Archive for the ‘Iowa Research’ Category

Hurrah! My latest writing project, 2-plus years in the making, is finished!

On 11 April 2012 I received an email from Dr. Tom Jones, co-editor of the National Genealogical Society Quarterly (NGSQ), asking if I would be interested in writing a guide for Iowa research, a strictly volunteer project. Deadline for submitting the article would be March 2014, for possible publication prior to the May 2015 NGS Conference in Saint Louis. I thought briefly about it, then replied that I was interested.

I had several things to complete prior to delving into this project: 1) retire from my day job (check–December 2012); 2) finish my mother’s memoirs (check–April 2013); 3) provide summer day care for 2 grandchildren (June thru August 2013); and 4) take a vacation with my husband (early September 2013).

While the project brewed in my mind during the intervening months, the serious work began in September 2013. Since I was retired, most weeks I worked 40+ hours on it and this continued for nearly 6 months. I traveled to as many repositories as I could: sometimes traveling by myself, sometimes taking genealogy friends, and toward the end, after my husband retired, we took several overnight trips to destinations further away. I wanted to know as much as possible about the many unique holdings in the various libraries and archives. Along the way, I met knowledgeable people directing me to still more resources.

Writing for the NGSQ is not like writing for a commercial genealogy publication, such as Family Tree Magazine. The NGSQ is a scholarly journal and the writing style is different: the intent is to impart factual information in a structured, tight format.

A genealogy friend offered to proofread my article before I submitted it to the NGSQ editorial staff. I am grateful to her: she advised cutting it considerably and gave me excellent suggestions for doing so. I chopped and rewrote, submitting the guide to NGSQ on 30 March 2014.

Two peer reviewers provided excellent suggestions which I incorporated into the next version. Then, after the article was accepted for publication, Dr. Jones performed his editing magic.

I am pleased with the final product. Iowa has many resources for genealogists; I feel this article presents many of the possibilities.

“Genealogical Research in Iowa,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 102 (December 2014): 263-306.


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Continuing the series to find hidden genealogy resources in Iowa:

Jamaica Public Library
316 Main Street, PO Box 104
Jamaica, Iowa 50128
Phone: 641-429-3362

Email: jampublib@netins.net
Hours: Monday thru Thursday, 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.

No website, but an Internet search for Guthrie County Iowa Genealogical Society will find the Guthrie County Historical Village. The Home page gives the Jamaica Public Library and a synopsis of the genealogy collection.

I had heard about this library from a couple of my friends at the Iowa Genealogical Society. By now, I get tips from friends about places I should visit… I love that!

SETTING: Jamaica, small town, population 200, in the far northeast corner of Guthrie County. The exterior of the building is deceptive. At one time one part of the building was the fire station and the other part was a grocery store. Interior walls between the two adjacent main street buildings have been removed to create nearly 1600 square feet of nice library space.

BACK STORY: Many years ago several people attended a beginning genealogy class. As the group discussed the possibility of creating a library, one of the members, the librarian of the Jamaica Public Library, offered her library to house the collection. Thus, the current collection was born.

TODAY: The director was helpful to show us the collection, however, he is a librarian, not a genealogist. So… we dug into the collection.

COLLECTION DESCRIPTION: approx. 141 linear feet of family histories (100+), county and town histories, veterans’ records, obituary notebooks, exchange newsletters from other Iowa societies as well as from other states, genealogy reference books, plus another 12 linear feet of Iowa reference books; plus 14 drawers of 3×5 vital record cards; plus 7 drawers of 3×5 index cards of obituary index; plus 3 more boxes of death records, plus 2 drawers of card catalog entries; plus 2 4-drawer files with century farms, pioneer projects, funeral sermons, and family files; plus 4 boxes of funeral programs/cards; plus 5 drawers of newspaper and census microfilm. I was pleased to see several resources for Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, as well as surrounding Iowa counties. This collection is amazing!

And, did I forget to mention… the librarian thought they had original Wills tucked away upstairs? Eventually, during our 2-hour visit, he took us upstairs to look at something else. Then, we saw the “Wills.” These are actually the original probate packets still in their original drawers! Of course, these have been microfilmed; that is why the county offices could dispose of them, but it is always more exciting to touch the real thing.

I was thrilled to find one thing in particular… A few months ago I was trying to find a specific society newsletter; I had looked and looked, asked and asked as many people as I could think of. Mystery solved! I found it here!

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Digging, finding, writing about hidden genealogy resources in Iowa.

Research Center, Sioux City Public Museum
607 4th Street
Sioux City, IA 51101

I prefer to make appointments before I visit; sometimes it just doesn’t happen. This was one of those times. While hunting, at the last minute, for some materials to take on this trip, I happened across a newspaper clipping I saved from the July 9, 2014 Des Moines Register “History Digitized at Research Center.” (Metro Edition, p. 8a)

Thus, I walked into the Research Center cold. Once I explained my project Tom Munson (whose photo appeared in the newspaper article) was ready to help.

The museum and research center are located in the heart of downtown Sioux City and are obviously part of a downtown revitalization project. The building was formerly a J.C. Penney’s department store. In 2005 the city selected the building for the museum, in 2010 the moving began, and the museum and research center opened in April 2011. The commitment of the city and the abundant space for the museum and research center are enviable. The building offers excellent climate control for the collections.

Tom explained that the Research Center does NOT have vital records; these can be accessed at the court house. And, the center does NOT have the newspaper microfilm as this can be accessed at the public library.

Still, the holdings of the Research Center are amazing. And the detailed list of the holdings is even more amazing! More than 60,000 items are included on the Subject List which can be found on their website. The list also functions as a finding aid for the staff with subject/title, collection #, and location. The online version is updated about once a year.

With over 30,000 black & white photos in the collection, Tom said that many people use the resources here for creating house and business histories. The center also has all of the Sioux City directories that were ever printed (1871-2009), tax registers (1857-1880) and original Sanborn maps (1902-1919, 1924-1948-1968) all of which are also helpful in creating house and business histories.

Topical newspaper clipping collections include quality of life topics, i.e., business, churches, and clubs, as well as the people. One collection has more than 600 oral histories that were recorded 1978-1981 and nearly a hundred more that were recorded more recently.

Original records include the naturalization records for Woodbury County (1860s-1940s). A resource that I have not seen elsewhere is a collection of Sioux City jail registers (1899-1940s).

The Daily Commercial Reporter was a publication that included everything legal that happened in town. Some volumes (probably 1924, 1925, and 1926) are missing, otherwise the center’s holdings cover 1915-1998; however, this is not indexed yet. Another project waiting to be indexed is a collection of obituaries from the Sioux City Tribune (1893-1907).

The center has all of the Central High School yearbooks 1905-1972, about half of the East High School yearbooks, Bishop Heelan High School yearbooks for 1951-2011, and about 70% of the Morningside College yearbooks.

While this is not considered a genealogy center Tom said, “If you have family here or family that was ever here, we will have something for you.” I believe it!

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Continuing our exploration for hidden genealogy resources in Iowa:

Dutch Heritage Room, DeWitt Library
Northwestern College
101 7th Street SW
Orange City, Iowa 51041


Aah, Orange City! I had never been there, but I’ve always lived near Pella, an earlier Dutch community. The Dutch settlement of Orange City was established as a colony of Pella.

Greta Grond and Doug Anderson were especially helpful as they explained the Dutch heritage of the area. Besides the usual college records, the archives includes a large collection of Tulip Festival scrapbooks covering 1936-1990 as well as other Sioux County histories, memoirs and genealogies. Henry Hospers was the initiator of the group who moved from Pella to Orange City and he was a long-time newspaper publisher. His collection is held here. A digitization project of their collections is continuing and being placed on their website.

The archives also holds a collection of RCA (Reformed Church in America) church records for disbanded churches in Iowa, North & South Dakota, and Minnesota. Check the online Finding Aids for more information.

Another significant piece of information is that De Volksvriend, a Dutch language newspaper founded by Henry Hospers and published from 1872 to 1951, has been digitized and is available online through the National Library of the Netherlands. An explanatory page for non-Dutch speakers and a link to the images is found on the archives website. A helpful article about De Volksvriend is “Dateline Orange City, Iowa: De Volksvriend and the Creation of Dutch American Community in the Midwest, 1874-1951″ by Robert Schoone-Jungen, Annals of Iowa, volume 69, Summer 2010, pp. 308-331. This newspaper is particularly significant because it served as a communication hub: correspondents from many other Dutch settlements used this newspaper as a means of communicating with each other.

I don’t usually purchase books during these visits since it could break my budget, but this time I purchased Images of America: Orange City by Doug Anderson, Tim Schlak, Greta Grond, and Sarah Kaltenbach (Charleston, South Carolina: Arcadia Publishing, 2014). Filled with many photographs, it is very helpful for understanding the community and the heritage.

Before we left town we had eaten our picnic lunch in the Windmill Park and purchased Dutch letters and three different kinds of meat. Everyone we met in the park, in the shops and at the college seemed so genuinely welcoming.

All in all, it was a delicious experience!

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Continuing the series to find hidden genealogy resources in Iowa:

Greater Sioux County Genealogical Society
Sioux Center Public Library
102 South Main Ave
Sioux Center, Iowa 51250


There is more here than meets the eye!

Recently I had the opportunity to visit with Wilma J. Vande Berg in the genealogy alcove at the public library. And, I agree with the people who told me that Wilma is the “know-all” person for Sioux County genealogy!

Let’s go back a little, to July 2003. because it is amazing this genealogy area even exists today. In July 2003 someone threw lighted firecrackers into the book drop and burned the library down! Fortunately, the genealogy materials were in the basement in a vault-like room surrounded with concrete walls. Soon after the fire was extinguished the genealogy file drawers were pulled from their cabinets, piled into a trailer and hauled to Wilma’s walkout basement where she worked with fans and ventilation for months to remove the odor. In the meantime, the city had bigger problems: salvage what they could and build a new library. Wilma said that approximately 50,000 books were sent to Chicago in refrigerated trucks to be freeze-dried and restored.

I liked the way the genealogy area is arranged: work tables and chairs in the center with shelves of genealogy materials on three sides and filing cabinets along the fourth side. The area is welcoming and well organized. It also shows a dedication of the library (and by extension, the community) to the needs of genealogists–to preserve the past.

Wilma showed me the vertical files with about 9,000 surname files, very impressive. She said that when researchers come in they can usually find their family name in these files.

Organized onto the shelves and tucked in an archival storage area are many other items of interest: WWI and WWII soldiers, photos, original newspapers, family histories, newspaper indexes, etc. Be sure to check the website for a more complete listing of their holdings.

She showed me their marvelous DRS 3000 Digital Retrieval Workstation that loads microfilm to a computer where it is viewed on a computer monitor. The images can then be zoomed in or out and lightened or darkened, as needed, and sent to a printer. Later I did an internet search for this system and discovered that this specific one is no longer made. However, I recommend that other genealogy or historical groups investigate this kind of option. As I’ve traveled around the state a common comment has been that “we can no longer get parts to fix our microfilm reader/printer.” I was certainly impressed with the workstation concept.

Many Sioux County newspaper images can be accessed through http://siouxcounty.newspaperarchive.com, however, the public library board is working with another company to move the images to a site which should be less prone to problems.

GSCGS certainly has a dedicated group of volunteers. It is always nice to see such a group effort. Wilma said they have anywhere from six to ten people who come on Wednesday afternoons to work. They work a while, then have coffee!

She also has several people who are working on a project to post obituaries onto their website. Currently they have about 23,600 obituaries online adding about 500 more every month.

Besides the dedication of so many volunteers, the website is the real hidden treasure here. It is nice how GSCGS is using something already in existence, the USGenWeb/IAGenWeb project instead of creating a new website for researchers to find. There can be real advantages to “one-stop shopping.” As I tried to use their website, however, I had difficulty finding the huge obituary collection; then I saw it… the obit icon on the left side of the screen! So obvious, but I couldn’t find it. Be sure to dig… you may be surprised at everything you will find.

There is more here than meets the eye!

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A Bountiful Harvest: The Midwestern Farm Photographs of Pete Wettach, 1925-1965 by Leslie A. Loveless, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City 52242, 2002

Sometimes we are lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. Recently, a friend handed my husband a book saying, “This book has Marieta’s name on it!” It didn’t really, but she suspected I’d be interested. My friend was helping a family downsize their mother’s things. This book was among the collection.

As I read the book, I was fascinated by the story and I was fascinated by the photographs.

Pete Wettach preserved images of Iowa farm families in the 1930s, 1940s, into the 1960s. By day he worked for the Farm Security Administration (later the Farmers Home Administration) which helped small farmers purchase land. Pete had ample access to the families as he travelled from farm to farm visiting his clients and helping to guide the families in their farm and household management decisions. While not an official government photographer, Pete was interested in the story that could be told about the lives of the people he worked with, so he often set up his camera and family members posed for photographs. In the evenings, Pete would develop the negatives and print the pictures, then he would sell many of his photos to the farm magazines. Sometimes the families had the privilege of basking in momentary stardom when their friends saw their picture in a popular farm publication.

In A Bountiful Harvest, Leslie Loveless does a great job helping the reader understand the significance of Pete’s labor of love.

Several facets of this book hit soft spots with me. First, with her Brownie camera, my mother also took some pictures showing rural farm life beginning in the 1930s. Second, I grew up on a farm during the second half of Pete’s freelance photography career. Third, I have also had a darkroom, developing negatives and printing pictures, a couple times in my life. And, finally, the very last page provides information that could help genealogists with a little used resource. After doing a little more research, I plan to write about this.


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Continuing my sorting of Mom’s collection, I have found nearly a paper box full of high school and college yearbooks. What to do with these?

I am going through each one looking for relatives. When found, I photocopy the page(s) as well as any related pages and title page, and place in the person’s hanging file. This has been very interesting, especially reading some of the one-line comments with the photographs of the seniors.

One of my favorites was for my mother’s brother, “Because a man doesn’t talk is no sign he hasn’t something to say.” (1) This apparently describes a personality trait for an uncle I never knew (he was a pilot and killed in China in an plane crash near the end of WW II). My brother is also very quiet; a family trait?

My mother’s aunt was the joke editor for her senior yearbook. Mae’s joke:

Howard Miller and Mae B. were sitting on the porch. Howard: “If I had money, I’d travel.” Mae reached out her hand and fondly put it in his, then ran into the house. Howard amazingly looked into his hand. There was a nickel. (2)

I’m going to donate these yearbooks to the Iowa Genealogical Society, as they are just starting a collection of yearbooks.

Yearbooks may provide unexpected color for an ancestor’s biography.
(1) Howard Butler, Indianola (Iowa) High School Pow-Wow, 1935, p. 9.

(2) The Pow-Wow of Indianola (Iowa) High School, Volume Nine, 1923, unnumbered pages, joke pages were near the back of the book.

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