Blog Entries: 1 to 8 of 8
The Value of a Stone
I love cemeteries, and I am not alone in my appreciation for American memorial gardens. Cemetery tourist, grave hunter, cemetery enthusiast – we go by many names. If you want to get technical, a taphophile is an individual who takes an interest in cemeteries, the grave markers in them, the art they portray, and the lives of those they memorialize. I usually say “genealogist” and my appreciation for cemeteries is inferred.
As a genealogist, it is the information that can be gleaned from the grave marker that holds the most value to me. Yes, the pictures are pretty, but what do they tell us about the decedent? That’s what I’m looking for.
Grave markers are first and foremost memorials. They are left in memoriam of those who came before us. There’s no real purpose to “knowing” where a grave is other than to remember the person buried there. There are countless roads, housing developments, cornfields, city parks, and yes, swimming pools, that remind us that planting a body in the ground is no deterrent for progress. It’s not the grave that we are seeking – it’s the grave marker.
Above: Emely, wife of John Brown, Sloan Cemetery, Sloan, IA
Documents are not guaranteed a long life – they are lost over time due to a lack of records management, an act of God, or they never existed in the first place. Not every cemetery had a map, an interment book, burial permits issued. In some situations it was expected that the grave marker would forever serve its purpose and mark the grave.
In genealogy we are advised to look at any possible record to help us learn about our subject. When we find a “brick wall”, we are told to think outside the box – look at records that are not obvious sources of genealogical data. One of the most interesting genealogical finds I’ve encountered was in a set of city council meeting records. But sometimes, the only record that a person ever existed is their grave marker.
Above: unknown grave, Prospect Hill Cemetery, Omaha, NE
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times – sometimes the only record that a person existed is their grave marker. More often than not, people respond to me with disbelief. They shrug off my statement as some kind of hyperbole meant to entice a dramatic response. That just can’t be. Surely there is some other record – a birth certificate, a family bible entry, an obituary, a cemetery record –there has to be something other than that hunk of stone – it just hasn’t been found yet. But it is true – whether no other records were ever created or they just didn’t survive the ravages of time, that marker is IT.
Cemetery tourists, grave hunters, taphophiles – many of the folks who visit a cemetery to enjoy its art tend to gravitate toward the extraordinary monuments – the large, intricately carved, or unique pieces of art. If their visit is prompted by an appreciation of the historical significance of the memorials, it is the entrepreneurs, the politicians, the notorious they seek out.
Above: Emma Jean, Oak Hill Cemetery, Plattsmouth, NE
I encourage you to look down. There’s a grave marker there - small, insignificant, without any grandeur or pomp, existing in the shadow of those larger than life monuments that surround them (sometimes literally), quite possibly in real danger of being lost forever. That little grave marker represents the memory of somebody’s baby – somebody’s love – somebody’s friend -somebody. A marker was placed with the intent that that person would be mourned, grieved over, and remembered.
Our memorial gardens are filled with beautiful art, interesting characters, unfathomable stories, and I will continue to visit and honor them. I would ask of you dear reader that the next time you are revealing in the exorbitant, in the extraordinary, in the benevolent and the ghastly, that you take a moment. Give a thought or two to those who left no legacy, and look down.
Above: unknown grave, Old Baptist Cemetery, Hannibal, MO
The Courthouse & Naturalization Records
COVID is winding down, so people are probably wanting to get back into courthouses, libraries and archives for research. Good news! To my knowledge, MOST courthouses are open to the public. My local courthouse just replaced the “masks required” sign with a “masks recommended” sign. However this varies from courthouse to courthouse, so make sure to have a mask. I also recommend calling or emailing ahead for several reasons: (1) you don’t want to go on court day especially if you are accessing probates, naturalization or court records, (2) you don’t want to go on a voting day, especially if you are accessing land records, marriage records, etc. and (3) the records you desire may be on a lower level or in a locked file cabinet so it may help them to know what records you want and they can pull them ahead of time. What should you take to the courthouse? This varies by courthouse but make sure you have a phone, camera or portable scanner for pictures of the documents. Also good to have a notebook and pen/pencil for notes. You may also want to take a staple puller, sweater, bottle of water, etc.
Naturalization are valuable records to genealogists. These records are usually held by the district court clerk (often the same person as the county court clerk). Although some courthouses have turned these over to local genealogical or historical societies for storage purposes.
Remember naturalization was not required for immigrants. Also in 1776, all white people were automatically made U.S. citizens (not Native Americans or African Americans).
There are three major steps to naturalization, and each one created a record:
- Declaration of Intent (also called First Papers)
- Petition for Naturalization
- Certificate of Citizenship (or Certificate of Naturalization)
The Declaration of Intent could be filed any time after an immigrant arrived. In this document, the immigrant would renounce their loyalty to their home country. This document often has more valuable information about the immigrant: birth place, occupation, current residence, physical description, the vessel he/she immigrated on, port of arrival and possibly a photo.
Here is a photo of a declaration of intent:
Petition for Naturalization: After filing their declaration and meeting the residence requirement, an immigrant could petition the court to become a citizen. Usually the petition was filed in the court nearest to the immigrant’s current residence.
This document often gave similar information as the first, but also included a spouse’s name (usually wife) and children’s names. At certain times, women and children were citizens if the man of the house was. There are also witnesses listed here, so this is where you can trace his “FAN” club. Were these neighbors, in-laws, people he worked with, etc.?
Here is a sample:
After the requirements were completed, the immigrant was sworn in as a citizen and given his certificate. I have also seen immigrants change their name at this time, usually “Americanize” it so to speak. Below is a certificate, and then evidence of someone changing his name.
Google Books & Nebraska Genealogy
Do you use Google Books for genealogy? A lot of old family genealogies can be found in the online catalog there, many of them are great for colonial ancestors. Have you checked out what's available in relation to Nebraska history? In relation to your family's personal history? Some of the things you can find might surprise you. Think about the different organizations your ancestors might have been involved in and try a search for that group. I've included here a few samples of books and reports that are available.
"The Blue Book of Nebraska Woman", Winona Evans Reeves, 1916. This book consists of short biographies of over 170 women with Nebraska ties. It is a very interesting reading in itself, but if you're lucky enough to be related to any of the women in the book, it's great to add to your family history collection. The entire book can be read online for free.
"Nebraska Live Stock Breeders Handy Directory" of 1917. Were your ancestors involved in any associations relating to agriculture? This directory covers beef, dairy cattle, hogs, horses, sheep, poultry, even Collie dogs. Also mentioned are Auctioneers, County Agents, Veterinarians and more. It even includes a few photographs. You can read it online for free and easily search for your family names. Many annual reports of different associations are also available with more information about the organization, most listing officers at state and county levels.
"Nebraska Horticulture" Volume 10, 1921. If your ancestors had a green thumb, here's a publication of the Nebraska State Horticulture Society. Listed are county officers, directors, fair managers and general information on the plant crops of your ancestors' areas. For the Peter Youngers family of Geneva, this issue published a full page "in memorium" following his death.
"Nebraska Educational Journal" of 1922 & 1923. How about ancestors in the field of
education. Short biographies of some elected officials, or memorials to those who had passed can be found in these journals. Also included are lists of county superintendents, faculty announcements, committee chairs and officers of local Parent-Teacher associations. And an occasional photograph!
There are various years of publications from the Nebraska State Historical Society, or the University of Nebraska, as well as conventions and annual meetings of businesses such as pharmaceutical, banking, fraternal organizations, bar associations, medical journals and reports from the Nebraska Supreme Court on legal decisions. You can find some reports from various religious conferences. Not all books or reports are available to read online, but you can usually search for names. Take some time and give Google Books a try! You might be surprised at what you can find. https://books.google.com/
Custer County Nebraska Research
CUSTER COUNTY, middle of NEBRASKA- FAMILY HISTORY
Custer County is a homesteaded area that seen a large number of one room country schools over its years. At one time Custer County had over three hundred and eighty locations of schools near these rural homes. These small schools have all seen their ending, the families are still on only a few of these farmsteads, just not on every quarter section of land.
To do research in the Custer county area there is a great deal of archived items at the Custer County Museum/ Historical Society. Custer County has several towns and communities that have history in Broken Bow, the county seat. This is on the town square near the court house. They have a nice system, that is easy to use for researching.
Here is a few of the priority places to use for your quest.
- Family Files- we would go to these files that are sorted by family name (example: Emma Armstrong) that you need information on. These family files have a variety of items that have been extracted from newspaper, and prior research, over the past 60 years of the society. It could have obituaries, marriage records, probate records, biographies or miscellaneous notes. These are in folders in the multiple file cabinets.
- Obituary index files- These files are two sets of cabinets, one is the index by name and the other has a transcribed newspaper obituaries by year for the index. (from 1870’s to 1975) After 1975 the family files are used.
- Cemetery census- These are a set of binders that are from the early years of reading and locating the stones. This has a few cemeteries that have allowed us to copy their books/ records. These records even have those unmarked burials, which may not have a stone.
- Community History books- Our collection has almost every town having a book that was compiled for their centennial in the 1980’s. This also includes our county history book that has hundreds of biographies, that was made in 1919.
- Directory of town or county- These vary from year to year, if it is a town or county directory. These are a great resource to locate them and which community they lived in.
- Maps- from homesteading to this current year. These can be used to track how long they owned land and where it was located, so that you can put them on the map where they lived and what they did for an occupation. Maybe you want to stand on the place they once stood; we can get you pinpointed to that location.
- Place Names of Custer County: is a set of green binders that details all of the places that has a name that involved: Schools, Post Offices, towns, and communities. These may tell you why the community was named as it was. (Ex: French Table area was named for the pioneers that came from French speaking old countries.)
- Place Names of Broken Bow: is a set of red binders that have a wide variety of items on the Businesses of Broken Bow. These have things like: Bakery, Livery, Blacksmith, Jeweler, Banks, café and medical connections. These might have items about the people and had the Bakeries or where they were located.
- Military collection – Binders and scrapbooks with photos and listings of the various eras. We do have a file started on this
- School District histories – have the 384 school districts that Custer County has had over the century and some have students that attended.
- Photos - We have an extensive set of photos that include: prints of Solomon D. Butcher: early sod houses; miscellaneous photos in several binders and cabinets: of photo of towns, and businesses.
- Mortuary Records – these are a copy of the records that they kept at the time of death of a family member. Some of these are complete and yet some are very sparse on information, like cause of death of place of burial.
The Custer County Museum working with new (old) finds to create new lists to add to the archives and their website has a large amount of indexes AND are open throughout the year, weekday afternoons. https://www.custercountymuseum.org/
Custer County Nebraska and Genealogical research
The Custer County Historical Society (Custer County Museum) has an extensive collection on the area and its citizens. I would have to say that, yes we are a large county, and we stretch beyond our county line for documents and resources and I would be best if you set a goal and make a list of what you want to locate and know.
To start with you have the name of who you want to find and some info on them, like birth, death, marriage, burial and parent or children. This is just a part of the research list you will want to make and have for a research request or research trip. For this you will want to write down: who, what, when, why and where. This research should be planned by looking and calling to the location of resources and what you already know and what you want to find.
For setting a goal on your research you could have the following example:
Anna Mae (Armstrong) McKnight
-born 16 Aug 1903, Berwyn, Custer Co., NE
-died 26 Jan 1985 in Norton, KS (near Beaver City, NE where the daughter lived)
She generally lived in Custer Co. until her health failed.
-Burial Broken Bow Cemetery, Custer County NE (in family lot of Armstrong and Juker families)
Married to: Forest Edward McKnight (born 1900 Butler Co., NE and died 1967 Berwyn NE)
-Places lived: (census) 1910 Berwyn Township, Custer Co., NE; 1920 Berwyn Twp, Custer Co., NE; 1930 Highland Twp, Hooker Co. NE; 1940 Berwyn Twp, Custer County, NE. (do have some directories and maps showing them owning land north of Westerville, NE)
***My question is, why did they leave their place in Custer County. Why did they go to Hooker County Nebraska and who was with them?
***When did the move to Hooker County and where was this location? (how long they own this)
This could be followed up by many other questions.
Middle of Nebraska and Family Research
For research in the middle of Nebraska (from Custer County and north to the state line), you would use various location to find you relatives that once lived or was involved in a community. Most places have newspapers, community history books and maps at their location and some have more in their archives.
With all trips you will want to call ahead and ask what can be found. Most have a business phone and others have a person to contact in the community. You may have to ask the library or court house.
*** Here is a listing of a few counties that might help with your research needs in the middle of Nebraska. ***
Custer County: in Broken Bow use the Custer County Museum (CCHS) for archives and services. This is in the town square near the court house. They have a nice system that is easy to use for quick and easy research on families, business and land.
Photo of Custer County Museum Research Center for Genealoy in Broken Bow, Nebraska, The file cabinets are filled with papers that are sorted by FAMILY NAME.
Cherry County: in Valentine use the Cherry County Historical Society for archives and services. Documents are in the main building that is on the corner at the highway & main street and they have another location for museum artifacts and items.
Grant County: in Hyannis use the Grant County Historical Society (museum) and the Library that are both located in the Grant County court house. The museum has several artifacts on local history.
Thomas County: in Thedford use the Thomas county historical society for archives and services, this is in a house of a notable local person and this has several artifacts from the community too.
Valley County: in Ord use the Valley County Historical Society (museum) and the Ord Township Library. The Library has a good amount of resources that have been indexed. The Ord Quiz newspaper is also available at the library webpage for free.
Sherman County: in Loup City use the Sherman County Historical Society (research center on main street), they offer a nice grouping of resources that is easily accessed.
Blaine County: in Dunning use the Sandhills Heritage Museum for archives that are accessed in local scrapbooks that have been collected and they are actively collecting for this archive.
This is just a tidbit of the locations that are throughout Nebraska. Hope you can make plans to contact any of the groups that are dedicated to preserving local history.
Photo from a Custer County Historical Tour- presentation
Planning a research list -To start on a research excursion, you would need to have with you the name of who you want to find and some info on them, like birth, death, marriage, burial and parent or children. This is just a part of the research list you will want to make and have for a research request or research trip. For this you will want to write down: who, what, when, why and where. This research should be planned by looking and calling to the location for resources and what you already know and what you want to find. Make sure to have this in a format that is easy to use and quick reference.
For setting a goal on your research you could have the following: example from my family
Anna Mae (Armstrong) McKnight
-born 16 Aug 1903, Berwyn, Custer Co., NE and
-died 26 Jan 1985 in Norton, KS (near Beaver City, NE where the daughter lived)
-Burial Broken Bow Cemetery, Custer County NE (in family lot)
-Married 29 Dec 1921 in Custer County, NE to: Forest Edward McKnight (born 1900 Butler Co., NE and died 1967 Berwyn NE)
-Places lived: (census) 1910 Berwyn Township, Custer Co., NE; 1920 Berwyn Twp, Custer Co., NE; 1930 Highland Twp, Hooker Co. NE; 1940 Berwyn Twp, Custer Co, NE. (do have some directories and maps showing them owning land north of Westerville, Custer Co, NE)
***My question is why did they leave to live in Hooker County NE and who was with them?
***When did the move to Hooker County and where was this location? (how long they own this)
Enjoy history and hunting your family history,
Photo of slide used in prsentation for Custer County Historical Tour.
A 2020 Version of Oral History Interview
The holidays are nearly upon us, which is typically a terrific time to gather oral history from older members of the family. However, this year is not a typical year, and we may have to change how we gather that history and those stories.
In-person interviews may be difficult to conduct this year and although genealogy experts suggest recording the interview via audio or video, alternative methods may have to be used to preserve your oral history interview. A simple phone interview may have to suffice, although there are methods to record calls on Android cell phones. Better yet, schedule a Zoom meeting, or two, with your relative. These are easy to record and view later.
If personal contact isn’t possible, consider creating a journal jar. Years ago, I made one for my mother-in-law, with 100 interview questions cut into strips and inserted into a Mason jar. I made the jar look pretty with ribbon/fabric and presented it with a notebook. She diligently selected one question from the jar each day and recorded her responses. Several months later, she returned the notebook to me filled with memories and family stories. What a treasure.
Genealogy experts also suggest being prepared for your family history interview. A preassembled list of questions is a must. Remember, your goal is to get them talking so ask open-ended questions. Family Tree Magazine has an excellent list of questions and prompts for gathering oral history in “Interviewing Questions and Prompts for Family History Interviews
”. Other resources are readily available on-line.
Of course, the ultimate end-result of an oral history interview is the written product. Transcribe the interview and assemble the information and stories into a format to be shared with other family members.