Veterans Day Every Day…


In honor of Veterans Day and every day we remember all the lives that have been lost and affected by war. Nearly every family in the U.S. was affected by WWI. Many soldiers who died during WWI were memorialized by having buildings, parks, bridges, and other landmarks named for them.

Once such soldier in Iowa was Merle Hay, he was the first Iowan and one of the first Americans killed in World War I. He was part of Company F, 16th Infantry Regiment, and 1st Infantry Division. He fought in the trenches in Lorraine, France. On November 3, 1917, German troops raided the trench where Hay was, he and two other servicemen were killed in the battle.

A familiar street in Des Moines bears his name, along with a cemetery, a mall, and many other businesses today.

The American Legion in my hometown was named for my great-great uncle, the first soldier to perish from that town. Another great-great uncle in my family wrote letters to his family in Iowa while stationed in France. Those letters were published in the local newspaper which I stumbled upon while researching other family information. I was able to read the actual letters he wrote that I would have never known existed otherwise.

Newspapers are an excellent source of daily life information of family members. The war was well documented through newspapers; most every town had at least one. Newspapers listed soldiers that were drafted, where they were stationed for boot camp, and when they were deployed and discharged. Many cities held parades when soldiers returned, including pictures.

The next time you are driving though small town Iowa, look to see who the buildings are named for. It will remind you of all those who gave their lives for our country.

DMPL Books & Resources:

Haulsee, W.M. Soldiers of the Great War. Vols 1-3. Soldiers Record Publishing Association, 1920.

Or try a Catalog Search for the following: WWI, WWII, Iraq, etc.

Newspapers on Microfilm: Des Moines Register & Des Moines Tribune Index

Other Resources:

Iowa State Historical Society Library: Small Town Iowa Newspapers (various cities and years available)

Iowa Military Museum

Iowa Pathways – Information about Merle Hay

National Gravesite Locator

Making Connections


It is that time of year when we connect and visit with our relatives to celebrate the holiday season: family dinners, gift giving, phone calls, holiday cards, and road trips.

Do you ever wonder what your ancestors’ family dinners were like? Who attended, who they celebrated with or received cards from, what decorations did they put up, what dishes were used? I like to look at the small details in old photos to see if I can recognize anything that might have been passed down.

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2012 was to get in contact with distant family members. Most of my grandparents, great-aunts and uncles are gone and I am still on the quest to find family photos and stories. I was hopeful that by connecting with relatives I would find more information.

So with two months to spare in 2012, I sent several letters to people I am distantly related to. I found them in census records and obituaries. Many obituaries list survivors and often the city where they reside.

I wrote each a letter, included a family tree and asked if they had stories or photos to share. I included a little information about myself and my contact information.

To my surprise, they all responded.

Within the week I was on the phone talking with my grandfathers’ cousin in Illinois, now in his 80s. We had a wonderful chat. He referred to my great-grandmother as Cindy, which I had never heard before, her name was Lucinda. He had visited my grandparents in the 1950s and met my father when he was a boy. He confirmed family stories I had heard and told me some things I hadn’t. He also sent me photos of my great-great grandmother; I had no photos of her otherwise.

What turned out to be even more enjoyable was connecting with a relative who wanted to get to know me. I wasn’t expecting that. I set out to find more family tree information and I found more family. Some of the people in my tree are just names to me but to him they were close relatives he knew all his life.

It is very likely people listed on the 1930 and 1940 census are still around today. Those individuals are part of the greatest generation; a group of people who have lived though America’s best and worst times. They have stories to share and may have answers to questions you might have about your own family. At the very least making a family connection can make you feel more connected to relatives you were never able to know or ones you didn’t know you had. They might be wondering about you too.

DMPL Online Resources:

A-Z Database – Search for people by address or phone number

Obituaries – Des Moines Register Obituary Index

Census Records – Heritage Quest – 1930 and 1940 census available

DMPL Books:

Quillen, W. Daniel. Mastering Online Genealogy. Cold Spring Press, 2011.

Quillen, W. Daniel. Mastering Census & Military Records. Cold Spring Press, 2011.

Elliot, Noel Montgomery. Finding Anyone, Anywhere, Anywhen. Firefly Books, 2009.


Who Do You Think You Are?  Created by Alex Graham, Produced by Shed Media US. Acron Media, 2011. DVD. (Seasons 1 & 2 available)

A Perfect Use for Misspellings…Surname Variations

Census Search


Hello, I am Kristine, a new blogger for the DMPL Local History Blog. I have an avid interest in local history and genealogy. I will be sharing information on the historical aspects of Des Moines as well as tips and tricks for genealogy research.

A Perfect Use for MisspellingsSurname Variations

On my great grandmothers’ Iowa marriage certificate to her second husband in 1922, it listed her mother as Margaret Bonlanken. I have never heard of that surname and it looked a little strange but I was glad to have something of substance.

Even a simple Google search of ‘Bonlanken’ warranted less than 20 results, so I figured the information was incorrectly transcribed but I had no idea what else it would be. It remained a brick wall for years.

I was recently researching a different surname of my family in the Schleswig-Holstein area of Germany. I stumbled across a website listing German Emigrants of the 19th Century ( I searched each of the surnames of my German ancestors just to see if they might appear and sure enough the mystery was solved.

I located my great-great grandfather on the list, Friedrich Schimmer, it stated he emigrated in 1870 and was married to Margarethe von Lancken. Bonlanken – von Lancken. I was stunned, the name was so close and yet it never occurred to me to try an alternate spelling such as that.

I was able to fill in several generations of my tree based on that new information.

When searching for ancestors it can be helpful to search for alternate spellings of even common names. A very common name such as Schultz can have many alternate spellings including: Schultz, Schultze, Schulz, Scholz, Scholtz, Schults, Shults, Schulze, or Schultheis.

This is an excellent strategy when searching census records in our online resource, Heritage Quest. By searching alternate spellings of surnames you can broaden your possibilities of finding that ancestor you’ve been looking for.

German Genealogy Resources:

Palen, Margaret Krug. German Settlers of Iowa: Their Descendants and European Ancestors. Heritage Books, 2009.

Iowa Genealogical Society – German Group

Iowa GenWeb

Into genealogy or just starting?  Then you should take a look at Iowa GenWeb.   It received a best website award from Family Tree Magazine.  There are all kinds of cool special projects being created on this site, including grave stone photos, orphan train info, and historical newspaper articles.  There are also message boards and research links.

There is also the U.S. GenWeb which can help you find info in other states.

Happy researching!

Family Maps

We recently acquired some great maps for surrounding counties entitled Family Maps of Iowa, by Arphax Publishing.  These maps contain a treasure trove of information for local historians and genealogists.  Family Maps for the following counties are available:  Jasper, Madison, Story, and Warren.  Unfortunately, there is not one available for Polk County. 

These map books include the following information for each township in the covered county:

Land patent index – by surname

Land patent map – map of patents as listed in the index showing the homestead locations.  In addition to the map, a key tells the oldest and most recent patent dates, number of patents, surnames, individuals, cities, and cemetaries.

Road map – roads, city-centers, and cemeteries

Historical map – includes railroads, lakes, rivers, creeks, city-centers, and cemeteries

These books are available for in-building use at the Central Library at 10th and Grand.  Happy researching!

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