Archive for the ‘Family Genealogy’ Category

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.


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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.

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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.)

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Continuing in the series to highlight hidden genealogy treasures.

Monroe County Genealogical Society
203 Benton Avenue East
Albia, Iowa 52531

I am continually amazed, and very pleased, with the number of public libraries that devote significant space to the genealogy collection of the local genealogical society. The Albia Public Library is stuffed to the gills with books and periodicals on the main floor, barely an inch to spare on most shelves and stacks of paperback books at the ends of shelving. But the Monroe County Genealogical Society is privileged to have a large room on the lower level with ample space for its valuable collection, work space and meeting space. As with many groups with tight budgets, this society functions quite well with furniture and shelving salvaged from other places. They have a good photocopier, but sometimes struggle with keeping their microfilm readers operational.

Rosalie Mullinix met me at the library. I met her initially at an Iowa Genealogical Society event, then mentioned her in a blog post several months ago after visiting the Monroe County Historical Society. She is an energetic woman who knows many of the society’s resources inside and out. I brought along a little research that I could do while visiting on this day and was amazed how quickly she found a newspaper article buried in a set of notebooks. These binders hold clippings from a local newspaper column called “Looking Back.” She says the articles include considerable information for researchers and the society members are currently working on an index for the collection. This newspaper column originated as “Touches of the Past” and its creator got paid for it by the newspaper. When she was no longer able to continue, the local society took it over as a fundraising project. Most of the columns exhibit extensive research. In all, the series ran for nearly twenty years.

Over the years, dedicated volunteers have worked diligently to gather the records and stories. I estimated the collection included approximately 15 linear feet of family histories. These are mostly lined up across the top row of shelving, with many other records filling the lower shelves. Across the room are many card catalog drawers filled with obituary cards: thousands of them. The collection also includes the county vital records, genealogy resource books, military information, naturalizations, records for surrounding counties, and newspaper microfilm. The collection is strong and thorough.

The Monroe County Historical Society is across the street. The two groups work well together and their collections are complementary.

I was surprised when Rosalie said that the number of queries the society receives has increased considerably. She said that at one time she might get five queries in a year; now she may get five queries with each trip to the mail box. She added that most researchers are looking for pre-1900 information.

Rosalie explained that recently the society president has created a Facebook page for the society. Otherwise, neither the historical society nor the genealogy has a significant internet presence. But she said, some individuals have created websites that include area towns, such as Georgetown, Hiteman, Melrose, Georgetown and Weller.

To round out my visit, I was pleased to find the family I was researching on a page in one of the family histories on the shelves. I gleaned a few tidbits of new information! I like that!

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What to do with literally hundreds of old letters?

What do I have:

  • All of the Christmas letters described in a previous post
  • Letters that my uncle sent to his parents while serving in World War II
  • Letters exchanged between my parents before they married as well as some intermittent correspondence in their early married years
  • Letters between Dave and me during our courtship and our early married years while Dave was in the military
  • Letters Dave and I sent to family and friends during our three years in Germany. It is probably very unusual to have copies of all the letters sent, but I had a typewriter in Germany and had access to carbon-sets… these consisted of 6 sheets of paper with carbon paper between the sheets. I typed a letter every week and sent copies to family members, retaining the final carbon copy for our own records. At least three family members also saved all of the letters sent to them, and now we have those copies, as well. Many times, I wrote individualized notes at the end of the letters to family members, so we now also have those notes.
  • The letters Dave and I received from family and friends during our years in Germany
  • Many letters my aunt sent to my parents over the years
  • Other miscellaneous letters that my grandmother saved from her family

    The plan: sort, scan, place in archival sheet protectors, and transcribe.

    Priority: All (including envelopes) need to be sorted, scanned and placed in archival protection ASAP. Especially important is being sure we have additional copies in case disaster strikes the originals!!!

    The transcription process can be done later.

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  • What to do with piles and piles of Christmas cards received over the years?

    We’re talking about many of the cards my mother has received in recent years as well as the cards Dave and I have received over the years.

    The good news: most cards are bundled by year, either secured with a rubber band or placed in separate plastic grocery bags; not helter-skelter in boxes.

    More good news: I have a plan: save all letters and extensive notes written on cards from relatives and special friends and verify the year is written on the letter or note. (You might be surprised how often people do not include the year when they write.) Then file them in my genealogy files under the name of the sender.

    The cards with mere signatures: recycle. A group at our church saves postage stamps for a mission project; a couple grandchildren will help us cut the stamps off the envelopes and we will donate them; the remainder of the envelopes: recycle.

    The not-so-good news: I estimate I’m only about half way through the collection that I know about; this doesn’t include the ones I will find as I go through more boxes.

    Remember, I’m still in the sorting stage with all of our boxes. For the most part, I have not started scanning. I’m chipping off the iceberg, one piece at a time.

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    Recently while working on a writing project I realized that our family might not realize what they held in their hands when they find this Bible (wrapped in Tyvek in our home safe)… writing the story of a family Bible was needed:

    Warren and Nancy McNeill Family Bible, Holy Bible, (New York: The American Bible Society, 1828); original owned in 2014 by Marieta (Pehrson) Grissom (Indianola, IA 50125).

    The Bible is 4½” by 7½” by 2¼” thick, and has a well-worn leather cover. In somewhat dilapidated condition, it is possible other pages are missing, however, the birth page is in tact and secure in the binding of the volume.

    The person(s) who wrote the entries was literate, but not accustomed to writing, as evidenced by the inconsistent capitalization and punctuation, and difficulty judging how much space it would take to record a date and having to continue to another line.

    The birth dates (1832 to 1850) of all known children of Warren and Nancy (Deem) McNeill are recorded in various inks and handwriting. (Transcribed below, punctuation and capitalization are as found on the Bible page.)

    Orren McNeill Was Born August the, 21. 1832
    Norman McNeill Was Born August the, 30. 1834 and Died the 22 of January 1835 [this is the only evidence we have of Norman’s existence]
    William Anderson McNeill Was born November the 14: 1835
    Solomon McNeill Was born April the 22 1839
    Alford McNeill Was born May the 26: 1841 [note the spelling of Alfred’s first name]
    Henry Clay McNeill Was born June the 1: 1847
    Margaret Lavina McNeill Was Born November the 8 1850

    Warren (1810-1868) and Nancy (1812-1870) were my great-great-great grandparents; I’m descended through their son Alfred.

    This Bible is OLD! How many of us have artifacts that have been touched by so many generations? How many of us have actual samples of penmanship by a family member 180+ years ago?

    The McNeill Family Bible apparently passed from Warren and Nancy McNeill to their son Alfred McNeill, to his daughter, Edith (McNeill) Morrill, to her son, Ernest Morrill, then, to his cousin, O. R. Pehrson, a grandson of Edith’s brother, Leonard, in approximately 1984. My mother, Thelma Pehrson, gave it to me in July 2006.

    This Bible is a family treasure; it must be preserved and saved for the generations!

    McNeill Bible - inside enh

    McNeill Bible cover

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