and studied.

If planning a trip to a research library other than in Des Moines, we tend to think we need to go to Salt Lake City, Fort Wayne, Indiana, or Independence, Missouri. Those are the “big” libraries that everyone talks about.

Recently Dave and I spent 2½ days researching at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. This was our third visit and definitely most intense. It was on our first visit here that Dave discovered resources for Grisham/Grissom in Shelby County, Indiana. You may ask, Indiana resources in Wisconsin? Well, it gets even better… Louisa County, Virginia, resources in Wisconsin!

The Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) has amazing resources. Have you heard of the Draper papers? Lyman Draper worked for WHS in the 1800s, but travelled extensively throughout the Daniel Boone territory of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, and neighboring areas… essentially, throughout Appalachia (others refer to it as the Trans-Allegheny West). He was gathering information about anyone and everyone for books he planned to write. He never got around to writing the books, but his notes, mountains of them, are held at the WHS.

Dave and I were not researching in the Draper papers, so why were we so enthralled? Well, WHS became a repository for other resources from the Appalachian region, then it became a repository for resources from everywhere! For example, WHS has nearly every book ever published for historians and genealogists researching Warren County, Iowa. You might say, well, Iowa is a neighboring state. That doesn’t matter. WHS collects/purchases material from all over.

On this trip, Dave and I were researching Louisa County, Virginia, and neighboring Hanover County; the holdings at WHS are extensive! Literally, we both worked as fast as possible for two days and we only worked in these two counties. Our last half day, we finally ventured into other areas.

Prior to our trip, I had thoroughly researched the WHS card catalog and I had prepared spreadsheets listing the items we needed to look at. BUT, and we already knew this, WHS shelves are OPEN. Therefore, as we looked for the books on the spreadsheets, we also looked at neighboring books on the shelves and found even more materials to look at that I had not found as I prepared for our visit.

Another awesome thing about this repository: use of the scanners is FREE. Just provide your own flash drive and you are set to scan away! If you need to use the microfilm readers, they are also state-of-the-art.

I met briefly with a genealogy friend at the library. I asked about the economic impact of the library to Madison. As far as he knows, no one has placed a dollar figure on it, but it is apparent the impact is enormous. In our case, we stayed three nights in a hotel, spent some money in two shopping areas, and ate evening meals at local restaurants. However, we brought snacks for lunch so we didn’t have to take a long lunch break. We could not eat in the library, but could eat in the hallway. Water bottles are allowed in the library.

WHS is located on the University of Wisconsin—Madison campus. We visited during a school break, so the library was not open in the evening. During the school year it is open until 9:00 p.m.

Now, we just have to process all of the information we gathered. That will take much longer than our WHS visit.

Check out the WHS website at: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org. You may be surprised with what you find; better yet, plan a visit.

[I don’t usually cross-publish, but I am also submitting this for publication in the Warren County [Iowa] Genealogical Society newsletter.)