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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.
Fire in Eldorado!
Don't you just love old photographs? Portraits and snapshots of people from long ago are so intriguing, whether or not you can identify the people in them. And it's interesting to compare historical photos of places to the same location toay. Maybe you have a photograph or two of an event that would have likely occurred only once. If you're able to research the photo, sometimes you can find something significant about that event.
Among photos my Grandma Violet Bell possessed that came to her through her parents, Art & Sadie McGrath and grandparents Josiah & Sarah Negley, were these unused postcard pictures of the grain elevator fire in Eldorado. I don't know who took the photos, but I'm sure that my Negley family members, who had lived in that area of Clay County since the 1880's would have witnessed the fire first-hand. Josiah, Eldorado's Justice of the Peace, and his sons Bill and Cal may have even helped with efforts to put it out. The people in these photos are not identified, but my Negley relatives could be some of them.
The currently unincorporated village now consists of only a few houses clustered at the corner of Hwy 14 and Road 324 in northern Clay County. The old streets of Eldorado are now paved in cornfields, the railroad tracks were torn out years ago. Eldorado's peak population in 1910 was 100. The writing on the back of these photos, confirmed by reports in newspapers throughout Nebraska date the fire on April 30, 1914. The fire may have been one of the most exciting things to ever happen there.
"At about noon, Thursday, fire was discovered shooting out of the Updike Elevator at Eldorado, twenty miles south of Aurora. It seemed almost in an instant the whole main building was afire, with the flames rapidly spreading to the north and west store rooms. With a stiff breeze from the northeast the whole building was soon a seething mass of flames. From the first the lumber yard belonging to the same company was dispared of, but a hard fight with buckets was made to save the lumber and sheds. The men then bent their efforts toward pulling away what lumber it was possible to reach, but practically nothing but a part of the mill-work and a few posts were saved from the oncoming fire.
In less than one hour the company's whole plant consisting of elevator with two large store rooms, coal sheds, lumber sheds and lumber and posts, also engine house and engine was consumed. The elevator contained about eight thousand bushels of grain. The grain and coal are still burning and will make a fire for some time to come.
The fire is supposed to have originated from a hot box in the boot of the elevator." ¹
The plant was insured, and by the end of May an elevator from Stockham was being moved to Eldorado.
Mr. Nelson B. Updike was born in New Jersey in 1871 and was living in Harvard, Nebraska by the time he was 8 years old with his parents, Edward and Mary. He married Miss Metta Babcock and they had two children, Hazel and Nelson, Jr. The family moved to Omaha by 1900. Nelson became a millionaire dealing in land, grain and livestock. In 1895 he began buying small town grain elevators and built the Updike Elevator Company to as many as 100 elevators around the state. He was one of the organizers of the Omaha Grain Exchange. He had controlling interest in the Platte Valley Land and Investment Company. In 1920 he purchased the Omaha Bee and later the Omaha Daily News and consolidated them, then in 1928 sold the paper to William Randolph Hearst.
By 1914, Nelson was probably a very rich man from his investments in land, livestock and grain. The loss of $30,000 in one grain elevator might not have been devasting to him personally. The Eldorado elevator was a significant entity of the Updike Elevator Company, though not because of the amount of grain it handled. If he had any sentimental feelings toward Eldorado, I don't know. But the elevator in Eldorado was reportedly the first grain elevator Mr. Updike purchased in 1895.² The seed that planted his fortune began right there in Eldorado, Nebraska.
¹ "Eldorado Has a Big Fire", Hamilton County Advocate, Aurora, Nebraska, May 5, 1914, pg 7, col 2
The Pros of Probate Records
I have just finished digitizing probates that I was assigned to do. I digitized files numbered 1 to 1817 from 1882 to 1937. I could’ve digitized more, but my orders said only to go to December 1937. This was approximately 1897 files with approximately 68,600 images. That’s an average of 36 pages per file. The largest probate had 301 pages, and the smallest had 3 pages. Okay, enough statistics as I’m sure that bored some of you.
Some probates are digitized and online. Try the collections at Ancestry and FamilySearch. Many state archives have probates on microfilm. History Nebraska has Nebraska probates on microfilm. Probates are located at the county courthouse in the office of the County Court Clerk. They are a court document.
For those of you not familiar with probates, this is often what is included
Order for Hearing
Affidavit of publication
Affidavit of mailing
Proof of will
Certificate of probate
Order for letters
Petition for Det. Of Heirs
Order re: claims
Decree determining heirs
Certificate to Register of Deeds
Appointment of Appraiser
Judgment on Claims
Appraisal by county judge
Petition re: Inheritance tax
Decree on inheritance tax
Inheritance tax certificate to county treasurer
Petition for settlement
Order for hearing
Order on report
Inheritance tax receipt
Estate tax receipt
That probably sounds like a boring list. But there can be valuable information in them.
The first page, typically the petition for probate of will has a lot of good genealogy information. Usually it has the date the person died (or an approximate if not known), where he/she died, the list of heirs, who the petitioner is (often the widow or a child), an approximate value of the estate, and a date and signature of petitioner. That date is considered the date of the probate.
Here is a sample:
What I found interesting on this one is that this widow was pregnant when her husband passed away. It also gives ages of the children, which can be helpful. Later in the probate there is another list giving the date of birth and name of the child who was born. What?! I can find a child’s date of birth in a probate!
You can also ALMOST ALWAYS find out what funeral home served your ancestor. Often there is a bill (claim) from the funeral home for the cost of the funeral.
Sometimes there is a claim (bill) from the cemetery board for the purchase of a lot. Sometimes (but rarely) you can locate the EXACT lot they are buried in. Also sometimes (but rarely) you can find a bill for the gravestone and a description.
Here is a photo of one with the EXACT plot:
Also sometimes, but rarely, you can find a cause of death in a probate. I found a probate that said the deceased passed away “from wounds inflicted upon him by (John Smith)”. I changed that name for privacy. However, if you read that, wouldn’t you want to look for more information? I would and did. Was this an accident, a murder, a fight, etc.? That is a reason to look in the newspapers and the court records for more information.
Of course, the will (if there is one) has good information. You can find out what your relative considered important by who and what he/she left his/her money to. Did they leave some to charity? Did they give it all to their children?
If there isn’t a will, don’t give up that there is NOT a probate. Often, it’s the opposite. There is a probate because the judge might have had to decide who got what. The probate is likely shorter but still there.
Hope this helped you learn something about probates and you found it interesting. I can’t wait to get more of my ancestor’s probate records. Feel free to share your stories about what you found in the probates on our Facebook page.
Postcards! A Genealogy Gem
As the family genealogist I began receiving old photo albums and boxes of pictures and documents from my family some time ago. Faded memories of riffling through mom’s things with her come to me when I pull out one of those boxes to digitize them. That’s where my interest in postcards started.
Specifically, a RPPC (real picture post card) of a great uncle sent to my great-grandmother. Though I don’t recall the specifics today, I remember the sight of the postcard and the emotion it evoked in me. Who was that man, straw hat and overalls, silly grin with squinty eyes, who wrote a brief note to my great-grandma letting her know he would be home soon? How peculiar and delightful.
Those RPPC’s are the desired find for a genealogist – a one-time picture sent by mail to a loved one or friend. Not only do you get the picture, which is a gem in its own right, but also the address of the recipient. “Address” is a loose term here –my family resided in rural, small towns. All a letter needed to find its way to them was the recipient’s name, city, and state.
As I got older I realized there were some souvenir postcards in those boxes too – not as delightful as the RPPC’s, but still, a brief piece of information sent from one family member to another. I truly enjoy reading what my ancestor’s and their FAN club said to one another, even if it’s just “to my loving sister, expect to be home by week’s end”.
When researching a city or town, these postcards can provide great insight into the community. Which buildings do you find on postcards for a specific city or town? If it found its way onto a postcard, someone felt it was special enough of a site to capture the image and offer it to travelers to share with their friends and family back home. Postcards provided an avenue for people to share images of their travels with others for a fee that was far less than that of taking a picture and having it developed, not to mention the convenience.
These days I am bordering on being a postcard collector. I often rummage through postcards at flea markets and antique stores, and I’m guilty of purchasing more than one of these little beauties off of Ebay.
Much like those historic photographs found in antique stores, those postcards could be important to some other genealogist who does not know it exists. I often find myself engulfed in what I call “random research”. Who wrote those words, and can I get them to a family member who will appreciate them like I appreciate my family’s postcards?
Many of my family postcards were written in pencil, and as time passes those words fade. Thankfully, we live in an age where we can digitize those little nuggets so easily – nearly all of us carry a camera with us at all times. For under $100, you can purchase a scanner you can use in your home to scan those postcards to a .tiff file – an option that was not affordable just a few years ago.
There are some fantastic postcards from Nebraska floating around out there, and I am a sucker for them all. Though I find most of mine at antique stores or on Ebay, there are other places you can look. Many different websites sell “vintage” postcards, unused, for collectors. I personally prefer those someone has written upon.
Do you have a story about how a postcard impacted your genealogy? We'd love to hear all about it! Please feel free to share your stories with us on our Facebook page