Archive for the ‘Libraries’ Category

Another installment in finding Iowa’s genealogical treasures:

Loras College
Academic Resource Center
1450 Alta Vista
Dubuque 52001-4399
phone: 563-588-7163

Michael Gibson, Archivist

My husband and I had a leisurely conversation with Mike, then he took us for a tour.

The Center holds a wealth of information including the unique Bowerman File. “Unique” means “one of a kind,” “you can’t find this anywhere else!” This file is amazing! It contains more than 17,700 index cards with over 28,000 names from over 70 unique sources between 1830 and 1917. The sources range from a miner’s compact, old settlers’ association membership lists, to militia rolls and the like.

The obituary collection needs to be discussed in conjunction with another facility in Dubuque, the Carnegie-Stout Public Library. Both facilities have obituary locator card collections. The collections identify the location of the obituary, providing name of deceased, age, spouse, if known and survived, newspaper name and date. In more recent years, the cards also include the newspaper page number and column number. The Center for Dubuque History (CDH) has more than 280 file drawers with cards; the Carnegie-Stout Public Library has 150 file drawers. The project originated in the 1930s as part of the WPA. After the initial project, both facilities added to the collection, but the efforts were not coordinated. The CDH collectors included many Dubuque Catholic newspapers in their files. Then in January 1984 efforts were coordinated and duplicate cards are now placed in both collections.

Both the Carnegie-Stout Public Library and the CDH have microfilm for most of the newspapers.

The CDH has many Dubuque city directories, a WPA-generated subject index to the Dubuque newspapers up to 1940, Dubuque County plat maps, Sanborn fire insurance maps, Dubuque County tax lists, militia rolls for Dubuque County and other miscellaneous resources.

While not directly connected with the Center for Dubuque History, a website for Dubuque history is helpful: http://www.encyclopediadubuque.org.

We were impressed with the wide range of research materials here. Anyone with genealogical roots in this area should contact Mike.


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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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Another piece of the puzzle… hidden genealogical treasures in Iowa:

Danish Immigrant Archives
Grand View University Library
1351 Grandview Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50310

phone: 515-263-6199
website: http://www.grandview.edu/

I met with Sheri Muller, Archivist. This facility focuses on three specific areas:
1) the collection of Nicolai Frederik Severin Grundtvig, a Danish theologian
2) Grand View University and its history, including student information, except athletic information has been retained by the athletic department
3) the Danish American Immigrant Experience

This last area is my focus…

The Danish immigrants were a diverse group and this is exhibited in the diversity of the collection housed here. While the collection is not genealogy oriented, it contains many materials of interest to genealogists: photographs (though sadly many are not identified), writings and memoirs, Danish-American newspapers and a growing collection of family histories. The archives also includes some Danish Brotherhood, community organization, and Friends of Denmark during WWII information. Additional materials include the Danish folk schools where the immigrants learned about American culture and to speak English.

Another section includes the archives for the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (DELCA). Grand View Seminary operated from 1896 to 1960. Seminary records are held here, as well as some church histories, and annual meeting minutes.

Sheri explained that the archives holdings include a considerable information for a few families or specific people, rather than a broad range. If a researcher’s family is included in the collection, the archives could yield gold.

The hidden treasure is Thorvald Hansen’s Danish Immigrant Archival Listing: A Guide to Source Materials Related to the Danish Immigrant in America to be Found in Repositories in the United States, Canada, and Denmark (Grand View College and the Danish American Heritage Society, 1988). As indicated, the university assisted in this publication of this valuable reference guide. Sheri said that when she receives a query, this book is the first place she looks.

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What a gem! And, who would expect to find a first-class coal mining exhibit in a public library?

I recently had lunch with a friend in Waukee and her “drawing card” was to suggest that we visit this exhibit.

Of Italian descent, Hiram Ori grew up in the coal mining community in Waukee; his parents and other relatives worked in the Shuler Coal Mine. His estate included a bequest of approximately $700,000 for an addition to the library to feature a coal mining exhibit and a meeting room.

The exhibit includes many artifacts, photographs and other documents from the mining community. It also includes some oral histories with memories of mining, the homes, the company store, life in the camp, and Waukee history. All very interesting.

With the community’s Italian background, the interviewees also tell about the coming of “the grape train” which brought grapes from California to be made into wine. The story continues with pressing the grapes, preparing the barrels to make a good wine, and the three grades of wine; the best grade was never sold.

Another story includes the arrival of yams and telling of youth climbing to the top of the yam-filled rail car and tossing them down to the people standing on the ground.

The use of touch screen technology for sharing the oral histories is something I have not seen in a small museum and it certainly adds a new dimension to history. Seeing the people’s faces and hearing their voices as they tell the stories make the memories more personal and meaningful; so much better than reading the story on a piece of paper. I was impressed!

By the way, Waukee is probably the fastest growing town in the state of Iowa. There must be many reasons… foresight, education, and inspiration are probably in the list.

Waukee Public Library
950 Warrior Lane
Waukee, IA 50263
Phone: 515-987-1280

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Another location with hidden genealogy treasures:

Special Collections Department
Council Bluffs Public Library
400 Willow Avenue
Council Bluffs, Iowa 51503

Phone: 712-323-7553
Website: http://www.councilbluffslibrary.org/

Since the Special Collections Manager was going to be out of the library the day of my visit, she had arranged for Marlys Lien, The Adult Services Manager, to met me. Marlys, then, introduced me to Jo Weis, who is very familiar with the genealogy collection in the Special Collections area (and is also active in the Pottawattamie County Genealogical Society which operates the Frontier Heritage Library).

Jo started out showing me the extensive collection of microfilm, which includes many area newspapers, Pottawattamie County vital records, naturalizations, wills, deeds, and Council Bluffs city directories and telephone books.

Next, she took me to the Reference Work Room where I saw drawers of photos, and shelves of books, atlases, and original newspapers—a nice collection.

However, I think Jo was saving the best for last! She then showed me a phenomenal collection: shelves and shelves of 3-ring binders of clippings, neatly organized by topic, dating 1930s to 1990s. Since the binders are “black,” they are known as the “black books.” This 60-plus year collection covers a wide range of topics. She says some of the most popular are: Houses, Buildings, Business, Biographies, Gambling/Casinos and Schools.

Later, Marlys showed me the many online databases available to library card holders. I was caught by surprise! The library allows non-county residents to purchase a library card for $5/month or $60/year. To see what databases are included, go to their website, select the eLibrary tab, then click on Databases. Note: Ancestry.com is only available for in-library use, however, the other databases are available to card holders. Just hover over each icon and read what is available. You may be be surprised!

While the many resources in this library would be very helpful to genealogists, the black books are definitely the hidden treasure in this library and access to significant research databases is an added bonus.

The more personal, on-site visits I make, the more convinced I am that I would never learn about some of these things by visiting a website or calling the repositories on the phone.

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Another installment in the hunt for genealogy treasures in Iowa.

The Frontier Heritage Library & Museum
Pottawattamie County Genealogical Society
622 4th Street
Council Bluffs, IA 51502

phone: 712-325-9368
email: pcgs@pcgs.omhcoxmail.com
website: http://www.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~iapcgs/

What a treasure this society has! Original records! Shelves and shelves of them!

Pottawattamie County Genealogical Society members, Bob Anderson (current President), Barb Christie and Marilyn Erwin met us at the library. The society formed in 1992 and they purchased this building in 2001. A renter in part of the building helps pay the mortgage. The building has a back room, equipped with a small kitchen, that can be used for large meetings or small conferences. Everything was well-lit and neatly organized. A large, inviting conference table is the perfect place for researchers to work.

Pottawattamie County is “double wide” compared with most Iowa counties and had two court houses until 1993 when the clerk’s office in Avoca was closed. The Avoca court house was built in 1885, the building was placed on the National Register in 1982 and is now a museum.

The goal of the society is to “furnish a One-Stop Research Center for all information on Pottawattamie County.”

After the county records were microfilmed, the originals went to the dumpster due to lack of storage space. This group retrieved them!!! As a result this library has many original records: marriage and death records, will books, probate packets and probate books, insanity records, divorce records, law and equity books, district court books, guardian bond books, delinquent real estate tax lists, court calendar books, juvenile court records and more. Some to 1919 and others to about 1940. In addition, they have all of the original records from the Avoca court house. They told us that often the staff in the county offices sends researchers to this facility.

We also saw Council Bluffs city directories beginning in the 1880s, a large collection of area school yearbooks, obituary extracts beginning 1857, town histories for the surrounding area, and abstracts of deaths and marriages from The Frontier Guardian newspaper (1849-1852). They have some original newspapers from surrounding communities. And, they have notebooks with clippings of birth announcements and other notebooks of obituary clippings and cemetery indexes. In addition they have a selection of Pottawattamie County maps.

A big surprise: they told me that ONLY ONE township of this extra-large county is on Ancestry.com for the 1895 Iowa state census. The library has the entire census on microfilm and they don’t understand why Ancestry does not have the other townships.

Another surprise was seeing the Gale Biographical Index Series from 1979 and early 1980s here. This is a nation-wide index to thousands of biographies and it is rare to see it in a small library.

The library has a small (15-20 linear feet), but growing collection of family histories.

These volunteers are very dedicated and have accomplished amazing things. They have abstracted many marriage records as well as court house records from Avoca and prepared these publications for sale. They especially enjoy answering queries; helping other researchers find their ancestors.

Thank you! We enjoyed our visit.

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Fire insurance maps were used from the late 1800s through the 1930s or later by insurance companies to determine how much to charge for insurance coverage. They needed to know the construction materials for the building, size of the building, and distance from water and a fire department. The maps were drawn and colored by hand.

Several years ago I attended a free session on Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps sponsored by the State Library of Iowa. The State Library generally offers an assortment of free classes, open to the public, during National Library Week in April.

In 2010 Dave and I visited the Library of Congress (LOC) in Washington, DC and took photos of all of the Sanborn maps in their collection for Indianola. The LOC even furnishes a ladder and table layout for researchers to take these photos. Access to view and photograph the maps was not a problem.

Then last year a local insurance agency had an open house and a map was on display. As I was admiring the map, the owner asked me if I knew what it was. He was a little surprised when I told him it was a Sanborn Fire Insurance Map. He didn’t expect me to know.

The following book recently caught my eye at the Iowa Genealogical Society (IGS):

Curtis, Peter H., Richard S. Green, Edward N. McConnell, compilers. Fire Insurance Maps of Iowa Cities and Towns: A List of Holdings. Iowa City: Iowa State Historical Department, 1983.

This 50-page publication lists all fire insurance maps believed by the compilers to be in existence in 1983 for three commercial agencies: Sanborn Company (S), Bennett Company (B), and Iowa Insurance Bureau (I). The listing provides the number of pages for each map and also indicates where the map can be found: State Historical Society (HS), University of Iowa (UI), Iowa State Archives (IA), and Library of Congress (LC). (The Assistant Archivist at SHSI thinks the reference to State Historical Society may mean the Iowa City facility of SHSI and the reference to Iowa State Archives may indicate the SHSI facility in Des Moines as this was about the time that the two facilities merged.)

The listings are arranged alphabetically by city. Fire insurance maps were often “updated,” instead of being completely redrawn. Therefore, sometimes more than one date is included, i.e., Jan. 1913-Oct. 1932. The first date listed is the date the map was originally drawn; the second date indicates the final update.

Since visiting IGS, I have discovered this booklet can be downloaded from the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) website at: http://www.iowahistory.org/libraries/research_collections/special_collections/fire_maps.html

When I checked the SHSI online catalog, I found that apparently the complete set of maps was filmed in 1985 and it makes up 4,500 pages on microfiche. According to the catalog these fiche are available at both SHSI facilities (Des Moines and Iowa City). I also checked http://www.worldcat.org and found the fiche should also be available at Parks Library, Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. Note that these are black & white images, therefore, the color coding on the originals is not discernable on fiche. If you are a resident of Iowa, you can view the black & white Iowa only maps online through the State Library of Iowa website once you get a free State Library Card. Link to State Library of Iowa: http://www.statelibraryofiowa.org/. As near as I can tell, this site does not include the Bennett Company maps or the Iowa Insurance Bureau maps.

Some large libraries have all the Sanborn maps for the United States available to patrons, via digital black & white images. For example, Midwest Genealogy Center, part of the Mid-Continent Public Library in Independence, Missouri, has the full collection for card-holding patrons on their website.

While many of the original maps are located at SHSI (either Des Moines or Iowa City), access is limited to special permission for special needs. General public access is not allowed.

The original maps are awesome to study because of the color coding for the various kinds of structures, as well as the other notations about number of stories, and other symbols. I recommend doing an internet search for “Library of Congress Sanborn Maps” and reading the “Overview” to better understand the colors and keys. Then, take a look at some of the 6,000 maps that the Library has digitized and placed online. Unfortunately, no Iowa maps have been included yet. When we visited, I asked what it would take to get some Iowa maps online sooner than later. They would do it for a price, but as I remember the cost was prohibitive.

Here is a link to the Library of Congress website where the colorful Sanborn map images are located: http://www.loc.gov/collections/sanborn-maps/about-this-collection/

Remember every copy of every map was drawn and colored by hand! These were created before copy machines!


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