Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

If planning a trip to a research library other than in Des Moines, we tend to think we need to go to Salt Lake City, Fort Wayne, Indiana, or Independence, Missouri. Those are the “big” libraries that everyone talks about.

Recently Dave and I spent 2½ days researching at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, Wisconsin. This was our third visit and definitely most intense. It was on our first visit here that Dave discovered resources for Grisham/Grissom in Shelby County, Indiana. You may ask, Indiana resources in Wisconsin? Well, it gets even better… Louisa County, Virginia, resources in Wisconsin!

The Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) has amazing resources. Have you heard of the Draper papers? Lyman Draper worked for WHS in the 1800s, but travelled extensively throughout the Daniel Boone territory of Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Missouri, and neighboring areas… essentially, throughout Appalachia (others refer to it as the Trans-Allegheny West). He was gathering information about anyone and everyone for books he planned to write. He never got around to writing the books, but his notes, mountains of them, are held at the WHS.

Dave and I were not researching in the Draper papers, so why were we so enthralled? Well, WHS became a repository for other resources from the Appalachian region, then it became a repository for resources from everywhere! For example, WHS has nearly every book ever published for historians and genealogists researching Warren County, Iowa. You might say, well, Iowa is a neighboring state. That doesn’t matter. WHS collects/purchases material from all over.

On this trip, Dave and I were researching Louisa County, Virginia, and neighboring Hanover County; the holdings at WHS are extensive! Literally, we both worked as fast as possible for two days and we only worked in these two counties. Our last half day, we finally ventured into other areas.

Prior to our trip, I had thoroughly researched the WHS card catalog and I had prepared spreadsheets listing the items we needed to look at. BUT, and we already knew this, WHS shelves are OPEN. Therefore, as we looked for the books on the spreadsheets, we also looked at neighboring books on the shelves and found even more materials to look at that I had not found as I prepared for our visit.

Another awesome thing about this repository: use of the scanners is FREE. Just provide your own flash drive and you are set to scan away! If you need to use the microfilm readers, they are also state-of-the-art.

I met briefly with a genealogy friend at the library. I asked about the economic impact of the library to Madison. As far as he knows, no one has placed a dollar figure on it, but it is apparent the impact is enormous. In our case, we stayed three nights in a hotel, spent some money in two shopping areas, and ate evening meals at local restaurants. However, we brought snacks for lunch so we didn’t have to take a long lunch break. We could not eat in the library, but could eat in the hallway. Water bottles are allowed in the library.

WHS is located on the University of Wisconsin—Madison campus. We visited during a school break, so the library was not open in the evening. During the school year it is open until 9:00 p.m.

Now, we just have to process all of the information we gathered. That will take much longer than our WHS visit.

Check out the WHS website at: http://www.wisconsinhistory.org. You may be surprised with what you find; better yet, plan a visit.

[I don’t usually cross-publish, but I am also submitting this for publication in the Warren County [Iowa] Genealogical Society newsletter.)

Read Full Post »

I’m on a roll with sorting and organizing! And the roll has gained such momentum that I want to work on it during nearly every spare moment! This is a good thing. I’ve tried to explain previously the enormity of the project I am facing; only my husband really knows. Let me assure you; it is huge!

My mother was typical of many (perhaps most) genealogists. She loved to do research and she did a considerable amount. Problems: 1) Mom only documented some of her sources and 2) she had difficulty organizing the information she found. For the most part she used the notebook method, but I’ve found multiple notebooks on the same surname, with much of the same information. To complicate the situation, she created a new family group sheet every time she worked on the family. I find photocopies of the same obituaries in multiple places. And, it isn’t unusual to find information for a completely different family surname stuck in the wrong binder. On top of that, I’m finding Mom was notorious for making notes for multiple surnames on the same piece of paper. Oh, my!

It isn’t just my mother’s collection I’m dealing with. My grandmother collected and saved, and my mother inherited a collection from her aunt and uncle. So, when I brought home the boxes, scrapbooks, photo albums, and binders from my mother, the contents was the conglomerate from all of these people. As I’ve worked on the materials, I’ve realized that my mother was overwhelmed!

Filing has never been my favorite activity, but I’ve been spending hours doing just that, and sort of enjoying it. I’m filing everything from Mom’s binders and boxes of loose papers into hanging folders in my file drawers. Some people would wonder “Why!” Why shouldn’t I just enter everything directly into a computer program? I’ve asked myself that question, also. However, I concluded that it is easier to get all of the information sorted using a filing system, first. That way when I enter someone into computer software, I’ll have everything that I know about that person in hand and won’t have to keep flipping from one person to another.

Mom should have owned stock in sheet protector manufacturing companies. Recently I told my husband that I can foresee the end of using large quantities of sheet protectors. I can see using archival sheet protectors for original documents; not for every family group sheet! I also told him that I foresee the eventual end of using hanging folders.

I hope I’ll live long enough to get these files scanned and the data entered into computer software. My goal to eventually write several books. Every step takes me closer to leaving something meaningful for future generations.

For now I need to get back to sorting and filing!

Read Full Post »

Iowa Genealogical Research by Ruby Coleman, self published, 2014, 410 pages, 8 1/2 x 11 format, spiral bound.

Ms. Coleman has done a yeoman’s job of assembling a wide range of information. However, I find some significant inaccuracies in the book. For example, she says that birth, marriage, and death records are found in the District Court office; these records are found in the Recorder’s office. I disagree with the statement “Between 1880 and 1921 only about fifty percent of the births and deaths within the counties were registered (p. 53). Also she says, “There are two State Historical Societies in Iowa.” (p. 43). There is only one State Historical Society, with libraries and archives in two locations: Des Moines and Iowa City.

I don’t understand the organization of her chapter on Ethnic Settlements. The same comment applies to the chapter on Religious Records; what is the arrangement of the information?

The entire book is lacking in source citations. The author has some footnotes, but not nearly enough. At the end of each chapter is a “Suggested Reading” section, but it is obvious that much of the information in the chapter came from additional sources that are not listed either as footnotes or in the Suggested Reading section.

Ms. Coleman presents some interesting information. I appreciated the link to a list of colleges that have closed, merged or changed names. The list of German newspapers by town and timeframe is helpful. And, her information on Institutions and Hospitals, including mental facilities, poor houses and prisons is interesting. The Wars and Military Records section is quite complete. The section on Schools focuses on higher education with very little mention of the country schools and no mention of where country school records may be found. The sections on Cemeteries and City Directories are minimal. The section that lists county histories definitely misses one for Warren County and one for Kossuth County, which makes me wonder how many others are omitted.

The author uses many tinyURL‘s to simplify finding websites, but I found some of these links are broken, and would have much preferred the actual website URL. For example, I tried to locate the list of defunct colleges for which records were transferred to the University of Iowa, but the link was broken (p. 167).

This is a large, unwieldy book that is too heavy (nearly 3 pounds) to place in a lap to read. This guide would be easier to read if the author used a 2-column format with smaller font size. Also, she uses many full-page examples of documents that can be easily found on various websites, such as IAGenWeb, Ancestry.com and FamilySearch.org. With better formatting and layout, this book would be physically more manageable.

I wonder if most of the research for this book was done at the Family History Library in Salt Lake City and online, not on-site in Iowa’s wonderful libraries and court houses, or by talking with the people who use the records on a regular basis.

Ms. Coleman is a professional genealogy researcher, writer and lecturer in North Platte, Nebraska. She can be contacted at rvcole@charter.net or via her website at http://genealogyworks.weebly.com.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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!


Read Full Post »

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?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »