A Look Back: SCGS Projects Through the Years
by Mary Lohr
In a country not too far away and in a time not too long ago, a smal group of dedicated volunteers undertook a massive cemetery transcription project. Their story is worth retelling:
Most of the counties in Iowa were included in the WPA graves registration survey in the 1930s, but those lists had not been updated in over fifty years. About fifteen members of the Story County Genealogical Society set out on a task in 1986 to walk all the cemeteries in Story County and record tombstone inscriptions with the goal of publishing that data. Martha Deyoe, a new member of the Society, volunteered to co-ordinate this effort. Other current members who participated were Raola Giles, Paul Heins, and Roger Hogle.
The county auditor's office supplied a list of most of the 54 cemeteries. This included three which record only one burial.
In preparation, Martha would contact the sexton or whomever had charge of the cemetery to alert them about the project. This was a precaution so a group of people walking through the cemeteries did not cause undue concern.
In a project that was to take three years to complete, Martha says, "Although we had been warned about them, there weren't too many snakes." With clipboard in hand, a volunteer would walk a row of the cemetery and record all the information that could be read from each stone.
And then, like a good genealogy researcher, the volunteers verified the information by re-walking all the cemeteries. (This was indeed a dedicated group compiling accurate data.)
The data was then compiled into a master list by member Roger Hogle. A problem arose when it was discovered about five different computer programs had been used and they were not all compatible. Martha Deyoe had heard a young company in Redmond, Washington, had a software program that could help solve this problem. So she called them ... and they sent a free program that did indeed handle the different file formats. "I've always liked Microsoft after that," Martha exclaimed in relating this part of the story.
The Iowa Genealogical Society published the lists, which were grouped by townships. Each publication included an index. (A fact appreciated by any serious researcher.) A master list of all the cemeteries, with a complete index, was also published and a copy is currently in the public libraries in Ames, Colo, Nevada, and Story City. Copies are also available for purchase from the Iowa Genealogical Society.
To think this is the end of the accomplishments of the SCGS would be to overlook two other significant contributions: the obituary files and the probate files.
Many years ago the SCGS was the recipient of a large number of donated newspapers from the 1930s forward. Members clipped the obituaries and organized the files. Originally housed in the Ames Public Library, the collection is now at the Nevada Public Library and is being kept up to date.
The probate files, also housed at the Nevada Public Library, were a project of SCGS members, too. An index to the probates and wills is located at both the Ames Public Library and Nevada Public Library.
Like all good stories, this one has not one, but many happy endings. For when genealogists and other researchers find any of these tools helpful-- the cemetery transcriptions, the compiled obituaries, or the probate and wills files-- they provide a happy conclusion to this "tale."
© 2009 Story County Genealogical Society.