Family Lore – Famous Ancestors?

I have often had inquiries from “family researchers” who want to find their “famous” Revolutionary War Major, a governor of some early state, wealthy land owner, even movie stars. Their grandmother told them they were related…..

Let me give you an example. “Lucy Hunt” has begun a family history project with two or three generations,  with some primary evidence (birth certs she got from Mom), but more info that is secondhand or undetermined source. As Lucy knows her parents, and probably her grandparents, she likely has gathered factual basic information-dates and place of births, marriages, deaths for example. However, jumping ahead several undocumented generations, to connect to Clara Barton or even further back, George Washington himself, is not valid genealogy.

Genealogy is widely popular today. Commercial online companies and purveyors of of millions of books, videos, heraldry sources, and software, promote genealogy “as easy as clicking online” to find your kinfolk. Lucy and millions of other people new to genealogy and enthused about finding their family, boast of the “thousands” of family members they have found on Ancestry.com. Lucy established a tree online, which is also highly promoted, and attached “proof” such as census, info from other trees, and info found on the database –none of which has she put through the process of proof…likely she is unaware of that step.  Lucy, still seeking her connection to Clara Barton has dug up some stories about the famous Civil War nurse and is excited to find that someone in her Grandmother’s family came from the same city as Clara….Chicago!

So what is the process? How do you create an accurate family tree? Genealogy is the construction of a family history that reflects historical reality as closely as possible is developed through:

  • A reasonably exhaustive search for proof, emphasizing original or firsthand information.
  • Documenting all findings by properly recording sources and citations.
  • Analysis of evidentiary findings; comparing and testing your sources is essential to accuracy of your genealogy.
  • Resolution of conflicting evidence.
  • Writing and recording an accurate family record.

The above are the components of the Genealogical Proof Standard (GPS) for genealogical research…. which is NOT what Lucy has done.

The field of genealogy has changed in emphasis over the past ten to twenty years . It is still immensely popular as a “hobby,” still commercialized too, but a shift has taken place. Our national, state and local genealogical organizations and institutions now promote genealogy as scholarly research, offering classes, seminars and other resources in pursuit of solid genealogy practices. Universities, libraries, and archives worldwide hold the history of our people and they, too, promote good research standards. DNA also helps identify ancestral lines and those that don’t belong on your tree too!

The other aspect of Lucy’s quest for connection to a celebrity, is that she is overlooking the real people in her family that passed on parts of themselves, in one way or another, to her. One of the joys of good research techniques, is learning about the life of your ancestor in terms of how they lived it, and discovering the person.

We have all sorts of people in our families, including a possible famous or notable persons, or hard-working folk who raised children, passed on beliefs, interests, physical characteristics, love of the arts or a particular occupation…to you.

By researching with good skills, as per the Genealogical Proof Standard, you will create an accurate history of your real ancestors and find interesting, maybe even “famous” people in your tree. For example:

Anne Samuel (1736-1825), Caswell County, North Carolina; she was designated a Revolutionary War Patriot, as per records in the National Archives, D.A.R., North Carolina legislative records archive. Anne Samuel was my 5th great grandmother, “who  furnished supplies to the militia.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Girls Going to College Back in the Day?

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Eva Gillan, 1885

In 1870 America, there were only 500 public high schools with enrollment of about 50,000 students (U.S. population was almost 40 million in 1870 as per census data). At that time, enrollment had opened to accept females, mostly to be trained as teachers. Reading, writing and arithmetic curriculums were also expanding to train working class youth in skilled trades to meet the needs of a country fast changing in the second phase of the Industrial Revolution.

While secondary schools were growing in many states, many did not have courses that prepared students for college, thus students could not pass entrance exams. Many colleges in that era, offered “preparatory schools,” to fill the gap, but also to expand their college student enrollments. Families of means sent their children to such college based academies, particularly when those schools were close to home.

Eva Gillan, at age 16, was in the Junior class, 1879-1880, of the Preparatory School of Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois. In the junior year, the curriculum included arithmetic, English grammar, geography, Latin, algebra, English analysis, U.S. History, elocution, English composition, physiology, and criticism.

Two of Eva’s brother’s, David and James also attended Illinois Wesleyan University. James was a freshman in the Preparatory courses during the same period Eva attended. James continued his studies and was later listed in census records as “professor of education,” then a few years later on the Board of Education in Omaha, Nebraska. David Gillan, graduated in 1881. In the Illinois Wesleyan University Alumni Roll, published in 1929, David is shown as having achieved a B.A., and M.A. [1]  David H. Gillan, served as a Methodist Minister in southern California for twenty-five year; he also established a date farm there.

The Academic and Teachers Course, as the preparatory school at Illinois Wesleyan University was called, gave the following description of the course in the university’s 1879 catalog:
“This course is arranged with reference to a thorough preparation for college; also to qualify young men and women for teaching in common and graded schools, and further, to furnish the basis of a business education to those whose time will not allow them to complete a full college course.” [2]

Eva Gillan and two of her sisters, Mary J and Addie Gillan, attended Illinois State University, 1880-1882. In records available for those years, Eva completed course work in reading, spelling, arithmetic, geography, diction, writing, history, drawing, theory and practice (probably related to teaching). [3]

James and Jane McClure Gillan, parents of Eva, Mary, Addie, James M. And David H. Gillan were strong advocates for education for both males and females, as evidenced by sending daughters to college as well as sons. James and Sarah were immigrants from County Antrim, Ireland, both educated and literate. James was instrumental in the establishment of schools in McLean County, Illinois.

Years later, Eva Gillan Samuel, enrolled her three children in the preparatory school, Academy (1907) of Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas. She found the high schools in Kansas then did not prepare her children for further education as her father as discovered back in 1879. From the Baker University Catalogue of 1906-1907, in explaining the existence of an academy at Baker University, ‘many localities do not provide academic opportunities for students which prepare them for college course work;” further the statement cites lack of libraries, literary societies, lecture courses and elementary knowledge of grammar, arithmetic, physiology, US history, government and geography required to pass entrance exams for college. The Academy at Baker University had four courses of study: Classical, Philosophical, Scientific, and Literature and Art. Graduation from the Academy ensured acceptance into the Collegiate Department without further examination.’[4]

_________________________________________________________________________________________
[1] Illinois Wesleyan University Alumni Roll, published in “Illinois Wesleyan University Bulletin,” Series XXVII, no. 2, June, 1929; Illinois Wesleyan University Library Archives and Special Collections; copy provided to Bonnie Samuel, June 2015.
[2] Annual Catalogue of the Illinois Wesleyan University, 1880-81, Bloomington, Illinois, Bulletin Printing and Publishing Co., 1881, Illinois Wesleyan University Library Archives and Special Collections; copy provided to Bonnie Samuel, June 2015.
[3] Letter from Gardner VanDyke, Registrar, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois, 9 Feb 1971 to Bonnie Samuel, Des Moines, Iowa; citing records found in archives for the attendance of Eva Gillan.
[4] Kay Brandt, Reference Librarian, Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas (BRADT@HARVEY.BAKERU.EDU, 12 March 1997) to Bonnie Samuel, Albuquerque, New Mexico; providing copy of partial 1906-07 Baker University Catalog describing the Academy, pp. 76-81; an email with info on the Academy and findings of enrollment of Raymond, Ferne and Beula Samuel.

Iowa’s Deep German Roots

The following was written by H. Glenn Penny, Professor of History at the University of Iowa, and is reprinted here with Professor Penny’s permission. Professor Penny was one of the organizers of the October, 2016 Oberman Humanities Symposium (University of Iowa) “German Iowa and the Global Midwest.” This article appeared in the Iowa City Press-Citizen as a Guest Opinion, September 21, 2016.

                                   “Iowa: The Home for Immigrants”
                             by H. Glenn Penny, Professor of History, UI

Immigrants-Statue of Liberty

Coming to America

That was the title of the 1870 volume published by the Iowa Board for Immigration in Des Moines. It was translated into multiple languages and distributed across Northern Europe. The goal was to spur Europeans to abandon their home and move to the state.

And it worked. Germans were the most numerous group to arrive. In fact, German immigrants consistently accounted for the largest number of foreign-born people in Iowa from the 1850s through the 1870s. While today we focus on recent immigrants from Latin America and Southeast Asia, our state remains deeply impacted by an earlier group of newcomers. 

As waves of German immigrants arrived in Iowa over more than a century, they created much of the built environment. German Iowans created land; they built farms, towns and neigborhoods; they founded countless social organizations, such as singing clubs, shooting societies and the gymnastics or “Turner” associations. Some of those Turner halls can still be seen in Iowa towns today. Germans dominated local government in many cities and counties. They built some of the first and finest churches and synagogues, including the stunning St. Boniface Church in New Vienna. They founded untold numbers of banks, businesses, industries and many of the 130 or more breweries established in the state by 1880. They also supported more than 60 German-language newspapers, three of which were in Iowa City. They created bilingual schools, and they lived in multilingual and multicultural neighborhoods. 

From St. Paul, Minn., to St. Louis, the Mississippi was essentially a German river. Every river town on the Iowan side was filled with German speakers from the 1850s through World War I. In fact, the German language was so widespread that many German-Iowans lived here for decades without ever learning English. Within a year of the United States entering the war, however, Iowa Gov. William L. Harding issued the Babel Proclamation, forbidding the use of foreign languages. 

Not unlike the waves of anti-Muslim sentiment that followed the 9/11 attacks or the recent rise of ISIS, World War I provided a convenient excuse to transform some Americans into pariahs. Many Iowans took advantage of this moment to usurp the economic power of German-Iowans, to undercut their influence in local, municipal and state politics, and even to harass and harm them because of their ethnicity. The harassment was so grim that businesses, individuals and even towns, such as Berlin, Iowa (now Lincoln), anglicized their names to hide their identities. 

Meanwhile, from Davenport to Spirit Lake, other Iowans publicly burned German books with glee. Despite the decline in the public use of German language and the transformation of many public spaces in Iowa’s cities during the war, subsequent waves of German immigrants continued to be able to speak German in Iowan homes, towns and on farm – albeit on the down low. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, and it is ironic that tight school budgets are now pushing German language classes out of Iowa’s classrooms, including here in Iowa City. 

As one of the organizers of the symposium[2016 October, Iowa City], I invite you to join us in learning more about Iowa’s German immigrants. Their stories offer us insights into the vulnerability of civil liberties as well as the multicultural and multilingual history of our state. 

2016, H. Glenn Penny, professor of history, University of Iowa
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Readers, I invite you to share your family immigrant story here in the comment section. Why did your immigrant relative(s) come to American, what was their experience…or yours if you are foreign born. 

 

 

Funeral Home Records – A Rich Resource

horse-drawn-hearse-e1500994293513The funeral home record for your ancestor is a resource not to be overlooked. The record not only lists the financial detail of services rendered for the last event of a person’s life, but often bio and family info collected for the clergyman’s eulogy. You may find cause of death listed, an obituary, last address, list of the next of kin, military service, church affiliation, the music to be played and more. 

Funeral homes provide services that conform to the religious or ethnic beliefs and traditions of the departed, family in the time of the deceased. Who performed the service…what music was performed? Was it a closed service? Why? In many communities, funeral homes “specialized” or catered to a particular religious segment or ethnic group. Some provided burial services to the indigent, or for one group of locals, but not others.

Who paid for the funeral? The financial arrangements may hold clues to family members who contributed to the costs. Or did someone, not a family member, pay for all or part of the fees? What was the connection to the deceased or his/her family? Perhaps, an organization paid part or contributed a service or tribute providing a clue to membership in a group important in the life of the deceased.

Military service, honors and achievements, profession, award for best pie at the State Fair, beloved pet could be mentioned in the funeral home’s record….just as a prison record, or something considered a personal failure.

Now to find the funeral home…google it! Don’t know the name of the funeral home? Search the net for the town or county for funeral homes that existed within the timeframe of the death of your ancestor. Consult with the local library or county recorder for information too. Often, funeral home ownership pass down through families with no or little change to the name. Or someone in the community buys the business and the records stay with the owner. In some cases, the records may be archived with an area historical society, library, genealogy society. Some have been digitalized and are available in databases held by such groups or sites online.

Just as an example, the funeral home record of my Great Grandfather, Winfield, who died in Oklahoma City, 1918, holds a tidbit of information of interest. Winfield died of a stroke at age 59 years. His three adult children, a son and two daughters paid two-thirds of the $189.00 funeral expense. The cost and arrangements were standard for the time-casket, embalming, lots of flowers, hearse, limousines and burial. Winfield’s children were of means and ability to pay, but the balance was paid, likely in tribute to one of their members by the Order of the Knights of Pythias.

In my research, I had seen references to Winfield’s association with this organization in the local newspaper of his time. And certainly, I had found in findings about his activities and prolific writings, a man who was liberal, championed the working man and spoke out about against racism.

What was the Knights of Pythias? The following from their website, http://pythias.org tells the story of the organization’s beginning and purpose:

“The Order began, of course, during the Civil War, and its founder believed that it might do much to heal the wounds and allay the hatred of civil conflict. President Abraham Lincoln, being advised of the contents of the ritual and its teaching, said: ‘The purposes of your organization are most wonderful. If we could but bring its spirit to all our citizenry, what a wonderful thing it would be…I would suggest that these great principles by perpetuated and that you go to the Congress of the United States and ask for a charter, and so organize on a great scale throughout this nation, and disseminate this wonderful work that you have so nobly started. I will do all in my power to assist you in this application and with your work.”

The suggestion made by the President was adopted by the United States Congress. An application was made to Congress for a charter, and the Order of Knights of Pythias was the first American Order ever chartered by an Act of the Congress of the United States.

So find those funeral home records. They may tell you more than just the cost of the service! If you are looking for ancestors who died in Iowa, Genealogy Treasures is a terrific resource! GT is a searchable database of Iowa funeral home and cemetery records too. https://gentreasures.com

Genealogy Research Services in Iowa

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The Music Man!

We Iowans are very proud of our own Meredith Wilson, creator of “The Music Man,” long running Broadway musical and award winning movie. 

Professor Harold Hill, The Music Man himself, extolls the secret of his success to his fellow salesmen when he states, “Ya Gotta Know the Territory!” 

I often hire experienced genealogy researchers in other locales. Why? Because they “know the territory!” Local researchers are knowledgeable and familiar with the resources and repositories in their area. Remember too, that only a small percentage of historical records are online – the vast majority are only to be found in the local and regional libraries, archives, courthouses, historical societies and more. 

So if a research trip to the midwest is not in your plans, Ancestor Research Iowa (ARI) can help you find your Iowa ancestors. You may seek a particular document or wish to trace a family or individual who migrated to Iowa. There are many aspects to a person’s life and times and records that document their lives too.  

Every state has its own unique history. Despite our image as a farm state, tall corn and pigs, Iowa’s people are historically diverse, hard working, educated, and political from the start. Here’s a brief timeline through the 1940’s in Iowa…where do your ancestors fit into this history? 

1846:   Iowa becomes a “free state,” (not slave state)
1850’s: First union formed by printers in Davenport and Dubuque
Hungarian refugees establish colony in Decatur County
Iowa School for the Blind opens in Keokuk, 1852
Iowa State Teachers Association formed
State University of Iowa, held its first classes in Iowa City
German immigrants established the Amana Colonies
Federal land granted to railroads
1860’s:  Iowa Agricultural College (ISU) established as land grant school
First session of the Iowa Legislature held in Des Moines
Sawmill industry boomed into the 1880’s, along the Mississippi
Civil War changes lives, Iowa woman forms Soldier’s Aid Society
Railroad Act gave grants to railroad companies, opening many jobs
Homestead Act brought new wave of settlers
Iowan from Keokuk appointed to the US Supreme Court
Iowa Integrates Public Schools; Iowa ratified the 13th amendment
Medical School established, open to men and women
1870-1890’s: Iowa’s wheat crop destroyed by insects over a ten year period
Meat packing plants established; first Creamery in Manchester, Iowa
Nationwide economic depression impacts Iowa too
Electric lights and streetcars and telephones come to Iowa cities
Unions representing miners and other workers grow in Iowa
Gas powered tractor invented in Clayton Co, revolutionizing farm machinery
Antonin Dvorak spent a summer in the Czech settlement of Spillville
Iowa’s first nursing school opened in 1898 at University Hospital
Immigrants from Ireland, Swedes, Norwegians, Holland and England
settle in Iowa.
1900-1920: In 1900, there were over 400 coal mines in Iowa
Carrie Chapman Catt became President of the Nat. Women’s Suffrage
Association. Catt grew up in Charles City and graduated from ISU.
Mason Motor Company designed, produced and sold cars in Des Moines
“Niagra Movement” founded in Iowa, later to become the NAACP
TB Treatment Facility in Oakdale, Iowa
Maytag Company begins manufacturing washing machines in Newton
University of Iowa’s Art Department established
Prohibition Closes Iowa Breweries!
John Deere opens factory in Waterloo
1920-1940’s: Iowa State University launched Iowa’s first radio station in 1919; by the 1920’s most Iowa farm families had telephones
Farm recession hit Iowa, resulting from loss of European markets at end of WWI
Iowan, Herbert Hoover became President of the United States
1929 Stock Market crash
Iowans developed the first computer at ISU
WWII, thousands of Iowans served

This is a very brief look at the events that not only impacted the direction of Iowans lives, but shows too, how Iowans contributed to the building of their state.

If you are interested in the research services offered by Ancestor Research Iowa, learn more on the ARI Research Services page, where you’ll also find a query form. Send a message…I’ll get back to you!

Your comments are most welcome on this post.

 

 

What to Do with Unclaimed Cremains

Guest blog by Cris Nagla, posted with her permission. Cris and her partner, Dennis Allen, are well known genealogists in the Midwest. They also manage Avon Cemetery in Polk County, Iowa and host a website that provides funeral home and cemetery records, www.gentreasures.com
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Have you ever wondered what happens to unclaimed cremains?  It is sad that families do not claim the cremation of their loved ones.  As child, parent and grandparent how can you not claim your deceased love one?  This just boggles our minds.  We would do anything in our power to make sure our loved ones were taken care of.   Here is a story that will tug at your heart strings.
          On Tuesday July 10, 2018 we were contacted by a lovely lady who had a question about the cemetery.  She wanted to know if we did mass burials.  While this is not heard of very often we did know of at least one in the city of Des Moines.  She went on to tell us how she got involved with a funeral home that had a few unclaimed cremains of infants and one teenage child.  This woman and a group from her church took these unclaimed children and gave them some much needed attention.  They recorded all the information for each of them such as birth and death dates and gave each of them blankets and toys to be placed in the vault with them.  The group then handmade a pine vault for the seven cremains to be placed in.   They made sure it was waterproof, so they would be safe and snug.   After talking to her we told her to give us a few minutes and we would see what we could do to help her bury these babies.  Our first thought was to contact the trustees about donating a spot in the cemetery for them, but we then remembered a retired Des Moines Firefighter that had a bunch of spaces in our cemetery, so we contacted him to see if he was willing to donate one of his spaces for these babies.   He quickly agreed to do so.  Now our next step was to tell the trustees of the cemetery and they said it would be fine if everything was above board and in compliance with the State of Iowa rules.  With everything now in place that left our gravedigger’s fee.  So, we contacted him and tugged at his heart strings a little and told him the story and he agreed to dig the one for the babies at no charge.  Next, we called the lady back and told her everything was set up and we were good to go.  One of the local monument companies is donating a headstone for the children with their names on it.
            Now, you would think the story would stop here but of course not.  While talking to her we learned that the funeral home had additional cremains that need to find a final resting place.   So, we contacted the funeral home and inquired about the remaining cremations.  The funeral home said they had contacted the city of Des Moines about donating a spot in one of their cemeteries and they were told that they would only allow scattering of ashes.  The funeral home preferred to keep the ashes in tack.  So once again we went to the trustees and asked about donating a couple of graves in the cemetery for the remaining cremations.  They agreed to allow us to do the mass burial if all the documentation was in order.  So, we contact the funeral home and told them that we would give them two spaces to bury the remaining cremations.  All of them are going to be in a vault with their information recorded.  Both burials will be taking place sometime this Fall.
            So, a very special thank you to a group of people who took these loved ones under their wings to make sure they had a final resting place.

Reciting the Declaration of Independence…1905

“The Osage Journal,” Pawhuska, OK, reported in the July 1, 1905 edition:
In an article, “4th of July Planned,” it is noted that W.S. Samuel will
recite the Declaration of Independence from memory at 10:30 a.m.

Then in the July 8 edition of the “The Osage Journal”:
“After the invocation music by the band, the Declaration of Independence was recited by W. S. Samuel in a very acceptable manner.”

Winfield Scott Samuel (1861-1918) was a pharmacist in Pawhuska, Oklahoma in the early 1900’s.

 

Records of the Dearly Departed

Genealogical Treasures(GT) is a new website created by Cris Nagla and Dennis Allen, of Des Moines, both well known to Iowa genealogists. Cris and Dennis not only ably teach genealogy courses throughout Iowa and the Midwest states, but also manage and operate a cemetery in the Des Moines area.
 
Genealogical Treasures.com is indeed a treasure! Cemetery and funeral home records hold valuable details about the dearly departed, and their families too – family researchers should not overlook these resources. GT has digitalized thousands of records from Iowa cemeteries and funeral homes which are now available to site members to search, explore and find out more about their dearly departed kin.
 
Cemeteries and funeral home records hold far more information about the deceased than the grave marker. Files are created for each deceased person containing details of the funeral and burial arrangements, family involved and relationships, maybe a picture of the deceased, costs and who paid (organization or military perhaps), or the eulogy and the name of the minister who delivered the remarks.
 

Cemetery Records – GT contains digitalized records of cemetery files from cemeteries across Iowa and elsewhere. Cemetery records may include burial details, biographical info on the deceased, obituary, names of family members, address at death.

Funeral Home Records – digitalized records also available on GT, are similar in content to cemetery files, but also include funeral arrangements, minister, family names, possibly cause of death, where died, where to be interned and who paid the bill!

 Marriage Records – just a few for now, but like all our databases, this category will grow.  Other helpful resources – Medical terminology list, genealogical educational events,  surname list, and a monthly blog to keep you updated on new GT database additions and “breaking” news too.
 

GT databases continue to grow as more cemetery and funeral home records are digitalized and added online….so check back often! To find out more about Genealogical Treasures, the records and membership go to: https://www.GenTreasures.com .

 

 

 
 

 

Ya Gotta Know the Territory!

Your ancestors lived in and were a part of a community. They may have purchased land, attended school, voted, celebrated life events, gone to war, owned a local business, advertised in the local paper, attended church, or broke the law! And there could be a record of any one of those everyday occurrences in a life. Clues, possible records await, but as the Music Man said, “yah gotta know the territory.”

Family historians often hunt for the most obvious of life event records – birth, marriage, death – but with some knowledge of the place, the life of your ancestors could become far more complete, even colorful! A study of place, within the timeframe of your ancestor(s) life there will very likely yield new discoveries about them.

Recently,  I wrote about Eva Gillan and her siblings, who in the 1870-80’s attended Illinois Wesleyan College in Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois. Eva’s parents, James and Sarah McClure Gillan, were Irish immigrants from County Antrim, arriving in Philadelphia about 1846, where they stayed about 2 years. According to James’ obit in 1907, the family migrated to Tazewell County, Illinois, “traveling by steamboat down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers to Pekin [Illinois].”

What no wagon train?! No, the Gillan family traveled from Philadelphia to Pekin, Illinois by waterways (this tidbit found in a county history). This is a researchable moment…was this a common mode of travel in the 1850’s? What records exist of the steamboats and river travel of the time? Maybe passenger records exist. How much would it have cost? How long did it take?

After a few years in Tazewell County, James and Sarah moved to the next county, McLean (1865). James bought a large farm of 600 acres. At that time, McLean County was a prosperous place with a sizable population, flourishing businesses and train service. In 1850, Illinois Wesleyan College was established in Bloomington, Illinois.

From my research, I found that James help establish a school in his area, gave land for a cemetery, served as a county supervisor and Justice of the Peace in McLean County. He and Sarah were literate and educated people who sent at least 5 of their 10 children through school and on to college at Illinois Wesleyan and Illinois State at Normal….daughters too!

How did I find out the Gillan children went to Illinois Wesleyan…or that James was so active in his community? Hints in daughter, Eva’s obit about her going to Wesleyan and Illinois State. So I contacted both schools and was able to get transcripts and other details on siblings who attended. Schools have archives and I’ve found helpful historians and librarians at schools who are glad to help. The archivist at Wesleyan also sent me a copy of book about the history of not only Wesleyan, but the development of McLean County.

Getting to know McLean County involved contacting the area libraries, courthouses, exploring county history books and genealogy journals and newspapers in the area. The local courthouse, too, yielded land records, estate and death records. I was able to find Gillan relatives and descendants of James or his siblings still living in the area, leading to a fruitful exchange of family research and adding cousins too. There was even a story of James’ horses running off with his buggy in the local press!

James Gillan (wife, Sarah died 1880) lived in Martin township, McLean County from 1865 till his death in 1907. It was a time of great changes in that county and “knowing more about the territory” certainly led to finding more about my ancestors’ lives and led to the records that told their stories.

Keeping History Alive

In 1976, Alex Haley’s book, Roots, was an instant best seller. In 1977, Roots, became a TV miniseries that broke records for viewership. It was the compelling story of Kunta Kinte, a man captured in Ghana, enslaved and brought to the United States. Kunta Kinte never forgot his African family and heritage, proudly and passionately passing on his ancestor’s names and stories.

Roots and Kunta Kinte’s story awakened viewers curiosity and a desire to know about one’s own family and history. Genealogy, once a primarily scholarly pursuit, was now the “hobby” of people everywhere. In the 10-15 years following Roots, I and many thousands of Americans haunted the libraries, courthouses, archives, cemeteries and other repositories of family and historical data. We used the postal system to request records and kept findings on paper and filed our research in binders and filing cabinets.

Many libraries offered genealogy classes, provided family group and pedigree forms and help to the new wave of researchers. State and county genealogical societies emerged and grew. Existing national genealogy groups reached out to the new researchers and urged them to become members. Of course, the commercial market recognized the potential in the genealogy craze and how-to books, subscription magazines and journals sprang up, as did designer pedigree charts.

Back in those days, many family researchers were dedicated to good methodologies, accuracy and took pride in their findings. Many others were happy to find ancestors and fill in pedigree charts to take to their family reunions. Then there were many whose genealogy research fell somewhere between serious researchers and pedigree chartists.

Through the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s technology and the internet were developing fast, becoming accessible to anyone. In 1983 Ancestry launched a genealogy newsletter, then a popular subscription magazine that accelerated the growth of family research enthusiasts. In 1996, Ancestry opened an online, fee based, searchable database, which was an immediate success! Other databases and informational sites quickly populated the internet with genealogy offerings – most fee based, some free.

Today genealogy is a $2 billion industry and holds 2nd place as the most popular “hobby” in the United States. But is genealogy a “hobby” or a serious research endeavor? That depends. Our national genealogical organizations have changed their message over the past few years, from “hobby” status offerings to greater emphasis on the scholarly research process, documentation and proof standards.

There are many reasons for this change of focus, not the least of which was pressure from research professionals, a question of sustainability of the “hobby” status, and market feasibility. Family researchers were showing signs of frustration, realizing they lacked the resource knowledge and research skills to compile a “real family tree.” Many wanted to “get organized” and understand how to research effectively.

As a result, we began to see a shift in programming and the marketing message resulting in emphasis on research skills, documentation, analysis of evidence and writing accurate family stories. The shift in focus also precipitated new revenue in genealogical resources.

National and state conferences now regularly headline speakers known for their expertise in research skills and methods, organization and writing classes too. The Genealogy Proof Standard and DNA are essential course offerings too. Genealogical and Public Libraries also offer ongoing programming in these subjects – classes fill quickly.

There are still varying tiers of those pursuing their family histories, but the more focused family historian is a rapidly growing segment. That segment needs the libraries, the archives and ethnic museums, court houses, cemeteries, vital records, military papers, historical venues, and technology and the internet too. Perhaps even more important is that segment is helping keep history alive.

 

Bonnie Samuel, All Rights Reserved,©2018

AncestryResearchIowa blog