Five Simple Questions

Christmas 1960

Holidays are the perfect time to learn more about your family’s unique history. Take advantage of Christmas and New Year gatherings to sit down with relatives and encourage them to tell you stories of their past. Here are five easy questions to get you started.

1. What is the first Christmas you remember? How old were you?

2. What has been your most memorable Christmas? Why was it special?

3. What has been the most memorable gift you’ve ever received? Who gave it to you?

4. What family traditions do you remember from childhood? How have those traditions changed through the years?

5. As a child, who are the oldest relatives you remember? What were they like?

Each question invites description and elaboration, and as the conversation develops, you’ll find yourself listening to stories you may never have heard before. Try to find a way to record these treasured memories—video, tape recording or just making pencil and paper notes, so long as it isn’t a distraction. The important point is to soak up these forgotten bits of the past and make them a part of your own personal heritage. Who knows—this may be your most memorable Christmas ever.

November 2013 Research Libraries Schedules

2013-calendar-novemberThe Iowa Genealogical Society will be CLOSED Thursday and Friday, November 28and 29, for the Thanksgiving holiday. The library will reopen for regular hours at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 30.

The State Historical Society Libraries and Archives in Des Moines and Iowa City will be CLOSED Thursday through Saturday, November 28 – 30. The libraries will reopen for regular hours at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, December 3.

The Family History Center in Des Moines will be CLOSED Monday through Monday, November 24 through December 2. The library is scheduled to reopen on Tuesday evening, December 3, at 6:30 p.m. Hours are unpredictable, however, and it’s always wise to call ahead: 515-225-0416.

Nelson Pioneer Farm & Museum

Nelson Pioneer Farm

Nelson Pioneer Farm

Autumn is in the air, and with the changing leaves come schedule changes to Iowa’s local museums and research facilities. Such is the case with the Nelson Pioneer Farm and Museum, located in Mahaska County. This beautiful facility, owned and operated by the Mahaska County Historical Society, will end its public season October 31st.

The Nelson Pioneer Farm is a rare treat—similar to Living History Farms in Des Moines, it operates on a more intimate level, offering a multitude of onsite historical buildings, museums and educational activities. It also houses a fine genealogical/historical research library: here you will find original source material specific to Mahaska County’s past. Continue reading

Farewell to Arms

Shiloh Battlefield cannonMy Civil War summer is drawing to a close, and like the soldiers who stacked their arms and turned their faces homeward, so must I leave behind this remarkable period of history and move forward into the re-united future of the nation.

We’ve studied pension files and service records; read regimental histories and first-hand accounts by soldiers and officers; and visited battlefields. It’s been an amazing journey into a past peopled with heroes, villains and ordinary folks thrust into the limelight by extraordinary circumstances. Continue reading

Iowa Calendar: October 2013

2013-calendar-octoberAutumn has arrived in Iowa! The leaves are changing color, farmers are harvesting, and the days are turning cool. It’s a beautiful time to get out in the countryside and reconnect with your Iowa heritage. Here are a few October offerings to get you started.

Wednesday Oct 2, 2013 – Sunday Oct 6, 2013
Historic Quilt Show: Art and Science of Keeping Warm
9 a.m. – 4 p.m. Wednesday – Saturday; noon – 4 p.m. Sunday.
Living History Farms11121 Hickman Rd., Urbandale. 
Enjoy a look at rarely-seen historic quilts from the nationally recognized Living History Farms quilt collection and explore the science and artistry of keeping warm. The Flynn Mansion hosts this display of quilts, covers, historic winter clothing, hand-knitted items and household textiles. Be inspired for chilly weather with this peek at how our grandparents made keeping warm beautiful. Children’s hands-on activities include quilt block coloring and sewing cards. The show is free with regular admission to the Farms. Contact: 515-278-5286. Website: . Continue reading

North Star Conference 2013

Family History Conference Features Author of Annie’s Ghosts

Steve Luxenberg

Steve Luxenberg

The 6th annual North Star Family History Conference will feature Steve Luxenberg, author of the acclaimed Annie’s Ghosts: A Journey into a Family Secret. Luxenberg headlines a program including twenty-five educational presentations for both beginning and experienced family history researchers October 4-5, 2013 at Colonial Church in Edina, MN. The conference is hosted by the Minnesota Genealogical Society and is open to the public.

A Washington Post associate editor, Luxenberg worked with two teams of Post reporters that have won Pulitzer Prizes for explanatory journalism. Luxenberg’s investigative reporting experience helped him uncover uncomfortable family history — his mother’s decision to hide the existence of a sister, Annie, who was institutionalized for 31 years. Continue reading

Iowa Genealogical Society Fall Conference 2013

Plans are set for this year’s Iowa Genealogical Society Fall Conference, to be held Friday – Saturday, October 25 – 26, at the Johnston Lions Club, 6401 Merle Hay Road, Johnston. Featured speaker Beth Foulk will present the following topics:

Friday Classes

  • Colonial Land. Explore the ways our Colonial Ancestors acquired land and the documents they created in the process. Learn about Company Grant Land, quit rents, military bounty land, deeded land, headrights, and indenture.
  • American Revolution Genealogy.The War of Independence changed history; our history; our families’ history. It’s a story about which we want to know more. Did my ancestor help? …even a little? There’s much to be learned about our ancestors’ roles in this moment in history. Discover where to start, what the best resources are, and how to tackle the research.
  • The Best of Genealogy Book Websites. There are excellent free, published books online to aid your genealogy research. More than just “how to” books or lists of names, these books will add color, history, and context to your ancestor’s life. This class takes a tour of whole libraries and the books you’ll find online. Bring your family tree to life with online books.

Saturday Classes

  • “If I’d Only Known.” We all know that awful feeling when we’ve wasted our time, messed up the tree, or found a better, faster way to the results we wanted. This class outlines – with personal examples – many mistakes that you can now avoid.
  • Cool Tools at the Midwest Genealogy Center. It’s a big library with lots of materials! Make the most of this valuable repository by attending this class. You’ll learn what’s at the library, where to find it, and how to use it. Plus pick up a few insider tips.
  • Imported to America – Colonists for Sale! It may be surprising that not all Europeans came to America seeking the land of “milk & honey.” Some were “transported” as the sentence for their crime of stealing, prostitution, or other non-capital offense. Others paid for their passage with years of uncompensated labor. It’s a revealing story, and an eye-opening look at a not often told side of Colonial America. Break open the stories of 50,000 or more immigrants through the history and documents they left behind.
  • Bonus Saturday Class: DNA – The newest tool for finding your family. What do all those phrases mean? When will it work and when won’t it? Presented by Bob Haskins.

Preregistration is required for this annual event. Cost: $105 IGS members/$125 non-members for both days. Single day registration: $65 IGS members/$85 non-members. Register before October and receive an early bird discount.

Contact: Iowa Genealogical Society, 628 East Grand Avenue, Des Moines, 50309. 515-276-0287. Website:


The Soldier’s Perspective

Co. D, 7th Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Co. D, 7th Iowa Volunteer Infantry

Pension files and service records are wonderful starting points for understanding your soldier’s war experience, but other resources, such as firsthand accounts from the war can add context and depth to your knowledge.Your ancestor may not have left personal papers but many other soldiers did. From generals on down to the enlisted volunteer, letters, journals and memoirs of those dramatic days abound. Many of those recorded experiences will closely match those of your own soldier, and will give you a sense of what he saw and felt. Here are a few selections to get you started. Continue reading


Corinth Battlefield Unit

Bronze Sculpture, Corinth

A visit to Shiloh is incomplete without stopping at Corinth, just twenty-two miles southwest of Pittsburg Landing in northern Mississippi. My 7th Iowa soldier was captured near Corinth and spent several months in a Confederate prison, so visiting Corinth was a “must see” for me on my travels through the South. Corinth was Grant’s main objective in his march south through Tennessee, and the battle at Shiloh was a desperate attempt by the Confederates to preserve the city’s vital railroad connections. Continue reading

IGS September Class Offerings

The Iowa Genealogical Society has scheduled some great classes for September.  All activities take place at the IGS Library, 628 East Grand Avenue, Des Moines, unless otherwise noted.

Check out their website for details and other upcoming IGS activities: Or contact the IGS office: 515-276-0287 for class registration. Continue reading