Burlington Public Library
210 Court Street
Burlington, IA 52601


The first time I saw this library I accompanied a genealogy friend to a conference here (thank you, Ruth, for inviting me!). Each April the library brings in a nationally-known genealogy speaker for a one or two day conference experience. Often, the fee is nominal, little more than the price of a box lunch. The 2015 conference will be the 13th in the series. Since that first conference, I always watch to see who the featured conference speaker is, though April is not always a good time for me to attend.

When I walked in that first year, I was amazed with the spacious, new library. Then, when I saw the local history section, I was flabbergasted. This was the first time I had ever seen such a research-friendly, genealogy environment. I only had a few minutes over lunch to peruse the collections, but knew I wanted to come back, as I had someone I could research here.

A couple years later we made it back and we’ve been back since, including our recent visit. I am amazed every time I come. I’m intrigued by this library’s location: travelers can see its sign and building from Interstate-80 at the last exit prior to crossing the Mississippi River into Illinois. How convenient is that?!

Be sure to check the online card catalog for the resources; it is very complete, so I don’t need to list them here. From the home page, select the “Resources” tab and you will see the option for “Local History and Genealogy.” Users can also type “genealogy” as a subject in the card catalog.

For me, the gold mine was the city directory collection. I found that my ancestor attended a bookkeeping school in Burlington, then worked for many years as a bookkeeper for a local company. I could have found some of this on census records, but the city directories provided considerably more detail and addresses. As we drove around town, we found the approximate location where he lived. We saw that he could have walked to work every day, though the walk would have been invigorating; this is a river town with many hills, including very steep “snake alley.” On a previous visit we drove down the well-known alley, on our recent visit, it was closed for the winter.

The local historical society’s Heritage Center is housed in the old public library, a short distance from the new library. While we did not visit this facility on our recent visit, we have visited it and found it interesting.

People with Des Moines County, as well as surrounding county heritage, will find a visit to this local-history-and-genealogy-friendly public library a very pleasant experience!

Decorah Genealogy Association
Lower Level, Decorah Public Library
202 Winnebago Street
Decorah, Iowa 52101-1812

563-382-8559, ext. 107
Research Center Hours: M-F, 10-4, staffed entirely by volunteers

Jennifer at the Vesterheim Museum archives, directed us to this hidden gem. Somehow I had not found this group online as I prepared for our visit to this corner of the state. Jennifer stated that she sends people here all the time, so once again we were visiting a repository without contacting them ahead!

LaVonne Sharp was the volunteer working on the day of our visit. She was very pleased to show off the hard work of their group. Their wealth of valuable records is well-organized and carefully arranged in limited space. Some examples of their collection include:

    * Decorah Hospital records dating back to 1914
    * copies of naturalizations, births, deaths, marriages and probates
    * large plat map collection
    * telephone books
    * farm directories
    * deed books
    * jail records
    * court records
    * photographs
    * school records
    * township notebooks with various information
    * Decorah newspaper index thru 1981 (inc. supplements)
    * family histories
    * Burdick Abstract Company records
    * funeral home records
    * some poor farm records
    * cemetery survey

However, the hidden gems include two significant items:

    1) 300 applications for admittance to the Aase Haugen Home for the Aged. This home was originally under the control of the United Norwegian Lutheran Church and these applications include genealogically significant information about many people who were born in Norway as early as the 1840s. Information includes: date and place of birth; name and birthplace of each parent and spouse, when, where and by whom applicant was baptized, name of church where member, physical health status of applicant, an financial status of applicant.
    2) vertical file system for tracking the research done. The group keeps a photocopy of all materials found by visitors and for answering queries. They frequently refer to these files when helping others and it helps to eliminate duplicate work.

LaVonne also explained to us that several small towns and ethnic groups in northeast Iowa are developing heritage or family research centers. She specifically referred to groups in Protovin, Spillville and West Union. We had not planned to visit these places on this trip, but may have to travel this way again.

We could not believe we almost missed this collection in Decorah! Thank you, Jennifer, for sending us this way.

Iowa Lakes Genealogical Society
c/o Spencer Public Library
21 East 3rd Street
Spencer, Iowa 51301


This was a first! My reputation preceded me with this group. The Society had a regular meeting the Saturday prior to my visit. The members were reviewing the National Genealogical Society Quarterly that had just arrived in their mailbox and discovered that the visitor expected next week was the author of an article in the Quarterly. One member took the publication home with him and read my “Genealogical Research in Iowa” article! He was ready for my visit! I was surprised!

Four society members met with me and we had a great conversation about their society and their individual genealogical pursuits, as well as lunch at a local restaurant afterwards.

The Iowa Lakes Genealogical Society includes Clay, Dickinson, Osceola and O’Brien Counties. The group was organized in 1977 and was the beneficiary of Charlotte Brett’s genealogy collection, which today contains over 1,200 books and periodicals. The collection is nicely arranged on shelves in the Spencer Public Library on both sides of tables where the society meets and researchers can work. To access a shelf list of the collection, enter “genealogy” in the public library card catalog.

The society helps sponsor the library’s subscription to Ancestry.com. The Spencer area newspapers through 1936 have been digitized and are available through NewspaperArchive.com. Today the society is updating cemetery gravestone information. As with many groups they struggle with whether to update with print publications or whether to go with free online places such as Find-A-Grave and the Clay County USGenWeb site.

This group is very fortunate to have a quality collection and space for it in a beautiful public library. Thanks to Sharon, Donald, Jean and Mary, this was truly an enjoyable morning!

Lee County government records research is different! Since you never know where you are going to find some of the records, this blog post contains the latest news!

I visited the Recorder’s Office in Fort Madison today, 5 March 2015. I had a nice conversation with the Recorder and an assistant. Today, land records (deeds, mortgages, etc.) were being unpacked from being moved to Fort Madison from Keokuk.

Back story: Because a common court house location for the county has never been resolved, Lee County has two court houses: one in Fort Madison (North Lee) and one in Keokuk (South Lee) for holding court and storing court records. In addition, at one time Lee County had two of every kind of county office, as well: Recorder’s office, Auditor’s office, Treasurer’s office, etc. In an effort to reduce this duplicity, resolution for the county offices has been a goal for several years.

My experience: I have researched in Lee County for at least 15 years. At first, I researched Vital Records, as well as Land Records at a county office building (not the official Court House) in Fort Madison since my family members lived in the northern part of Lee County. Then, about four years ago when I visited to check on some land records, I was sent to Keokuk to the office there; all land records for the entire county were then located in Keokuk.

Today: ALL Land records as well as ALL Vital Records (Births, Marriages and Deaths) for ALL of Lee County are located in the county office building in Fort Madison.

In the meantime, no change in court records as these are not under “county” jurisdiction. Court continues to be conducted at both Fort Madison and Keokuk and court records continue to be stored in those respective locations.

Word to the wise, i.e., genealogy researcher: call ahead before going on location to do research in Lee County. (Currently the phone number is 319-376-1790, but the website may be more helpful: http://www.leecounty.org, though I noticed tonight that the latest move has not been noted on the website yet.)

More digging, finding, writing about hidden genealogy resources in Iowa.

Cherokee Area Archives
c/o Cherokee Public Library
215 South 2nd Street
Cherokee, Iowa 51012
Open: Monday-Friday 1:30-4:00 p.m.
Email: archives@iowatelecom.net

The archives was established in 1980 by twenty-six people who felt a strong need to preserve the area’s records. The archives had several homes before settling into a comfortable, basement room at the public library. Today many volunteers continue to preserve the records.

Volunteer Marilyn Rietsma helped me survey nearly everything in the room. We opened boxes and drawers and I tried to take it all in. The people who organized this room and preserved these records are to be commended.

    * Birth transcription books 1880-1953; births from newspapers 1872-1896; births on cards 1953 to current
    * Marriages transcriptions 1879-2012, plus cards for brides
    * Death transcription books 1880-2014; actual death certificates 1972-1996
    * Cemetery records, including a list of those buried at the Mental Health Institute cemetery
    * Funeral home records 1914-1944
    * Meriden Cemetery Society records 1903-1972
    * Cemetery burial records 1859-1965
    * 104 drawers of obituary envelopes
    * 22 file drawers of vertical family files
    * 10 drawers of photos of individuals
    * 75 preservation boxes of photos, clippings, diaries and other items cross referenced to 2 drawers of index cards with names of places and things and 3 drawers of index cards with names of people
    * open vertical files of Cherokee clippings
    * collection of plat maps and atlases
    * a few Sanborn maps
    * 110 original land patents
    * old phone books, 1906, 1909, then 1939 to current
    * Dr. L. S. Brewer (of Quimby) financial journals
    * Assessors books
    * Census records
    * Declaration of Intent for Naturalization and Final Papers
    * Hotel registers 1881-1882, 1890-1893, 1920-1940, 1925-1932, 1968-1976
    * Property tax books 1858-1880
    * Deed patent records on cards and in notebooks
    * Chamber of Commerce minutes
    * 5 cash books/ledgers, one for Jonas Whitney who apparently operated a saw mill 1801-1850
    * Pritchard Education Fund records for 1939

Everyone with Cherokee area ancestors should find information in this archives!

(While at the Cherokee Public Library, I also recommend visiting the library’s genealogy room. It is separate from the archives and holds several resources, including a large DAR collection. In addition, the Cherokee newspapers have been digitized and are available on the Cherokee Public Library website at http://cherokee.advantage-preservation.com/.)

Continuing in the quest to find hidden genealogical resources:

Buena Vista County Genealogical Society
221 West Railroad
Storm Lake, Iowa 50588

Open Thursday 2-4 p.m. and by appointment

Energy! We met with Kristen Watts; she is young and energetic! Kristen recently became librarian after my long-time friend, Janice Danielson, needed to downsize and move out-of-state. Janice had been librarian for years, perhaps twenty years or more. She knew this library backwards and forwards, but we were impressed with Kristen’s knowledge, skills, and ideas.

Located in an old building that is part of the historical society, this library is stuffed to the gills. Two collections are especially large: original probate files and original newspapers.

The probate files occupy many filing cabinets and have been indexed (publication available for purchase from the society).

The Storm Lake newspapers have been digitized by Advantage Preservation and are available on the Storm Lake Public Library website: http://stormlake.advantage-preservation.com/. The Alta Advertiser newspapers have not been digitized, however, the society has created a finding-aid index of births, marriages, deaths, and major events. The library also has copies of the Aurelia Sentinel newspaper published in neighboring Cherokee County.

Kristin explained that sometimes the volunteers feel a little like orphans, accepting whatever someone else doesn’t want. However, this has given them an “edge;” they have a unique collection.

The society’s cemetery survey publications were created in 1988-1990 and desperately need to be updated. Kristen said work is progressing. She is scanning the current publications and converting the PDF files to WORD documents using a free version of ABBYY finereader 6.0 Sprint. Then she is walking the cemeteries and adding the new information to the document. Sometimes the conversion process isn’t perfect, so she has a little cleanup to do, but it is so much faster and easier than retyping everything.

She also had another technology tidbit: she purchased Dragon Naturally Speaking 9.0 to index newspapers. (This is a voice recognition software that automatically converts the words of a speaker to text. It is my understanding that the user “trains” the software for the specific voice.) I asked her if she has any problems with this and she said some words are a problem, but overall it works great for her. Wow!

Other categories of holdings include (my husband estimates up to 12-14 liner feet for many of these categories):

    *School yearbooks
    *Buena Vista County histories
    *Other Iowa County books
    *Town histories
    *Church histories
    *Civil War and other military information
    *Local society records
    *Phone directories
    *Information for other states

The collection is significant.

When Kristen showed me the obituary collection I was surprised. Each obituary is placed in an envelope and the envelope is labeled with the deceased’s name, birth & death date and the source information: name and date of the newspaper. This was the first time I’ve seen the “envelope” system; I can see some advantages.

This library has moved above and beyond with equipment for library patrons to use: a laptop with printer and a hand scanner as well as the more common copy machine, fiche reader, and microfilm reader.

It was a pleasure to meet Kristen and to pick up several innovative, forward-thinking ideas! While we didn’t see other volunteers during our visit, it was obvious other dedicated people are helping in this endeavor.

Motto derived from the society’s award-winning Fourth of July parade float one year: Got ancestors, we’ve got answers!

Another installment in the series to find hidden genealogical treasures buried in Iowa repositories:

Appanoose County Historical and Coal Mining Museum
100 West Maple
Centerville, Iowa 52544



An interesting article about coal mining in the Spring 2013 issue of Hawkeye Heritage (IGS publication)(1) convinced me that we needed to visit this museum.

The museum, housed in a stately old post office building, includes a scale model coal mining operation as well as other coal mining items. The museum also features a Mormon Trail exhibit, and many exhibits relevant to pioneers living in early southern Iowa.

The hidden gem here, however, was in the library: what appears to be a complete set of the Report of the State Mine Inspectors from the early 1880s through 1968. These reports contain a gold mine of information for anyone researching the mining industry in Iowa. Kinds of information that may be included:

    * List of fatal accidents with coroner and juror reports describing accident, manner of death & name of mine, date, name of victim, age, and often marital status
    * List of non-fatal accidents with less information
    * Improvements made to specific mines
    * Names of all mines and locations
    * Descriptions of each county, the mines, railroad facilities for shipping, thickness of mineral deposits, and production quantity
    * Descriptions of each mine in each county
    * Lists of abandoned mines
    * Summary of work completed
    * New mines opened
    * Mines destroyed by fire
    * Strikes
    * Scale testing
    * Complaints

I was elated to find such a complete set of the reports. I have seen miscellaneous volumes as I’ve wondered around, but never this many! (Note: I have also found a few volumes online via Google.) Researchers with Iowa mining ancestors (not just coal, but all minerals) would be remiss to miss this repository.

(1) Nollen, Carl, “Iowa’s Coal Mining Museums and Their Resources For the Family Historian,” Hawkeye Heritage, Vol. 47, Issue 1 (Spring 2013), Des Moines: Iowa Genealogical Society, p 15-18. To access this article, go to http://www.iowagenealogy.org ->Library, ->Collections, ->Publications.


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