Archive for the ‘Letters’ Category

Continuing the series of discovering hidden genealogy resources:

Iowa Women’s Archives
100 Main Library, 3rd Floor
The University of Iowa
Iowa City, Iowa 52242


website: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa/
Open Tuesday thru Friday, 10:00 a.m. to Noon; 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

I happened upon this gem as I was surfing the internet. Since we were going to be in Iowa City recently, I wanted to investigate this resource. We met Janet Weaver, the Assistant Curator, who graciously guided us through their facility.

The Iowa Women’s Archives (IWA) was founded in 1992 by Louise Rosenfield Noun and Mary Louise Smith, both well-known Iowa women. The archives now includes more than 1,100 manuscript collections which chronicle the lives of ordinary Iowa women and place them in context with their families and communities. Included are photos, scrapbooks, letters, diaries, speeches, club minutes, newspaper clippings, memoirs, and other materials, some dating to Civil War and 1880s. Topics of special interest involve preserving the Iowa history of Mujeres Latinas, African-American women, and women’s suffrage. However, all topics and all walks of life are represented: artists, legislators, judges, writers, farm wives, young girls, film producers, to list a few.

Collection topics can be found at: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa/CollTop/#o

Many oral histories are among the original source materials: http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/iwa/topical-holdings-lists/oralhistories/

IWA is privately funded, but is located in the university library, uses student interns to help process the collections and is able to access library conservation staff expertise and resources. However, this creates some confusion because the listings for the collection’s online catalog appear to be intermingled with the university collections.

The repository is constantly receiving new materials and we saw quite a number of boxes waiting to be processed.

During our tour, Janet pulled a variety of items off the shelves for us to see. We were impressed that many very precious, irreplaceable items are now safe and will be accessible for many years to come thanks to the generosity and vision of the founders, supporters and staff.

The archives welcomes visitors and researchers, high school and college students, scholars, and even family genealogists!

Thank you, Janet!


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Some projects just can’t be accomplished in one full swoop.

At one point my office and our basement family room were filled with boxes, as well as our spare bedroom and our store room… in other words, practically our entire basement was a massive storage unit. This was mostly the stuff I had received from my mother as she downsized a couple different times.

Not all of this stuff is paper, but a large percentage is paper. By paper, I mean undocumented research notes, photocopies of documents, notes with more than one surname on a sheet of paper, several different family groups sheets for the same individual—created at different times when my mother found something, loose photos, a few stories my mother has written, more photocopies of documents, and a few original documents. Then, also letters, diaries, calendars, lots of newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, and photo albums. Some of these things were my mother’s, but some belonged to her mother, other things belonged to her uncle and aunt.

Every time we have downsized my mother, for the most part, I have been more interested in the genealogy/family history side than in getting a lot of things: vases, dishes, baskets, silverware, glassware, needlework, etc. Please rest assured, however, I have gotten my share of those things, as well.

So, a few months ago, I purchased a bunch of cardboard file boxes. In fairly small letters I labeled the lids with family surnames. We set up a couple of 5-foot tables and placed the boxes side-by-side on the tables. One by one, I opened each of the many boxes of stuff and sorted as many paper and photographic items as possible into family groups placing the items in the appropriate surname box. I did not make any attempt to further divide the items within the surname or to label the items. I just sorted into the surname group. Otherwise, it would have been much too easy to get bogged down in the detail. These cardboard file boxes were then stacked in the spare bedroom. While sorted by family surname, they remained difficult to access, but certainly in better order than they were previously.

During the marathon sorting session last weekend, Dave and I emptied several file drawers. This past weekend I transferred items from the surname boxes into file drawers labeled with the respective surnames. I have hanging folders in the drawers, so I divided up the items and placed them into the hanging folders. Again, I did not make any other attempt to sort the items. That will come later. For now, I’m just happy to be making the treasures more accessible in the drawers.

I’m making progress—a baby step at a time.

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Siblings sorting

Yesterday, my husband and his sister started sorting boxes of stuff that we kept at our house after their mother (Willa Jean, or simply Willa) passed away five years ago. Dave had looked at some of these boxes last weekend during our marathon sorting session and decided that his sister should share the fun. They spent nearly 5 hours laughing and reminiscing, but hard at work.

When they found greeting cards, they kept the cards from family members that had notes or letters attached. As appropriate, these will be given to the descendants of the senders. Willa Jean had assembled a lot of pictures and letters into family groups and had already given some of the pictures to appropriate people. She had also assembled letters that she had received from her siblings, punched holes and placed them into 3-ring binders. We took a notebook that Willa had assembled containing letters from her sister last summer to the sister’s daughter. The daughter was thrilled! Her mother had not kept a diary, so this is as close to a diary as she will ever have for her mother—in her mother’s own words.

Throughout her life, Willa had kept many files of bridal and baby shower games and files of jokes. Also she was an avid collector of newspaper articles on well-known personalities, whether local or national, ranging from the Kennedy family to Shawn Johnson, from Gordon Gammack to Ding Darling. And she kept newspaper articles about the weather. Sorry, Mom, these went to the recycle bin as they can be found on the world wide web today.

Willa had written her life’s history and since no one can imagine that either Dave or his sister will ever do any additional writing on their parents’ lives, they elected to discard all of the old financial papers. But, keep in mind that their mother had saved everything—bills, cancelled checks, and tax papers. For Dave and his sister it was overwhelming.

In the end, they started with about 8 boxes and managed to whittle them down to one box, plus some miscellaneous things.

What lessons can we all learn? Limit what you keep to a few things that show significant purchases and cost-of-living, for example. It is easy for children to become overwhelmed and throw away everything.

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