Monday, March 30, 2015

Local Societies Can Help Preserve the Past

By Margery Graham

Local societies are a boon to the family genealogist, be it the local historical society, genealogy society, or even a smaller group within the county/local area. Small towns within a county have historical societies as do some churches and other entities.

Examples in Allen County are: Huntertown Historical Society; St. Louis Besancon Historical Society, with its French settlement preserves ethnic history along with its church history; the Four Presidents Corners Historical Society of Monroeville, Indiana preserves the history of Jackson, Jefferson, Madison and Monroe townships; St. Joseph Hessen Cassel Historical Society with its German settlers; the Fort Wayne African/ African-American Historical Museum; and the Mary Penrose Wayne Chapter of the DAR. There is a local SAR organization too. This is just a sample of local organizations that preserve our history from the ground up.

How do you decide what records are the most important for preservation? The answer is "all of them." Our local history is found in court records, church records, school records, local published histories, family histories, cemeteries with their tombstones, landmarks, buildings, and even brick streets that haven't been covered with asphalt. Man-hole covers even tell tales.

There are several ways to preserve records through the local society. Indexes can be compiled, published in one or more ways, and made available for research purposes. My local society read all the county cemeteries (1979) and published a seven volume set of this information. Each book contained an every name index. Twenty-five years later, a group was formed to create a "master index" using the names in these seven volumes and putting them on the Society’s web site for anyone to search. The local DAR society has a complimentary project because they have set a goal of photographing all the tombstones in the county and uploading the pictures to their web site.

Mortuary records are a great resource. Although these are private records, some mortuaries are permitting the records to be copied. Judy Richter, the Indiana County Genealogist of Noble County, has made great inroads to collecting and preserving mortuary records of Noble County. In conjunction with the Allen County Public Library's Genealogy Center, the books are copied and a set is made for Noble County to be placed in the library, one set is made for the Allen County Public Library and one for the patron, in this case the mortuary. The mortuary people are very impressed with the final product.

Funeral cards are another preservation project. The Allen County Genealogy Society’s web master requested funeral cards from society members so that he could digitize them and place online at The one requirement is that they have an Allen County connection. There are now more than 2,000 cards in the collection. He then approached the local funeral homes and asked if he could get their funeral cards and one mortuary agreed if we would provide them with free advertising on our web site.

First Families is a project that preserves family records of early settlers at the local county level. With a small fee, included with the application, the project can be self-sustaining. Allen County Genealogy Society did this in 1994 to coincide with Fort Wayne's bicentennial. The records were then indexed, microfilmed and placed in the Allen County Public Library. The index was also placed on the society's web site for research. A smaller county with limited funds might want to apply for an IGS grant of $500 to help with such a project.
Local societies can help unlock and preserve the past.
(This article by Margery Graham originally appeared in the IGS June 2010 Newsletter. It has been updated. If you'd like access to more articles like this, join the Indiana Genealogical Society. The newsletter is just one of the many member benefits!)

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