Archive for the ‘Museums’ 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.


Read Full Post »

Continuing the search for hidden genealogy treasures:

Iowa Jewish Historical Society
Caspe Heritage Gallery
Martin Bucksbaum Fine Arts Wing at The Caspe Terrace
33158 Ute Avenue
Waukee, Iowa 50263

Phone 515-987-0899, ext. 216
website: http://www.jewishdesmoines.org

I had an appointment and, though early, I received a very gracious welcome by several staff members. These included the Executive Director, a Board Member, the Collections Specialist and the Technology and Education Support Specialist. Following introductions I was encouraged to take my time browsing through the exhibits.

Oh, my! This facility is awesome. The exhibits are logically arranged and easy to read and understand. The society boasts a collection of over 10,000 artifacts representing lives of Jewish Iowans and is constantly seeking more family stories and memorabilia. I was impressed with the quality of the exhibits and the professionalism of the staff. It is obvious the society understands the importance of preserving their history for future generations.

The historical society organized in 1996 and the museum was begun in 2003.

The Iowa Jewish story begins in 1833 when Alexander Levi, born in France, arrived in Iowa and opened a grocery store. In 1837 he travelled with others to St. Louis and became the first naturalized citizen of the Iowa territory. The exhibit begins with Alexander’s genealogy and story of his great vision.

Three waves of American Jewish immigration: mid-1600s, 1830-1840, and 1880 onwards are identified; only the latter two apply to Iowa immigrants.

I was captivated by the stories of specific people, such as the story of Irvin, Phyllis and Celina Karp who were fortunate to work in Schindler’s factory. Phyllis brought with her to America a ceramic cup from the factory saying, “This will remind me, every day, that there is a better tomorrow.”

Child of Our Time – A Young Girl’s Flight from the Holocaust was written by Ruth L. David. This book tells of being separated from her parents and placed on a train to Great Britain. Here she lived in a hostel with other frightened children who did not speak English and whose caregivers were not always caring. Ruth now lives in Ames, Iowa.

Another exhibit tells the love story of Rose Waldman and Jacob Szneler who were liberated from one of the Nazi death camps, met and married in 1946 in a refugee camp and resettled in Des Moines in 1950.

Many immigrants arrived in central Iowa in the early 1900s and immediately after World War I. Many names of these immigrants are recognized by central Iowans. In 1954 Martin Bucksbaum and his brother Matthew started General Development which grew into General Growth Properties, shopping mall developers. Harry Bookey started a meat packing plant. A. H. and Anna Blank founded Blank Children’s Hospital in memory of their son Raymond; they also made major contributions to Mitigwa Boy Scout Camp, the Blank Park Zoo, the Des Moines Art Center, Drake University, the University of Iowa and the Science Center of Iowa. In the 1930s Myron Blank realized that movie goers would purchase popcorn to snack on, then would become thirsty and purchase beverages. Well-known businesses founded by Jewish members of the Des Moines area include Greenberg’s Jewelry, Banker’s Trust, Iowa Sheet Metal, Suzette Candies, Weinberg Furs, Frankel’s Clothing, Younker Brothers Department Store and Whylie Eye Care.

I also recognized the names of some doctors highlighted in the exhibit including Dr. Sinesio Misol, Dr. Marvin Dubansky, Dr. Joshua Kimelman, and Dr. Albert Mintzer (who delivered all three of our sons). The exhibit explains that many Jewish people pursue a career in medicine because they 1) want to preserve and maintain life, 2) seek physical and moral purity, 3) perceive learning as a high value and closeness to God, 4) have a right and duty to see a doctor, and 5) see this as a means to reach middle class status.

As I was looking at one of the exhibits an article from The Greater Des Moines Jewish Press referenced Dr. Henry Corn and the IJHS Oral History Project. The “oral history” part caught my eye. I asked about this project. By coincidence the staff was working that day on a first-step project to inventory their oral history collection, as they recognize its family and historical value. They have many boxes with perhaps 500 tapes and transcripts, but they currently are not available to a researcher because nothing is organized. The eventual goal is to preserve, digitize and make the collection available. This collection is part of the genealogical treasure at this museum, but patience to allow the staff time to process is critical.

Before I left, the group told me that a representative from the Iowa Genealogical Society is going to teach an upcoming genealogy class at the museum and I was invited to come. I know the instructor and know she will do a very good job. I will attend if possible.

Visiting this museum is a memorable experience and your life will be richer for it.

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

Camp Dodge
7105 NW 70th Avenue
Johnston, Iowa 50131-1824

Michael W. Vogt, Curator
Iowa Gold Star Museum

Melissa Shaver, Clerk Specialist
Iowa National Guard Center

Bob Betz
Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs
Graves Registration, DD214’s

My afternoon at Camp Dodge was enlightening! In general (no pun intended), people say, “That is at Camp Dodge.” So, I went to Camp Dodge. In particular, I went to the Gold Star Museum and asked for Michael Vogt, the only name I’ve heard recently associated with genealogy information.

It turns out I had visited here in May 2000, but had forgotten about that visit until after I made my current trip. I had even assembled a notebook of information about Camp Dodge after that visit 13 years ago. Now, as I write this, I am trying to reconcile the information from 2000 with current information and with information presented recently at the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI).

Iowa Gold Star Museum

While waiting for Michael to return from an errand, I walked through the awesome museum. I should have spent more time, but that wasn’t my mission for the afternoon. Dave and I will need to return on a day when we can give it proper justice.

It wasn’t until I was talking with Michael that I realized the separation of the records. I needed to visit three places on Camp Dodge, not just one! Michael explained this to me, but I was so caught off guard (again, no pun intended), I still didn’t really grasp it all. Only after I visited all three places, and reviewed my notebook from 2000, did I begin to understand.

Michael showed me genealogy-type materials located in both their library and in the “back room.”

In the Library, WWI bonus cards for all branches of service fill 103 archival boxes (similar to shoe boxes), which line the top shelf around the upper perimeter of the library. Then, several bookcases contain military history books. One area has county and community histories with information about participation of local residents in the various wars and conflicts.

In the back room he showed me a WPA alpha roster of Iowans in the Civil War. While this contains less information than the bound roster books(1), the roster books are organized by regiment and company, whereas this is in alphabetical order by last name of the soldier. This roster serves as a finding aid for Iowans in the Civil War if the researcher does not know that unit. Once the unit is known, much more information can be located.

He showed me Iowa National Guard personnel cards from ca. 1900 to ca. 1970. Note, these are only for the Iowa National Guard, not other branches of service.

One other thing, he showed me the personnel records for the Iowa State Guard (ca 1942-ca 1947). The people who served in this unit were the ones who kept life going at home, while others were serving elsewhere in the world. These are the people who mowed the grass and did other maintenance work at Camp Dodge, for example. While it seems obvious that someone needed to do this work, I had never thought about a separate group being formed for this purpose.

From the Gold Star Museum building I drove to a nearby building which houses both the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs (IDVA) and the Iowa National Guard (IA NG) Records Center.

Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs

At the IDVA I met Bob Betz. This office has 685 boxes of Bonus records. In addition, this is where the Graves Registration project is maintained.

Regarding the IDVA, the Code of Iowa, Chapter 35A.5 DUTIES OF THE DEPARTMENT states: The department shall do all of the following: [selectively chosen]
2. Maintain information and data concerning the military service records of Iowa veterans.
4. Permanently maintain the records including certified records of bonus applications for awards paid from the war orphans educational fund under chapter 35.
8. Maintain alphabetically a permanent registry of the graves of all persons who served in the military or naval forces of the United States in time of war and whose mortal remains rest in Iowa.

To this end, the following may be of benefit for genealogists:

Bonus Records: Beginning with World War I, the Iowa Department of Veterans Affairs has paid a bonus to the people who served in the military or to their beneficiary during conflicts. The WWI and WWII Bonus Case Files have been transferred to the State Historical Society of Iowa (SHSI) Archives in Des Moines. The more current records are stored at IDVA in Camp Dodge.

When I explained that neither my husband nor I remember him receiving a bonus, Bob went to the back room and soon reappeared with photocopies of my husband’s application, his DD214, and a computation sheet, showing that he served for 4 years, 23 days and received a $300 bonus. OK, our memory is faulty!

Graves Registration Project: This project began as a 1930s WPA project to identify the gravesites of U.S. veterans buried in Iowa and has continued. Bob, however, told me that he is not sure they get veteran information from all funeral homes. Apparently, funeral facilities are not required to submit the information. So, the information is only as good as what they receive. The records through 1998 contained 275,000 names and microfilmed copies can be found at SHSI and at the Iowa Genealogical Society.

Iowa National Guard Record Center

Melissa Shaver explained her office maintains records for the Iowa Army National Guard (IA ARNG) and the Iowa Air National Guard (IA ANG). She provided a long list of personnel and unit records that included such things as Leave and Earnings Statements, Orders, Morning Reports, and Reserve Training Reports. Records for the Iowa Army National Guard soldiers discharged or separated before 1950 have been transferred to SHSI Archives in Des Moines (including enlistment files from about 1875 to about 1950 as well as pre-1915 correspondence files).

In ALL of these offices, privacy rules prevail. Researchers need to show relationship and have proper documentation before being able to see appropriate records.
(1) Brig. Gen. Guy E. Logan, Adjutant General. Roster and Record of Iowa Soldiers in the War of the Rebellion. Des Moines: State Printer. 6 volumes.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Another installment in finding the hidden genealogy treasures:

Italian-American Cultural Center of Iowa
1961 Indianola Avenue
Des Moines, IA 50315

Phone: 515-280-3719

website: http://www.iaccofia.org
email: director@iaccofia.org

The Valerie Lacona Genealogy Branch
Kathy Faggia at foggiak@mchsi.com
Susan DeFazio at DeFazio@iaccofia.org

We’ve driven by it hundreds of times, but hadn’t put two and two together! For many years Indianola Avenue was our daily route to work each day.

One evening I attended the Italian-American Interest Group meeting at the Iowa Genealogy Society to learn. Learn I did! I met Kathy Foggia and Susan DeFazio, both very friendly and knowledgeable. I learned that many of the Italians in Iowa today are only a couple generations descended from the immigrant, so the heritage customs are still very much alive. The majority of Italians came to Iowa from 1900 to 1920 and many of them came to work in the mines (usually coal mines, but in the Fort Dodge area gypsum was mined) or on the railroads. A newspaper was printed by Anthony “Tony” L. Sarcone in Des Moines from 1922 to 1972, first in Italian, but later transitioned to English, as the community learned the new language. First known as Il Risveglio (The Awakening), he changed the name to the American Citizen in 1925. The cultural center has the entire run of newspaper on CD and it has been indexed. While the CD and index are not available to the public, the library contacts are enthusiastic researchers and want to help everyone. They were also excited to tell me about the 35 video interviews of Italian immigrants preserving the stories, thus remembering the heritage.

Since that meeting I have visited the website several times and from the article “Iowa’s Christopher Columbus Monument” I concluded that probably the primary Italian settlements in Iowa were: Albia, Centerville, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Fort Dodge, Granger, Madrid, Mason City, Mystic, Oelwein, Sioux City, and Waukee. Of these, the Italian population of Des Moines, Council Bluffs and Oelwein are the most significant. Many of these communities have annual celebrations honoring their Italian heritage. Within a generation of their arrival, the people began to start their own businesses. Often these were shoe repair, produce vendors, tailors and eventually they began introducing Italian food in groceries and restaurants to people outside the Italian community.

That initial meeting prompted my visit to the cultural center, and meeting Patricia Civitate. She was delightful and she enjoyed sharing stories of the people in Des Moines, the struggles and the triumphs. She told me that the general consensus regarding language among the immigrants was, “we live in America now, we learn English.” Her mother-in-law only had a third-grade education in Italy, but insisted on going to school to learn English once in America. English was the language in many of the homes. Only when the older folks gathered did they speak Italian.

The cultural center library also has baptismal records from St. Anthony’s parish, an early Italian parish, Italian family trees, information on local Italian fraternal organizations, local restaurants, and other businesses run by Italian Americans. The center also has a collection of family histories and a large number of photographs (weddings businesses, fraternal organizations). Awesome!

My research has also lead me to The American Citizen, a newspaper published in Omaha, Nebraska, 1923 to 1985 for the Italian immigrant population in Nebraska and Western Iowa. It is available at the Nebraska State Historical Society. A listing of obituaries in that newspaper is found at http://nmancuso.blogspot.com.

Other valuable resources for Italian-American research are:

Calvitto, Celeste. Searching for Italy in America’s Rural Heartland, New York: Vantage Press, 2007. A section on Oelwein Italian Americans.

Shaw, Thomas M. Oelwein’s Italian Neighborhoods: Italian-Americans of Oelwein, Iowa, 1901 to the Present. Thesis (M.A.) University of Northern Iowa, 1978.

Schwieder, Dorothy. Black Diamonds – Life and work in Iowa’s Coal Mining Communities, 1895-1925. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1983. This is the story of mining in Iowa with a section on Italians.

Writers’ Program, (U.S.). Nebraska. The Italians of Omaha. New York: Arno Press, 1975 [@1941].

I had a list of questions for Kathy and Susan and they found answers! A huge thank you to Kathy, Susan and Patricia for educating me!

Read Full Post »

Continuing the series of Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

Mahaska County Genealogy and Historical Library
Nelson Pioneer Farm
2211 Nelson Lane, PO Box 578
Oskaloosa, Iowa

Phone: 641-672-2989 (phone answered year round)

Website: http://www.nelsonpioneer.org

Facility open May through September or by appointment.

I was very fortunate on the day of my visit. Information I had indicated that the facility was open until the end of October. In reality it isn’t. The curator happened to be working outside that morning and contacted the librarian who was able to come help me.

The library has numerous county district court docket books, probate indexes and inventories, which have most likely been microfilmed and are available elsewhere. I saw militia registration books, family histories, area newspaper clippings, such as birth, marriage, and a large collection of obituaries and cemetery indexes along with pictures of the stones at Centennial/Dunsmore and Spring Creek Friends Cemetery. Also, don’t underestimate the military collection which includes Civil War and WWI letters. The shelves include Oskaloosa city directories and phone books as well as pictures and year books for schools and William Penn College/University. Mahaska County Farm Bureau Women’s Committee records, pictures, scrapbooks are found here. Also included are funeral memorial cards from Bates, Garland-VanArkel-Langkamp, and Powers Funeral Homes.

In addition, the library has a large collection of country school records, original cards for WPA cemetery surveys, Quaker yearly meeting minutes, sizeable collection of information on coal mines and some information on underground railroad. I also found early naturalizations, assessors books, and in the back room is a large collection of original newspapers.

There is no computer in this library and apparently the society has not made any plans to digitize anything. The library is not heated during cold weather except when someone has an appointment to visit.

This is an exceptional library that needs greater accessibility, more technology, and more climate control with a stonger emphasis on preserving the collection.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »