The Best Resource You’re Not Using: Local Historical Societies

The Best Resource You’re Not Using: Local Historical Societies

by Kerry Scott on 7 March 2011

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Want to find some hidden treasures?  Check the tiny local historical societies in the places your ancestors lived.

A while back, I wrote about Ferol Wright Nelson, my great-grandmother’s sister-in-law.  Her obituary mentioned that she was born in Verndale, Minnesota, and an alert reader turned me on to the Verndale Historical Society.  They sell a series called The Famous and Not So Famous that contains 1,432 pages of family history stuff.  It turns out that a couple dozen pages (so far) relate to the family I’m working on.  Many rural historical societies have these types of books, and they’re a tremendous resource.

I’ve also talked about my love for Red Owl Food Stores stuff.  My grandma worked at the Red Owl headquarters in Hopkins, Minnesota for many years.  Guess what?  The Hopkins Historical Society has a DVD called The Red Owl Story.  It has information and hundreds of old pictures of both Red Owl stores and the corporate headquarters buildings and people.  If you’re from Minneapolis and can watch it without getting a little sniffly, your heart is made of stone.

Verndale is a tiny little town, and Hopkins is a very small suburb of Minneapolis.  If you were only looking for county or state historical societies, you might have missed ‘em.  Don’t forget to look for societies for towns and suburbs as well.  You never know what you’ll find.

Photo by Mykl Roventine

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Heather Rojo March 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

I agree with you 100%! The first thing I do when I find a new family tree branch in a new town is to contact the historical society in the area. If I can visit, even better. Sometimes they have the oddest, but most relevant, information tucked away in the form of records, diaries, donated papers, or artifacts on families. There is always someone who knows where the family lived, or where they were buried. A true goldmine!


Debi March 7, 2011 at 10:13 am

I’ve had great success with the Monterey Historical Society. My family was pretty “well to do” in the late 1800′s and early 1900′s plus they had a very uncommon name. As soon as I mentioned their name, the historical society was all over it. He sent me a photo of my great grandparents riding in a horse drawn buggy and a sketch of the family store!

I’ve had good success with the county historical societies, too, but you just reminded me to contact the little town in Illinois that I’m researching.


Susan Tiner March 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm

That’s a good point. The last place my Dad lived before marrying my Mom in 1954 was Mt Prospect, a suburb of Chicago. I don’t know how long he lived there but found a couple early 1950s Mt Prospect Newspaper tibits about him via NewspaperArchives. If Mt Prospect has an historical society, that might be a good place to dig up some references.


Jenn Barnes March 7, 2011 at 11:12 pm

I have a genealogy connection to Verndale. My late aunt left a note in her genealogy papers about my Quaker great great grandmother Anna (nee Widdifield) Cook (aka Allcock):

“The Verndale newspaper of Feb ? 1912 reports that Anna Cook, living with her daughter in Richland, MO had not been well that winter…and Jacob Fleischer [her son in law] reports that he had been enjoying the fine winter there. He did not have to turn down the ear flaps on his hat all winter!”

That Midwest humor. I tells ya.

Previously Anna lived in Wing River, MN. She died in 1912 but I’m not sure if she died in MO or MN or where she is buried. I can’t find anything except a record that her husband Robert is buried in Wadena Cemetery in (where else?) Wadena, MN and as of the year 2000 there wasn’t even a marker left to show where his grave is. I would love to get my hands on that Verndale newspaper article – or whatever newspaper was referencing that article…I can’t find it anywhere (for free) and I’m REALLY cheap so I don’t pay until I’ve squeezed every rock and turnip around. ;)


larry March 8, 2011 at 7:49 am

Yes, a local archive or historical society can be chock full of treasures. Last Fall I was back home visiting Mom and I took half a day and visited the local archives. There I found the H.S. yearbooks of my Mother’s mother and her two sisters. I discovered that the oldest sister was the Art department for the H.S. Yearbook staff. She had created all of the design and artwork in the yearbook.
A month later I took my Mom on a trip to visit her cousin, the daughter of the H.S. artist; I gave Mom’s cousin copies of all of the artwork and every page that had a reference to her Mother. The cousin, who is interested in genealogy, never knew anything about her Mother’s artistic endeavors.
Another similar incident:
Several years ago, Mom bought me a copy of a coffee table type of book about the homwtown. ( Hometown was actually a twin-city arrangemnet with 100K-150K people depending on sources) The book was professionally done and written by a local author, the photos were supplied by the same archives mentioned above and the local newspaper. This was a fair sized book, large format and a 100 or so pages.
I started looking at the book page by page, this took quite awhile as I lingered over many pages. On the very last page was a “society page” type of newspaper photo of my Mom’s mother. The image was about a Girl Scout event. I never knew my Mother was in Girl Scouts. This discovery started another discussion between Mom and myself.
One more conversation of many we had, but never enough.


Michelle Goodrum March 10, 2011 at 11:40 am

Congratulations on being one of Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs for 2011! A well deserved honor. I always look forward to your posts.


Yvonne March 10, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Congratulations, Kerry! VERY GOOD JOB!!!


Janice Tracy March 10, 2011 at 2:58 pm

Congratulations, Kerry, for making Family Tree Magazine’s 40 Best Genealogy Blogs for 2011. Keep up the good work!


Lisa Wallen Logsdon March 10, 2011 at 8:56 pm

Congrats on the FT’s 40 Best! Love your blog!


Kerry Scott March 11, 2011 at 8:27 pm

Thank you!!


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