Archive for the ‘Research’ Category

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 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.

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Continuing the series of Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

Iowa Yearly Meeting of Friends, State Office
411 College Avenue
Oskaloosa, Iowa 52577



As the name indicates, this is the state office for the Society of Friends (Quakers) in Iowa. I was greeted by Mary Thury who graciously showed me the vault where original records are kept. This is the treasure chest since Quaker records are some of the most informative for genealogists.

Fortunately, most of the records have been microfilmed. Mary told me that microfilm copies are available at their office, at the State Historical Society of Iowa, Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, and Earlham College in Indiana. Mary gave me a 17-page listing of the records on microfilm. It is very comprehensive with monthly and quarterly meeting minutes, women’s minutes, men’s groups, memberships, birth and death records, Sunday school records and ministers’ and elders’ records.

Their website gives a list of all churches that are currently a part of the Iowa Yearly Meeting: http://www.iaym.org/churches.

While in Oskaloosa, I also visited Wilcox Library on the William Penn University campus. The Quaker Room contains many published materials for Friends research including the set of Encyclopedia of American Quaker Genealogy by William Wade Hinshaw and several Willard C. Heiss abstract books.

Because many Quakers were among the earliest settlers of Nantucket Island, and then migrated south to North Carolina, some other books also caught my eye:

Coffin, Louis, editor. The Coffin Family. Nantucket, Mass: Nantucket Historical Association, 1962.

Thompson, Ruth F. and Louise J. Hartgrove, compilers. Abstracts of Marriage Bonds and Additional Data, Guilford County, North Carolina 1771-1840, Vol. I. Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1981.

Thompson, Ruth F. and Louise J. Hartgrove, compilers. Abstracts of Marriage Bonds and Additional Data, Guilford County, North Carolina 1841-1868, Vol. II. Greensboro, NC: The Guilford County Genealogical Society, 1983.

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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!

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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.

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Continuing the series of Iowa’s hidden genealogical treasures:

Genealogy Library at the Prairie Trails Museum
Wayne County Historical Society
Hwy 2 East, PO Box 104
Corydon, Iowa 50060-0104


Website: http://www.prairietrailsmuseum.org
Admission: Adults $5; Jr/Sr High $2; K-6 $1

Hours: depend upon the season; closed during the winter, check website for hours. Also, open by appointment.

This is a great research facility: friendly staff, everything organized and nicely labeled, and a lot of resources to peruse and study.

The first thing that caught my eye in the library was the extensive collection of country school records, some dating to years prior to 1900, though most begin after the turn of the century. The school records are arranged by township, and often they are the teacher’s register identifying the school term, names of students, age, sex, birthdate, attendance record and standing (grade) by subject. The library also has area yearbooks, though many years are missing for some schools.

The library has a collection of birth (beginning 1880) and marriage records (beginning 1851), obituaries (beginning 1890), and cemetery transcriptions (burials 1846 to 1991). The librarians were very pleased to show me their latest completed project: preserving and indexing Probates, Wills and Estates 1851-1925. Awesome!

I estimated that family histories, memoirs, and similar materials filled nearly 16 linear feet.

The library has a nice military section which includes a Civil War ledger (perhaps kept by a company or quartermaster clerk) from Feb 186 to June 1863 with lists of provisions, tools, duty and attendance rosters and deaths; the volume names Capt Carothers, Lt. Malott and Lt. Speer, as well as the enlisted personnel, but does not indicate the unit. The collection includes transcriptions of three Civil War diaries (for Aquilla Stanidfird, Ezra Miller, and M.S. Andrews) and a book 1861-1865 Civil War Veterans, Wayne County, Iowa.

A binder Spanish-American War May 1898 – Nov. 1898, Wayne County Veterans includes a typed copy of an article by Veteran Grant Kelley “Interesting Facts About the Spanish American War” which had appeared in Corydon’s Time Republican newspaper on March 5, 1953. Several three-ring binders and books have information about men and women who served from Wayne County in both World Wars.

Scrapbooks with area newspapers have been indexed. These include newspapers from Corydon (1922-2006), Humeston (1922-2005), Seymour (1890-2005), Allerton (sporadic 1881-2004), Sewal, Lineville (1940s, 1980-2002).

Churches of Wayne County, Iowa was compiled by Ortha Green (pencil date: “1972 or after”). Also, histories of the towns in the county are in the library.

Many photos have been preserved in archival boxes and organized into family, town, and school categories.

Corydon is known for its annual Old Settlers celebration. Materials from these events are kept in this library. Also, some local clubs have donated materials.

While the library has some materials for surrounding counties, the primary focus is Wayne County.

A highlight of the library are the shelves of binders and other information from the Iowa Mormon Trail Association. The trail runs through Wayne County and the land of a specific resident, who has become active in the association and donated many materials to the library. I randomly opened one of the binders and read what a father had written about the death of a child and the family’s destitute situation.

It is unfortunate that this library only has a limited internet presence, and it appears that nothing has been digitized.

However, the library is only part of this awesome facility. For a complete understanding of the history of Wayne County, the researcher also needs to visit the extensive museum. It is outstanding!

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