Friday, January 16, 2009

Filling in the Blanks with Historical Newspapers

One of my favorite resources for genealogical information is historic newspapers. I'm fortunate to live near the largest collection of historic Missouri newspapers on microfilm, the Newspaper Library at the State Historical Society of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. Although I usually have some specific articles on my list to look for when I visit the Newspaper Library, I can still spend hours just browsing the pages on microfilm.

Not only do newspapers contain birth, marriage and death information -- the facts and figures that are the bones our databases are built on -- but they give us much more. Newspaper articles add so much color to the otherwise drab facts and figures of our research. Reading about the various travels, births, sales of property, scuffles in the town square, reports of local men at war, etc. transforms my project from strictly "genealogy" to "family history."

Having easy access to all of these Missouri newspapers just whets my appetite for similar information on the ancestors who lived other states. And although it's great to be able to view them on microfilm, this is the digital age -- I want to be able to view pages from old newspapers on my computer from the comfort of home! I'm not asking much, am I? (She smiles.)

Well obviously, I'm not the first to wish for such convenience. includes an historic newspaper collection in their subscription, and both GenealogyBank and NewspaperArchive also give you access (for a fee)to various newspapers from the past. It turns out that there are numerous other websites that give free digital access to historic newspapers. Still thinking about Missouri, one of my favorites is the Missouri Historical Newspaper Project.

I did a quick google-search (using the terms: historic newspapers free digital images) and found a few websites that contain lists of places that you can find such digital treasures:

There is definitely some overlap on the lists, and they are by no means comprehensive. My google-search provided several websites that focused on the historic newspapers of one state. I hope you'll find a link to the newspaper that will have you doing your own "genealogy happy dance!"

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Creating Our Church Archives, Part II: Sorting & Inventorying

After accumulating documents, photos, ledger books and files for over 100 years, the small town church I belong to decided it was time to get organized, and take steps to preserve its heritage. Toward this goal, the call went out for volunteers to form a “Historical Committee.” Evidently not everyone was as excited about this project as I was, because we ended up with just a two-person committee. This has turned out not to be a bad thing – because with just the two of us, it doesn’t take us long to reach a consensus!

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept it...
Our mission was to take the cabinets full of boxes and files and from them create a Church Archives. We initially had two main goals: the first was to organize the contents in such a way that someone looking for a specific item could find it, and the second was to take the necessary measures to preserve the various documents, photographs, books, and more.

Neither my partner nor I had any archival experience – just a love of our church, its history and respect for the people who came before us. So I started doing some online research, to see if there were any websites that could provide us with guidance. One of the best that I found was the website for the Southern Baptist Library & Archives. Although we are not a Baptist church, the principles in creating a church archive are the same, regardless of the denomination. Another resource that I found helpful is Sally Jacob’s blog, The Practical Archivist.

Phase One:
To begin with, we just started sorting. We opened the boxes, and laid the contents out in piles on the floor, sorting them by broad categories such as: Membership, Christian Education, Photos, Correspondence, Church Council, etc. Eventually, we ended up with about 25 of these "categories." For me, this was one of the best parts of the project. Every time we opened up a new box, we never knew what we might find! Sometimes it would be full of hardbound "ledger" books, used for keeping the handwritten minutes of council meetings (the earliest ones written in German). Some boxes had copies of church service bulletins, going back forty years or more. Other boxes had photo albums and newspaper clippings. But no matter what, the boxes all contained glimpses back in time and mentions of familiar names….often the parents and grandparents of the people who are currently the oldest members of our church today.

Phase Two:
The next step was creating a database inventory. Although I’m sure there are software programs out there that are designed for recording archival information, we needed to be frugal – so we just created our own using an Excel spreadsheet. The inventory process has been the slowest part of the project. We’ve been working on it weekly for more than a year and half, and are not yet quite done!

One category at a time, we’ve been going through all the boxes and files, adding the items to the database. We offer a general description of the name of the item or file, relevant dates, the category that it’s filed under, the location in which we’ve filed it, and any miscellaneous notes that seem applicable. The first thing we noticed was that many of the items lent themselves to more than one category! So while we filed the item under the category that we thought was the most appropriate, we also cross-referenced it in the database under its second category.

In all honesty, this part of the project could have been completed more quickly if my partner and I weren’t so fascinated by all of these historical items! It takes a lot longer to sort and file items if you feel the need to stop and read the minutes of the meeting from 1945 because you recognize the name of the recording secretary at the bottom of the page!

After working on the cataloging part of this project for more than a year, my partner and I are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. One of the nice things is that we’ve already found that our database inventory system is working. More than once, we’ve come across a file or document, only to recognize that we’ve seen something similar a few weeks ago. A quick trip to the database and a search on a likely keyword has led us right to the proper storage box or file cabinet drawer!

Phase Three:
Once this portion of our project is complete, we are excited to look to the future. The next phase will include finding ways to make the information in the archives available to our congregation, while still protecting these fragile documents. We may transcribe some of the records, and make digital images of others. If you have been involved in a similar project, I welcome your comments and advice!

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Creating Our Church Archives, Part I: In The Beginning...

My husband's family has been attending Peace United Church of Christ in Hartsburg, Missouri for more than one hundred years. In fact, one of hubby's ACKMANN ancestors was among the "Seven Founding Fathers" of the church in 1894 (originally called Friedens Evangelische Gemeinde). So two years ago, when an announcement was made during the service that they were looking for volunteers to help form a "Historical Committee" -- my genealogical ears perked right up!

I learned that the church was looking for a group of people to help organize and create an archive of the church's documents, photos, and other items. Over the years, these items have just been packed away in boxes and kept in storage cabinets in a little used room of the church. Although the church council was almost apologetic about asking us to take on such a task, I couldn't wait to see what was in those boxes. I have to say, I was *not* disappointed. It was a treasure trove of church history!

The process of creating this archive has been long and rewarding. Since even writing about the process is lengthy, I’ll divide my posting about it into two parts. If you are thinking about embarking on a similar project, whether it’s for your church, your town, or even your own family’s historical papers and artifacts, stay tuned! I’m by no means a professional archivist, but there appears to be lots of good resources out there to help us amateurs, and I’ll be happy to share what I learn!

Coming soon: Creating our Church Archives, Part II: Sorting and Inventorying. Sounds riveting, doesn’t it? **grin**

Friday, March 28, 2008

Back Again!

After a several month long hiatus due to some pressing projects, I'm glad to be blogging again! It may take me a bit to get back in the swing of things, but I've been keeping a list of topics to discuss, so I shouldn't be at a loss for words for very long!

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Cousins' Weekend

I have 13 first cousins on my Donley side of the family. And while the saying goes "you can choose your friends, but you can't choose your family" -- these are people that I would happily choose!

In 1986, many of "The Cousins" had started to reach adulthood -- they'd finished high school, were either in college or had finished it, and a few had gotten married. The rest were teenagers, just finishing their high school years. One of the places that our extended family had always enjoyed was the Lake of the Ozarks, in mid-Missouri. My parents were renting a condo on The Lake that summer, and thought it would be fun to invite all the cousins for a weekend of water fun. Invitations were sent, and the first "Cousins Weekend" was underway!

We had a small turnout that year, but the word spread of how much fun the ones who did attend had, and the next year the event grew. Over the years our families grew too, as more of us married and started having children of our own.

This last weekend (from Thursday to Sunday), we had the "22nd Annual Donley Cousins' Weekend." One condo doesn't hold us all now! There are ten families who frequently attend, although the number fluctuates from year to year as bigger families mean more people's schedules to work around.

Lots of people have family reunions -- what's so different about "Cousins' Weekend?" I think the difference is the time. Our Donley family is good about getting together as a whole: we have single day "holiday gatherings" about three times a year. And it's nice to see everyone then, but with the big, multi-generational crowds and a couple of hours centered around a meal, you don't have time to do anything but some fairly superficial visiting. During Cousins Weekend at the Lake, we have four days to relax and talk, play and eat together! Over and again, I hear from my cousins that the time is what makes the difference.

The original intent of Cousins' Weekend was to help keep my generation of "first cousin-friends" together. I have to say that my favorite part over the years has been watching the friendships develop between our children (2nd cousins), many of whom are teenagers now. Some of them live close together, and go to school together, but about half have spread out to other cities and states, and this is the only time of the year that they really get to spend any length of time together.

I encourage you to think about planning a Cousins' Weekend for your own family. Find a destination within a day's drive of as many of your group as possible, that has recreation opportunities for you to build a weekend around. For us, it's boating/water activities at the Lake of the Ozarks, but there are great recreational areas in every state in this country! Sharing the living space in condos helps cut the costs for families, but still gives you the privacy of your own room.

The best part is that my children are learning that "family" means more than just the four of us that live in our home....and more than just the eight of us that gather at my parent's house. They have a bigger family that is very real, and is out there....that they are looking forward to seeing again soon!

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

50 Years of Memories

It's been more than a month since I've written here. Between the usual end of the school year hubbub and some extra responsibilities due to a family member's injury, I've had my hands full. But "doing" for family, and actively participating in taking care of each other is is infinitely more important than writing about it! (She writes with a smile).

Mixed in with all of May's reasons to celebrate (end of year banquets, school award ceremonies, Mother's Day, birthdays, etc.) was a very special anniversary this year: my parents' Golden Anniversary. With all of the headlines and news blips talking about divorce rates, it's especially gratifying to celebrate a marriage that has not just lasted, but thrived for fifty years!

Mom and Dad requested not to have a big reception this year, so we celebrated with a special family dinner out at a nice restaurant, with the happy couple surrounded by their children and grandchildren.

Trying to come up with some lasting keepsake to give them, my brother and I came up with the idea of putting together a coffee table photo book for them. Since there are lots of different companies that will publish a photo book for you, researched several of them, and settled on "My Publisher."

With "My Publisher," I could download their software to my computer, and then work with their templates to choose a style of book, and from there, style of page that I wanted to use. My brother and I combined all of our photos on one computer, and then sat down together to work on the project.

As each page came up, we could look at the photos in front of us, and decide how many to put on the page, and then choose the layout that best fit the photos. Some of the photos warranted their own page, and others we put in groups of two to four. We chose never to use more than four on a page, although the software allowed for more. In my opinion, more than four pics on a page made it start to look more like a yearbook, and the individual photos harder to see. There was also room to add captions if we so desired.

The project took Mike and I several hours (okay, make that all day) to complete. However, if we were just working on one vacation's worth of photos, instead of working our way through a lifetime of memories, it would have gone much faster. No matter how you look at it, it was truly a labor of love, and we had a great time doing it.

Since Mike has high speed Internet access, he took the finished project home on his computer, and uploaded it to "My Publisher" from there. This was on a Monday. "My Publisher's" information states that they will have the book ready to ship in four days or less. We paid for overnight shipping, and received the finished product on Friday afternoon, four days later.

In case you are thinking about doing a similar project, here are my thoughts about this company.

Ease of Use: Great! Very intuitive.

Customization: Pretty good. You can choose from three basic styles of books (paperback, hardbound, or deluxe), and there are a couple more options to be decided once you make this first choice.

Finished Product: Beautiful! We paid a few extra dollars to have a dust jacket, and it was well worth it -- it looks very professional. We also chose to use a black background to the pages, and it gives it a very "artsy" look, and makes the photos stand out. Since we were heavy on the photos and light on words, this worked for us.

Price: Not Bad. There is a base price for the first 20 pages, and then you pay so much per page beyond that. We incurred extra charges for the dust jacket and for shipping, which was all well spelled out.

Downside? We only ran into two "hitches." One was the fact that although the project can be saved on your computer, it doesn't actually save the photos again, it just saves their locations on your computer. Because of this, we were unable to save the project as a whole onto a disk or thumb drive, so we could transfer it to another computer. That was a bit limiting for our purposes, but we worked with it. The second "hitch" that we ran into was when portions of the "My Publisher" website were down on the day we were trying to upload the project to them. Their website clearly states that the only way to contact them is via e-mail....they are not available by phone. Several hours later they did have the problem fixed, and our project was able to be uploaded to them, but it did cause us some momentary concern.

The last caveat that I would mention is that the overnight shipping option we chose required a signature. I did not realize that at the time (although it may have been spelled out, I'm not sure)....and thankfully, I was there to sign for it. I would have been very disappointed to have missed the delivery, since it arrived ON their anniversary! (Yes, we should have started this project a couple weeks earlier!).

Happy Anniversary, Mom & Dad. You two are a great example of a couple who has not only stayed married, you've stayed friends! We love you!

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Conflicting Sources

For whatever reason, happily I have had several researchers contact me this spring, wanting to compare notes and share information. Sometimes six months will go by without any new contacts, and then all of a sudden, things start to pick up! No complaints's definitely a good thing.

Yesterday I was pleased to see a message in my inbox from a fellow BENNETT researcher. This is one of my husband's lines. One of his great-grandmothers was a BENNETT, and I've followed her family line from either Virginia or North Carolina (depending on the source) through Kentucky and finally to Boone County, Missouri. The researcher I heard from said this migration pattern looked familiar, and wondered if I wanted to compare notes.

In preparation for this, I took a harder look at my BENNETT file. Over the last couple of years, I've been moving my census data from the "General Notes" section of each individual's page to "Events" section. This works well with Legacy, and I like the way it prints out in my reports. While looking at my BENNETT file, I saw that I still had the censuses in the "Notes" area, and I proceeded to "clean up" the file, and put everything where it belonged. I have also obtained some new source material since I last worked on the BENNETTs -- books on Boone County MO marriages and cemetery records, as well as the Missouri Archives website with death certificates online. So it seemed like a good time to see if I could fill in some blanks. That's when I found a major conflict.

According to one source ("Tombstone Records of Boone County, Missouri, by Mrs. E.E. Evans and Mrs. J. F. Thompson), Page and Matilda BENNETT both died in 1867. According to Evans and Thompson, Matilda died in January of that year, and Page in June. However, this seems unlikely, since I have census images of them appearing in the 1870 U.S. Census, in Cedar Township, Boone County, Missouri! My guess is that their headstones were hard to read, and that Mrs. Evans or Mrs. Thompson misread the stone. I tried to find their stone (or stones) in the Nashville Baptist Church Cemetery, but didn't have any luck -- I'll try again another day.

Meanwhile, I'm making a list of other sources I could use to try to find accurate dates of death for this couple. I don't believe Boone County, Missouri has death certificates for that time period, but I will check on that. I believe they do have probate records, so that's one avenue to try. Another option will be to search the Newspaper Library for obituaries -- it's possible that the month and date information are correct, but just not the year. Either way, it looks like I've got another mystery to solve!