Iowa Masonic Library & Museum
813 First Avenue S.E.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52402


As prepared as I try to be for these visits, when we arrive I never seem as prepared as I thought I was. I had emailed ahead and had made arrangements to meet with William R. (Bill) Krueger at this facility. My knowledge of this organization was/is very scant. I brought information about my grandfather who was a Mason. My grandmother was a member of the Order of the Eastern Star. I did not understand that these were two separate organizations, so I brought information about my grandmother, as well. I am now more educated.

The building housing the Grand Lodge of Iowa is, in fact, a very grand one, with marble and pillars, wide hallways, high ceilings, stained-glass windows. Very elegant!

Inside we met Bill and he showed me the limited genealogy information on the membership cards housed in the administrative offices. The good news, of course, is that they have these cards; lots of them! This facility is the best resource for this information.

They also have annual reports of the proceedings of the Grand Lodge of Iowa; many of the early ones (1844-1853) list names of members. They are seeking ways to scan these and make the images accessible.

Then we proceeded to the library, which contains more than 150,000 volumes. It is huge! It is available to the public, however, arrangements should be made ahead of time.

Oh, my! This is an awesome library. The library is so comprehensive that scholars come here to research for major projects! For example, a University of California, Berkeley, business economy major used the library to write his M.A. thesis on how Masonry affected the economy after the Civil War.

Located in Cedar Rapids the library contains typical publications for the area: city directories, railroad conductors reports, opera house programs (1886-1910), and materials for area colleges. The library also features a Civil War collection including a signification Abraham Lincoln collection. I can’t begin to describe all of the items housed in this library; I repeat: 150,000 volumes! Check their online catalog!

My husband is a Landscape Architecture graduate of Iowa State University and we were surprised to discover that this library has the entire book collection of ISU Landscape Architecture Professor Robert Harvey, one of my husband’s favorite professors. Note: this is in the Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids, not the Iowa State University Library in Ames.

So, you never know what you are going to find and where you will find it!

Continuing to find genealogy treasures in Iowa:

Root Cellar
Clinton Public Library, Lyons Branch
105 Main Avenue
Clinton, Iowa 52732


What a name, Root Cellar! When I first heard it, I was intrigued, so we needed to visit eastern Iowa! We visited a year ago, then I broke my arm and never got a blog post written. More recently I picked up some vibes that something had changed with the Root Cellar. I called and talked with a librarian. She filled me in on the scoop and I decided I needed to visit again so I could write about the latest news.

Well, things have definitely changed! Instead of being in the cellar with less than desirable environmental conditions, the new location is light and airy. It seems that a branch library was closed. Then, the Root Cellar was moved to that branch. So, while it is no longer in the cellar, it is still called the Root Cellar.

Last year we met Brad Wiles, the archivist. Now, he is the head librarian for the Clinton Public Library.

I was intrigued last year when Brad told us that in the 1880s and early 1890s Clinton was known as a sawdust town with millionaires. By 1890 Clinton had thirteen millionaires. In fact, the tradition is that Clinton had more millionaires per capita than any other city in the nation! Trees were cut and logs were brought from Minnesota and Wisconsin down the Mississippi River to Clinton and milled into lumber. By 1870 eleven lumber mills had been built; the area prospered and grew from the lumbering industry. Many mansions were built in town and people enjoyed the “good life.” Then, it all came tumbling down with the panic of 1893!

A unique resource here is the Everett A. Streit “Once Upon a Time” series. This is a compilation of 8 years of newspaper columns written in the 1990s regarding the history of Clinton. This is the first place local people check when wanting to recall a story about the town’s history.

At the time of our visit last year this repository had just received many boxes (100 linear feet) of photographs and negatives from a local commercial photographer, covering 1940s to 2008. While these have not been inventoried yet, they have moved from the cellar storage to the better environmental conditions in the new location.

Last year Brad told us that he was moving forward to digitize as much as possible, including some of the recently acquired photo collection. With his change in responsibilities and the move the library made, I hope those plans continue.

This library has a very strong collection for genealogy and local history researchers: thousands of obituaries, 8 legal file drawers of vertical file information, approx. 84 linear feet in the “Iowa” collection, cemetery books and some funeral home information, nearly 20 linear feet of family histories, dozens of notebooks with newspaper indexes, city directories, school year books, plat maps and lots of microfilm. This genealogy library has DAR and Great Migration books and information for other states.

I found a notebook filled with an admirable project when someone was trying to determine who died at the county home. The binder included a brief history of the county home and a list of 208 deaths, each name confirmed with either a death record or an obituary.

I was impressed when I checked the library’s online card catalog. I didn’t talk with Brad about this, but there appears to be a unified effort on both sides of the Mississippi to have a combined card catalog and genealogy items are included. Type “genealogy” in the “quick library search” box to see what I mean. Therefore, if one library doesn’t a specific book, it is possible it may be at another nearby library. The catalog seems to function like a mini-WorldCat catalog! Nice!

To me, moving the genealogy library to the new location was a good idea, but change can be difficult. I hope people come to see what wonderful resources are available for them as they seek their roots in the Root Cellar!

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/.)


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