Archive for the ‘Original documents’ Category

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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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.

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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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This is another installment in the series of finding hidden genealogical sources:

The Center for the History of Rural Iowa Education and Culture
University of Northern Iowa – Rod Library – Third Floor
Cedar Falls, Iowa 50613



A genealogy friend and I met with Dustin Witsman, project archivist for this collection. His quiet enthusiasm was contagious as he showed us the depth and breath of this collection.

Until a few years ago the Area Education Agencies in Iowa had been the unofficial repositories for many of the country school records. Since UNI was once Iowa’s Teacher College, it was natural that the university add the school records to its archives. A grant was obtained and Dustin became the archivist. It has been his task to sort, inventory, and preserve these records, as well as to develop online finding aids for researchers. We were impressed with this project and the information in the records.

Original records were created at several levels. Examples of the kinds of records that were created are:

County Board of Education – minutes of meetings, secretaries’ annual reports, treasurer’s reports, expense reports, county library records, reorganization/consolidation records, blue prints, maps, atlases.

Office of the County Superintendent – annual report, secretaries’ annual report, treasurers reports, legal documents, cash books, payroll disbursement, high school normal training records, teachers examination records, teachers’ certificates, renewals, revocations, contracts, directories, county school censuses, pupil lists, permanent records, eighth grade examination records, high school admission records, school inspections, and many more.

Township Records – board of education minutes, secretaries’ reports, treasurers’ reports, expenses, school censuses, and more.

District/School Records – board of education meeting minutes, financial records, school specifications/blueprints, deeds, teachers’ reports, reports to superintendent, district school censuses, library reports, daily attendance registers, grades and classifications, record of material covered, daily lesson plans, and much more.

Dustin said that the records in the collection for Jasper and Sioux counties vie for completeness, and O’Brien, Mahaska and Jefferson counties follow close behind.

Reasons not everything is available. Before the creation of the center, many of the records were donated to various local repositories, i.e., historical museums, public libraries, and such. Also, over the years other records were destroyed either intentionally or through natural disasters. The center has no records for Adair, Adams, Clarke, Clinton, Decatur, Jackson, Montgomery, Muscatine, Ringgold, Scott, Taylor, Union, or Van Buren counties, but may be able to provide assistance for the location of records for those counties.

For example, Wayne County, as indicated in a previous post, has a large collection of the country school registers and other records. I have heard Adair country school records are in Greenfield, Guthrie County records are in Panora, and Davenport has a large collection of records for southeast Iowa. (As I can, I plan to visit these places and will write about them.) Some counties have published books or have books in progress about their country schools. I know that Warren County published a book this fall and Dustin told us a lady in Lee County is working on a book.

The website listed above should be the starting for determining what is available in Iowa. Dustin is very interested in talking with people about where other resources are located so he can pass along the information when someone inquires. He welcomes individual onsite researchers and said that 65-70% of the people who call are doing genealogy research. Check the About Us page on the website for their policy statement and fee schedule.

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