Archive for the ‘Iowa’ Category

Taking our genealogy treasure hunt on the road, Dave and I dodged a couple snowstorms and ventured to Dubuque to explore repositories. I’m going to write about some of them in more depth in additional posts, but for now I want to explain the options.

Center for Dubuque History
Loras College
Academic Resource Center
1450 Alta Vista
Dubuque, Iowa 52001-4399
Phone: 563-588-7163
Contact: Michael Gibson, Archivist

Carnegie-Stout Public Library
360 West Eleventh Street
Dubuque, Iowa 52001
Phone: 563-589-4137
Contact: Michelle Hellmer (Adult Services Manager)
Amy Muchmore (selects items for genealogy collection)

Dubuque County Historical Society located at the
National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium
350 East Third Street
Dubuque, IA 52001
Phone: 563-557-9545 or 800-226-3369
Contact: Tish Boyer, Collections Manager/Registrar

Wartburg Theological Seminary Archives
333 Wartburg Place
Dubuque, IA 52003
Phone: 563-589-0320
Contact: Nancy Carroll, Archivist
Unfortunately, we were not able to visit this archives because they were moving from one part of the building to another and she had student assistance lined up for the day of our visit. However, Nancy was very helpful during our phone conversation.

This is the repository for the German Lutheran Synod of Iowa, 1854-1930 records, and Region 5 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA). Included are thousands of letters sent to Iowa church leaders 1850-1900, primarily between administrative units and pastors settling in an area and forming new congregations. Also of interest are the records of many dissolved congregations in Region 5 (Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin and upper Michigan).

Dubuque County – Key City Genealogical Society
collection is incorporated with the
Family History Center
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints
685 Fremont Avenue
Dubuque, Iowa 52001
Phone: 563-583-6851
Contact: Steven N. Eastvedt, Director

I had called ahead and said I would be there on Saturday morning at 9:00, when they opened. Dave and I waited until 9:20; no one appeared. I was very sorry to miss the opportunity to see this collection. A few years ago, the genealogical society needed to find a place for its collection. The Family History Center not only agreed to incorporate this valuable collection, but FHC digitized the collection and it is now available on computers at the Center. I wanted very much to see how this works. In addition, I was hoping to see what records this group has that are not available elsewhere.

As tourists we also visited:
Mines of Spain
E. B. Lyons Interpretive Center
8991 Bellevue Heights
Dubuque, Iowa 52003-9214
Phone: 563-556-0620

We would like to return in warmer weather so we could visit more places, including the Julien Dubuque Monument, the Shot Tower Historic Landmark, the Historic Federal Building and Post Office, and take the Fenelon Place Elevator up the side of the bluff. In addition, several parts of the National Mississippi River Museum and Aquarium are out-of-doors and we elected to stay indoors. The Mines of Spain have many designated hiking trails which would be more enjoyable in warmer weather.

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I have recently read two books about Iowa’s pioneer women:

Riley, Glenda. Frontierswomen: The Iowa Experience. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1981.

Riley, Glenda, ed. Prairie Voices: Iowa’s Pioneering Women. Ames, Iowa: Iowa State University Press, 1996.

I was thrilled to discover these books. They are about Iowa pioneer women, not just Midwestern women, not Nebraska women, not Minnesota women, but Iowa women. I read them in publication order, however, I think they could be read in either order. I enjoyed both.

Difficult as it is to bracket this in our minds, the Iowa frontier period is generally considered to have only lasted 40 years: 1830 to 1870. Furthermore, we have become accustomed to learning about the pioneer period through the eyes of men. It is refreshing to realize that women had voices, also.

Prairie Voices is original source material: the diaries, memoirs, and letters with the voice of specific women. I enjoyed reading the words the women wrote: the color, the emotion and the determination.

In Frontierswomen, the author weaves the stories of basically the same women into a narrative divided into topical areas dispelling stereotypes frequently associated with women on the frontier. She discusses the westward trek, work women did (both in the home and outside), diversity and commonality, education and strong-mindedness, and the influence of war in their lives.

Anyone with pioneer women ancestors who lived in Iowa, even for a short time, would find these books enlightening and compelling. In some cases, you could nearly just substitute the name of your own ancestor into the story. No matter, you’ll develop a new perspective and appreciation for these women and their lives.

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Finding more of Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

State Historical Society of Iowa
402 Iowa Avenue
Iowa City, Iowa 52240



Three of us met with Mary Bennett, Special Collections Coordinator, for a tour of the archives in the Iowa City facility.

My biggest disappointment is that only about 5% of the special collections items are in the online catalog. It is absolutely necessary to check the onsite card catalog. Mary explained that budget concerns, staff reductions, and time constraints simply do not allow for getting everything done. However, be sure to check the online catalog to get a flavor of the kinds of materials in this phenomenal repository: http://www.iowahistory.org/shsi/libraries/collections/iowa-city-center/major-manuscripts-collection.html.

As we walked along the rows of shelving, she pointed out the Ruth Buxton Sayre collection, a name I know well. Ruth, a Warren County resident, became an internationally known advocate for rural women, holding various American Farm Bureau and Associated Country Women of the World positions (ACWW). I would have never thought to look in Iowa City for her collection.

Mary said they have a large collection of women’s organization records and a lot of women’s history.

They have:
many documents items relating to the pioneer experience
an incredible Civil War collection including more than 200 diaries,
many personal diaries and letters,
the materials from many clubs, churches and schools,
approximately 3,000 maps,
biographical materials for many prominent Iowans.

In addition they have a World War II clipping project for which volunteers come regularly to work. So far more than 5,000 pages of clippings have been digitized and can be found at: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/search/collection/wwii.

In 1923 the SHSI and the Iowa Federation of Women’s Clubs sponsored an essay contest in which high school students were encouraged to write about their grandparents or their town history. This collection uses 22 storage boxes. I first heard about these essays in 1979 when I was on the committee for writing our town history book, Milo 1880 to 1980. Our local librarian knew of the collection and travelled to Iowa City to see what might help in our book project.

Mary showed us the fully equipped paper conservation lab that currently has no staff and she showed us damage that was done to materials when a water pipe broke in the basement.

I came away with some big questions. In today’s world how can I or anyone else ever use the valuable materials located in this history-rich facility without adequate online finding aids? Why is the state not digitizing out-of-copyright materials and placing them online as fast as possible? Why is a paper conservation lab sitting empty? Will future generations be able to use these valuable resources?

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Finding Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

Iowa Labor Collection
State Historical Society of Iowa
402 Iowa Avenue
Iowa City, Iowa 52240



Three of us met with Mary Bennett, Special Collections Coordinator and long-time staff member who has worked with this collection since the beginning. The project began in 1974 at the time of the nation’s bicentennial. People realized the need for saving the rich historical heritage of Iowa’s working class people. As a result, more than 1,100 people were interviewed on audio tape. The people represented 75 occupational groups and 15 major urban areas. Of these 769 interviews were completely transcribed and entered into an index. The original transcripts were microfilmed and copies are available at the SHSI facilities in Iowa City and Des Moines and one copy is available for inter-library loan. This became a model project.

Some of the oral project deficiencies: only 124 women were interviewed and only a few Blacks and Hispanics were included. However, regarding the women, many of the men talked about the role of women in their interviews. Of the people interviewed, the earliest birthdate was 1875, but most were born after 1915. The interviews included specific questions, but participants were also allowed to digress. The last question was “What did the union mean to you?” Mary said that question brought some very emotional responses.

The dream is to digitize the audio and to create links to it on the website because she said that the tone of voice, colloquialisms, character of the person, and emotions just could not be captured in the transcriptions. The Iowa Labor Center, which is also located at the University of Iowa, and the Iowa Federation of Labor are working together attempting to find funding for the next phase.

The oral histories formed the basis for the current Iowa Labor Collection. In 1999 through assistance from Senator Tom Harkin the group was able to secure a grant of $360,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to process, catalog and expand the collection. Today the Iowa Labor Collection has grown to more than 1,000 linear feet in the Special Collections area of SHSI and is considered one of the top five labor collections in the United States. Mary said that it grows by nearly 100 linear feet per year.

Among the items included in today’s collection are labor union meeting minutes, lists of jobs, lists of union members and whether dues were paid, scabs lists, grievances, contracts, newsletters, and political campaign issues.

Iowa’s strong labor foundation is due in part to John L. Lewis and the United Mine Workers who were concerned about the unsafe working conditions and child labor in the many coal mines in Iowa. The concern spread to other industries. One specific incident in 1947 involved 100,000 workers and the Right-to-Work Law being challenged by Iowa Governor Robert Blue. During this incident the governor experienced the power of the unions. The labor movement carried to Maytag and agri-business and many other areas. Records from many of these areas are included in the SHSI collection.

To access the list of people involved in the original oral history project and the list of holdings, go to: http://www.iowahistory.org/libraries/collections/iowa-city-center/iowa_labor_collection/default.htm. If the individual’s name is underlined, it contains a hyperlink to further information about the interview. I have found it a little challenging to navigate the labor collection, so I’m providing step-by-step procedures:

Iowahistory.org –> Libraries –> Manuscript & Audio Visual Collections –> Iowa City Center –> Iowa Labor Collections
Then be sure to check the various topics on the left hand side of the screen.

A hardcover book that serves as an index to the labor oral history project is:

Weaver, Janet, Howard Spencer and Mary Bennett, compilers. Iowa Labor History Oral Project Index. Iowa City, Iowa: State Historical Society of Iowa, 2003.

This book is found in the State Historical Society libraries.

Since the initial project, other organizations have added to the oral history collection. The Earth Watch Project interviewed 125 owners of century farms in northwest Iowa. These interviews have been transcribed, summarized and indexed. Many genealogists would not think of checking in Iowa City for information about an ancestor living in northwest Iowa. The Iowa Medical Society interviewed 75 “house-call” physicians, during which doctors interviewed doctors. These are only two other examples. The archives has more: Junior League in Cedar Rapids, musicians on steamboats, Welsh, Buxton, Glenwood residents and polio in Iowa. In addition, Mary said that the Hoover Library has a series of World War II interviews.

Don’t ever be surprised at what you may find! Leave no stone unturned.

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Finding Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

Special Collections and University Archives
The University of Iowa Libraries
100 Main Library
125 West Washington
Iowa City, Iowa 52242



Staff member, Jacque Roethler, explained to us that this collection includes rare books, manuscripts, and the university archives.

The manuscript collection includes a large variety of items as diaries, Civil War letters, and pioneer documents to Chautauqua, State Hail Insurance ledgers and other business records. Jacque especially encouraged us to use the Resources section of their website to select Collection Guides and Digitized Collections as well as http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/resources/findingaids.html for finding materials. She indicated that we may be very surprised at what we find. For example, if your ancestor was a farmer and purchased hail insurance, he may well be listed!

The world-renown University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop is held on this campus. So, as we were walking through the aisles, it was not surprising to learn this repository collects books by Iowa authors defined as 1) born in Iowa, or 2) lived in Iowa for at least twenty years.

Jacque explained that they are beginning to use Crowdsourcing as a means for transcribing many of their popular collections. The university is digitizing Civil War diaries, letters and other items, then letting interested individuals transcribe them. To access the ability to do this, go to the home page of Special Collections –> Digitized Collections –> Iowa Digital Library –> DIY History. She said they have some users who are very passionate about helping with this project.

The university archives includes Board of Regents items, as well as faculty and staff employment records. Forty-five file drawers contain the latter material, which she said gets a lot of use. To maintain these files, they have a crew of clippers, who continually check area newspapers for university-related articles. In addition they have files for alumni and former students. The collection includes programs from all kinds of university events, i.e., art shows and theater productions to athletic competitions. All things that should be found in an archives associated with an educational institution can be found here.

Jacque said that researchers can use library scanners and save images to flash drives, or they can bring in a camera. She also explained that soon some enhancements will make text fully searchable on their website. And, finally, she indicated donations to their collection are welcome.

Genealogists, do not underestimate the depth of this collection even if you do not have a direct connection to the university!

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Another installment in the series to find hidden genealogical treasures:

University of Iowa Libraries
Map Collection
3111 Main Library
Iowa City, Iowa 52242



Two genealogy friends and I visited the map collection area at the University of Iowa Library. Paula Balkenende explained their collection as she gave us a tour. She told us that they are currently digitizing many Iowa county atlases 1875-1916. More information about this project can be found at: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/maps/countyatlases/. To access the digitized maps use: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/atlases/.

Maps in this collection are preserved by encapsulating them in mylar. The maps can be copied or scanned using either the scanner in this office, or by using an oversized scanner located elsewhere; scans can be printed or saved onto a flash drive. She emphasized that the entire collection is open to anyone, not just individuals associated with the university. She also told us that this facility is a Federal depository of topographic maps of the United States, so maps for areas outside Iowa may also be found here.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps – six large map drawers contain original fire insurance maps for towns in Iowa (original maps contain color coding for buildings, etc.). In addition, they have all of the Sanborn maps for Iowa on microfiche (fiche means the maps images are in black and white–no color coding).

Important Farmlands maps were produced by the US Department of Agriculture in the 1980s and can be found in this collection.

Aerial photos – Iowa Aerial Photo Indices Digital Collection includes more than 2,000 of aerial photos from 1936 into the 1970s combined into photomosaic index sheets that have been digitized. These can be found at http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/search/collection/api. Researchers can then find the number of the photograph(s) that they need.

A searchable, but outdated index to 150,000 photos can be found at: http://inpress.lib.uiowa.edu/LibrarySquirrel/aerial-search.aspx. Photos now being added to the collection are indexed in the University of Iowa’s InfoHawk catalog along with the ongoing project of adding the older photos to InfoHawk.

Researchers should use both the online catalog and the onsite card catalog.

Paula told us that Iowa State University is also posting digitized aerial photos which start in the 1930s. This collection is extensive with as many as 150,000 photos and can be found at http://ortho.gis.iastate.edu/.

The University of Iowa photo collection is used primarily by the archeology department and engineers. Genealogists are the minority.

My question is: are genealogists aware of this collection?

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Another installment in the series to find hidden genealogical resources:

Monroe County Historical Museum
114 A Avenue East
Albia, Iowa


Hours: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 1 through October 31
No admission charge, donation box

I met Rosalie Mullinix at the Fall Conference of the Iowa Genealogical Society and made arrangements to see her at the museum a couple days later.

My husband came along for this beautiful afternoon drive to Albia.

Upon arriving at the museum, my husband took in several of the exhibits, but I quickly discovered the library. And, the first thing to catch my eye was school records. Imagine that! One shelf was stacked full, then I discovered more school records on the table in the center of the room. Eventually, Dave and I discovered a card filing cabinet chocked full of student records.

Rosalie filled us in with the story. The Albia school superintendent is from Albia, so he has somewhat of a vested interest in preserving these records. His office recently moved to much smaller quarters. The staff at the library discovered he had records and asked if they could see the records before they were discarded. When they went to pick up the records, this awesome collection was waiting for them.

Rosalie told me that a library committee has just begun to inventory the collection. With the enormity of the collection it will be some time before they have a listing of their holdings. But I can tell you that it is a combination of country school and town school records and it even includes the permanent student records for pupils who graduated several decades ago. Genealogists, you WILL find student and teacher names in these records!

Rosalie is full of knowledge. She told me I will need to come back to visit the genealogy section of the public library, when the library is open during the week. That is the place where genealogists frequent. Rosalie is amazing; she has been collecting information for years and several publications in the library had her name on them!

Currently the historical society is creating a map to all of the cemeteries in the county using the 911 addresses. Based on our experience when we left the museum, this is sorely needed. While we really didn’t get lost, we did make a few wrong turns.

For the last few years the historical society has sponsored a tour on the last Sunday in August. The tour typically visits an interesting area of the county. The first year they visited the Buxton area, the second year the Foster area, which includes the longest working trestle in the United States. This coming August they are again planning to visit the Buxton area.

After leaving the museum, Dave and I drove to Cuba Cemetery where I have some relatives buried.

Since it was nearby, we wanted to see “the pyramids” at the Hickory Grove cemetery. Dave had heard about these from one of his co-workers, who grew up in this area. Then, Rosalie mentioned them. According to Rosalie, it seems a rather eccentric man (Axel Peterson) frequently loaned money to his neighbors. When they couldn’t repay him, he asked them to work off the loan by working on his three pyramids. He wanted to be buried in one of them. He even had a concrete bench built so people could sit on the bench and see his body through the doorway leading into one of them. Well, when he died, he wasn’t buried there, but his pyramids still stand. We found them. They are pyramids, but they are very small and the whole scenario seems like the workings of a very strange person.

Next we tried to find the abandoned town of Buxton. (This town is a fascinating story in itself; I’ll save that for another day.) After a fashion we found some remains of the town. Then, we sought the Buxton Cemetery. Luckily, it showed up on Google Maps on my smart phone. After years of neglect, the cemetery was cleaned up and today is a testament to the existence and harmony in the nearby mining community. A sign at the cemetery has a listing of burials. Later I found a listing of burials on Find-A-Grave.com and on the Monroe County GenWeb site. The latter two lists are not the same. The one on Find-A-Grave lists 431 interments, whereas the one on GenWeb only contains about 51 names. The Find-A-Grave listing seems more in line with the listing at the cemetery, but I have not compared the two lists. (The cemetery was only active from 1900 to 1923.)

To top off our afternoon, we found some hedgeballs in the ditch along one of the country roads. I like to collect a few each fall to put inside our house to keep the bugs out.

This was a good afternoon.

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