Copyrights @ Journal 2014 - Designed By Templateism - SEO Plugin by MyBloggerLab

Saturday, April 23, 2016

, , , , , ,

Hunting for Treasures at the Library

Joliet Public Library, Robin Foster 22 April 2016 © 

One of the greatest divides in genealogy is the distance between us and the resources that a library has which cannot be found online. Are they the first go-to items we gravitate to when documenting our ancestors? No. When we get desperate for records, their treasures are worth the time and travel to access them. I visited a library in the town where I grew up, Joliet. I hope this makes you curious about the library where your ancestor grew up.

History I wish I had in school

There is a local history section full of resources on the second floor that I never bothered to approach out of all the time I spent here growing up. With limited time now, I am anxious to document myself and the previous generation using these unique records. Can anyone else relate?

I made a full sweep of everything first taking photos, and then I went back to determine record content and time period.  In this process, I figure someone else that I am connected to may somehow also have Joliet roots.

What of education? The topic bewilders me especially since my parents paid for me to go to private schools. If we do not teach the history of the area in which we live and how we are connected to it, how can we inspire true leaders, public servants, productive communities? Below are resources right in the Joliet Public Library that document a history that was never even mentioned throughout all the years I spent in school here.

Always check the library website to learn what local history and genealogy resources they have, however, remember that other resources may be available on site that are not mentioned online. If you have items that may be of interest to other patrons, you should make a donation to the Friends of the library to be added to the local resources.

Funeral programs

                                                       Robin Foster, April 2016 ©

The first items that drew my attention were these colorful binders. Can you imagine 19 volumes of funeral programs documenting African American people who died in the Joliet area and the history that each program holds? Funeral programs often give rich biographical details, and they also mention parents and other members of the person's family group. They are a great starting point to discovering historical documentation.

Funeral Service Brochures for African Americans of Joliet and Lockport, Illinois, Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

 Obituary index

Obituary index in binders, Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

The library is working to make an obituary index searchable online. So far, the online index of obituaries indexed in the Joliet Herald News covers 1979-2010. They also have a printed obituary index in binders.  Notice on the shelf they have a Joliet Daily News Obituary Index from 1909 to 1913.  If you use the index books onsite, you can look up the obituary on microfilm after you find it.


People ask me all of the time how to go about finding photos of family members. We all want to be able to know what our ancestors looked like. One great place to check are the yearbooks at the local library. While I was there a brother and sister who looked to be high school age found there mother in a yearbook. It was fun to watch them. 

Yearbooks may exist for elementary school, high school, and college. I noticed the following school yearbooks at Joliet Public Library (some are extinct schools or schools that have been renamed):

Joliet Central High School
Joliet East High School
Joliet East Crown
Joliet West High School
Lewis College
Lewis University
Plainfield High School
Ridgewood Baptist Academy

                                               Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

                                            Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

                                              Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

                                                Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

City directories

City directories are great for finding the location of family members between census years. The Joliet Public Library has directories as far back as 1881. You can also find the directory includes name of spouse, adress, occupation, and business addresses if they own a business. 

I found my parents in the 1966 Joliet city directory.  My father, Robert Foster, was a mathematical statistician at a local ammunition procurement plant. My mom is also listed. Also included on this page is Theba Foster who was a realtor and good friend of the family but not related. 


The library has map and plat books for Will and surrounding counties. One of the earliest for Will County was published in 1862. I was able to locate the area I grew up in the Will County plat books:

                                                Robin Foster, 22 April 2016 © 

I did not know Joliet had so many newspapers. The current newspaper is the Joliet Herald News. The liibrary has the Herald on microlfim from 1940 to 2015. Prior to April 1940, the local paper was the Joliet Evening Herald News. Several different papers extend back to 1846.  I will discuss them in a future post.

I have not yet been able to find an online newspaper database that has all the Joliet newspapers. If you know of one, please share. When newspapers are not digitized, you have to access them on microfilm, and that takes times. It is difficult on your eyes to work for more than a couple of hours researching newspapers on microfilm, but I have done it many times when that was all there was. 

Hopefully, these treasures will make you curious enough about what libraries may hold in the area where your ancestor lived. My next sweep through the local history department included pulling open every drawer, and spying local history on the shelf. Stay tuned for my next post!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

, , ,

National Library Week 2016 Genealogy Discovery!

National Library Week 2016 found us on a quest to discover more about the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection  at the Woodson Regional Library (Carter G. Woodson Regional Library).  This collection is the largest African American history and literature collection in the Midwest. Historical records document the experience of African Americans particularly from Chicago.

We figured since Ellis' ancestors migrated from the South to Chicago, this would be a great place to look for resources. Libraries are underused resources. You would not believe how many clues I have discovered over the years because I know how to research the local history collections in the library. Many are making collections and information about existing resources available online.

I love it when I find a library's chat room on their website. It is great to talk to a real person in real time. Even if the library website has little information, they may have holdings in their back rooms stored far away from the patron's view. It is always worth it to check out the library where your ancestor lived. If you do not find a record, you may just find a volunteer there who knows the neighborhood and family stories of people who resided in the area long ago.

Of course, we never travel to a place without first checking out their website to see what collections might be of use to our research.  We spent some time learning how to navigate the Woodson Regional Library website. That was not easy, but we stumbled upon archival collections that are accessible online:

We discovered that we could search the Chicago Defender newspaper online at the library.  We only knew of its availability on microfilm further away at the Evanston Public Library. That made a vist to Woodson Regional Library more than worth it. We could search for a few family members and determine if we needed private access to the collection. This is the 111th year anniversary of the Chicago Defender.  I remember that it was a very popular newspaper among family members.
We were excited to visit. This is in the Evergreen Park area of Chicago, and it has undergone a great deal of development since I have been there last. I was almost tempted to go shopping! The Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection is a separate addition of the Woodson Regional Library located on 9525 S. Halsted in Chicago.  

We stopped at the front desk to inquire about funeral programs for Lawrence and Louise Johnson, but they did not have them in their collection.  Next, we went to the first available computer to check out the Chicago Defender Historical Archive which is searchable on site. 

This is a screenshot of the search field for the Chicago Defender Historical Archive:

Incredibly, when we searched for Archie McClure, the obituary of his one year old daughter who died at one year of age appeared on the screen. The database had the option to e-mail the .pdf version of the obituary so we did not even have to fool around with getting our money transferred to an electronic card to print.

We stood there shaking our heads. We did not previously have the year of Bunny's birth or her death to search for her death record. We only knew she existed. In one year's time, this infant was baptized, made friends and attended the Bud Billiken Parade. We will not post the image to the obituary here, but it contains her full name, birth, death, name of godmother, address, pastor, church, parents' names and nicknames in three short paragraphs. Her obituary has more information that some adults that we have seen.

After, we decided that we want to secure future access to the Chicago Defender Historic Archive, I could not resist searching to see if it contained any articles on my South Carolina ancestors just for fun. You will not believe what I found! I will share in the next post.

All I can say is, I have an overwhelming appreciation for libraries and the people who serve there day in and day out providing assistance and resources.

Happy National Library Week 2016!

Friday, April 15, 2016

, , , , ,

Final Resting Place: Historic Lincoln Cemetery

It was quite a journey that led to the discovery of the final resting place of Ellis' grandparents. Not many folks who could share that information are living to do so. We were really dependent on online records because the names Lawrence R. Johnson and Louise Johnson are common enough to be difficult finds without having their birth or death dates.

There was no way to narrow down the search results for this couple using Illinois Vital Records without the knowledge of the death dates. It was not until the collections Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994, and Illinois, Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947 came online did we have a hope of finding Lawrence and Louise among death records.

In 1993, while interviewing their son-in-law, Archie McClure, who passed away later that year, I learned the names of the parents of Louise, Joseph and Josephine Marshall. Once the collections mentioned above came online, we were able to search for the parents of Louise among the Illinois death records. By just searching for the parents and leaving the main search field blank, I have been able to discover children that people have forgotten and females who married were lost because no one could provide a married name.

The parents matched this record, and Louise's daughter, Inez, was the informant which helped to confirm the her identity on this death record:

"Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994," database, ( : accessed 15 April 2016), Louise Johnson, 21 Jul 1957; citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, source reference , record number , Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm 

I do not think it was a coincidence that we discovered the death record for Lawrence R. Johnson 71 years later minus one day, 11 April 1945. Nothing would keep us from finding Historic Lincoln Cemetery and visiting on the anniversary of his burial. We recognized the address, 217 N. Oakley.

"Illinois, Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994," database,( : accessed 15 April 2016), Lawrence R Johnson, 06 Apr 1945; citing Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States, source reference , record number , Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; FHL microfilm.

Next, we needed to physically locate this cemetery. We turned to Find A Grave where we quickly saw what we thought was a discrepancy in the location. On Find A Grave, Lincoln Cemetery is located in Blue Island not Worth as stated on both death records.  You need to be careful that in your excitement that you do not head out to a cemetery that you have not confirmed. Some older cemeteries have changed hands, and names have changed. Also, cemeteries can exist that have the same name, and you do not want to waste valuable time searching in the wrong place.

It did not help that the couples' memorial had not been entered on Find A Grave. We searched for an online listing for Lincoln Cemetery where we discovered the one located on 12300 S. Kedzie in Blue Island is one and the same. It is located in Worth Township. We needed additional confirmation from that we could only get on site.

Lincoln Cemetery is really Historic Lincoln Cemetery. The Alabama Study Group of the Afro-American Genealogical Society indexed the graves in Historic Lincoln Cemetery (even the unmarked graves).

Many famous African Americans are buried there, namely Gwendolyn Brooks, Bessie Coleman, and noted blues and jazz musicians.

We visited the office where they looked in a card catalog (Louise Johnson) and an indexed book of burials kept in a vault (Lawrence R. Johnson) to find the location of the graves:

We received maps to help us locate both graves:

Louise Marshall Johnson:

Lawrence R Johnson:

Unfortunately, neither grave had a marker, but we were able to find the section and lot number. For now, we took photos of Ellis standing over both graves.

Louise Marshall Johnson (1879-1957)

Louise Marshall Johnson's grave:

Lawrence Royston Johnson (1865-1945)

Lawrence R. Johnson's grave:

Got Cook County, Illinois ancestors? Visit Cook County, Illinois Genealogy on FamilySearch Wiki.  What are some of your most memorable cemetery finds?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

, ,

African American marriage records in Jefferson County, Alabama

We told the story about finding the land deed and plat map of land mortgaged and purchased by Columbus McClure and his wife in Birmingham, Alabama in Our Genealogy Journey to the Jefferson County, Alabama courthouse. We wanted to also share what we discovered about researching marriages in the Jefferson County Alabama courthouse.

We previously searched the collection at, Alabama Marriages, 1816-1957, which is an index:

Name:  Columbus Mcclure
Birth Date: 1879
Age: 25
Spouse's Name: Coreene Jackson
Spouse's Birth Date: 1886
Spouse's Birthplace:
Spouse's Age: 18
Event Date: 25 Aug 1904
Event Place: Irondale, Jefferson, Alabama
Father's Name:
Mother's Name:
Spouse's Father's Name:
Spouse's Mother's Name:
Marital Status:
Previous Wife's Name:
Spouse's Race:
Spouse's Marital Status:
Spouse's Previous Husband's Name:
Indexing Project (Batch) Number: M74609-1
System Origin: Alabama-EASy
GS Film number: 1065252
Reference ID: p 263

"Alabama Marriages, 1816-1957," database, FamilySearch ( : accessed 13 April 2016), Columbus Mcclure and Coreene Jackson, 25 Aug 1904; citing reference p 263; FHL microfilm 1,065,252.

Marriage records are indexed at the Jefferson County, Alabama courthouse. We learned that African American marriage records are in separate index books. There is a book for males and a book for females.
Marriage index for black males 1882-1940.

Marriage index book for black females 1882-1940, Jefferson County, Alabama.

First, look for your ancestor's name on the index. Females will be listed according to their maiden name.  When you find the name on the index, write down the volume number and the page number where the original record is located. 

Ellis searching marrigage index book for McClures for Jefferson County, Alabama.

 Marriage index for McClures, Jefferson County, Alabama.

The third column of the marriage index gives the volume number and page number that corresponds to the original record.

Once you find the entry in the marriage book, you will need to locate the correct volume and page. Below Ellis is searching for the his grandfather's marriage in volume 271, page 30.  The marriages for whites have the same volume numbers, so be sure you pull the volume number for the correct color of your ancestor.

"Jefferson County, Alabama Black Male Marriages, 1882-1940,"  Columbus McClure and Coreene Jackson, 25 Aug 1904; Volume 271 p 30

I always make it a priority to find the original record and not rely too heavily on an indexed record.  From the original marriage record for Columbus and Coreene (sp), we learned that they were married in Irondale, Alabama. Several of the McClures worked the coal mine in Irondale.  They lived there before they moved to Birmingham. 

As you probably know if you follow me on Facebook, we are now researching this family in Cook County, Illinois. We will soon share our findings there in blog posts, so subscribe so that you do not miss!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

, ,

Our genealogy journey to the Jefferson County, Alabama courthouse

My husband, Ellis McClure, has done so much to support my genealogy research and business efforts. I have always wanted to help him to experience the same joy in finding historical documentation for his ancestors that I have felt in doing my own. On a recent research trip, we spent a day in Birmingham, Alabama because we have almost exhausted the records available online.  I am sharing how this whole process worked for us in case you need to duplicate it in your own research.

In researching my own ancestors, I have always reached a point where I had to consult records that were not made available online yet. The first place that I always check are the microfilms in the FamilySearch Catalog for the area I am researching. Since we were going to be traveling through Birmingham, I thought it would be more exciting for Ellis to actually handle the records. 

Preparing for our visit

Before we made plans to stop in Birmingham, I needed to make a list of which record types we would search for first. The most common records to start with are:
  • Probate - Looking at probate indexes determines whether or not your ancestor has a record there.
  • Marriage - Many times marriage record indexes are online.  Always check the original record.
  • Land - Check indexes to determine if a record exists. The original records often mention spouses or other family members.
I knew from stories Ellis and his father, Archie McClure, shared with me about Columbus McClure owning land in Birmingham that there would be land records. I also knew that Columbus owned land and property when he died in 1930. Next, we had to determine where these records were kept in Jefferson County.

I went to FamilySearch Wiki to read the article on Jefferson County, Alabama Genealogy resources. I was interested in learning about how to access land records. I read the section on Land and Property, but it only gave information on researching land grants and first landowners. The time period I was researching was between 1890 and 1930. 

Using a special genealogy search engine which filters out non-genealogical results that I created through Google for Genealogy Just Ask, I searched for Jefferson County, Alabama land records. The search  brought up the Jefferson County Courthouse website. The probate and land departments can be accessed from the top of the website under the "Departments" link.

The Land and Development Department did not house land deeds from what I could tell online.  I checked to make sure probate records were kept at the courthouse. When I clicked on the probate court department, the following page came up with a direct link to land records. 

I clicked on Land Records where I discovered the LANDMARK WEB database of land records. Unfortunately, the database only contained recent land records. According to the website, land records are kept in the Probate Department. I confirmed marriage records would be there too by clicking on the "Archives" link at the top of the page. I would just wait until we arrived to learn about accessing older land records. 

I always teach people that you are not only researching people. You are researching record types that currently exist. After confirming that we where headed to the right place to find documentation on Ellis' ancestors, we were prepared in advance to have success.

Arriving at the courthouse

We parked in the lot across the street from the courthouse. The first hour of parking is one dollar, and every hour after that was four dollars. 

After entering the building, We had to go through security scanning. The gentleman in front of us had something on his key chain that they considered to be a weapon. He had to take it back to his car. We left everything in the car except our phones, money, our research objectives on paper, and pencils.

We asked where land records were kept as we passed through security. They directed us to the probate department on the same floor. The archives for probate records was beneath the probate office down two flights of stairs. They were busy behind a counter when we got there. 

We saw a closed door with a sign marked "Research Room." I could not tell if we needed to have permission to go in, so we got in line to ask.

I asked where we would go to research land records and about the research room. They asked what we were trying to do. I let them know that my husband's grandfather owned land and that we wanted to look at land deed indexes. 

One of the people behind the desk said, "Oh, you are doing genealogy? Do you know what you are looking for, because we do not help people with that?"  I assured her that all I needed was to know where the records were kept. 

She seemed relieved, and pointed to the research room door. There was a room down a short hallway that had microfilm readers and computers with no instructions as to what to do next. I was expecting to find index books. 

We decided to check the computers to see if there was a database for old land records. We saw the database LANDMARK WEB where you can access land records from the 1990's  that I mentioned above.  I minimized the screen to see if there were any more databases on the computer, and we found another database where you could search for land records back to the 1890's. This is a screenshot:

We had to play around a little with the search criteria. We decided to enter the last name first and no year just so we could see all instances of Columbus McClure for every year:

As far as we could ascertain, such a search brings up every instance of the occurrence of the name separated by year and first initial of last name. We started searching records between 1890's and 1930 for Columbus. To learn more about each record, put a check in the box before it. Then click on "Display Document." 

That brings up a range of records to scroll through. It took us about 20 minutes to find this record because the names of the individuals on a land record did not appear in the search results. We had to click on each result, but this led us to an indexed page with Columbus' name on it. He is second from the top of the list:

Next, we needed to ask where the originals were kept. We found out that there was an entrance from this research room to the office behind the probate office help desk where we could look through land records.

Ellis was able to search the deed books using the information from the index: Volume 128; page 501.  We discovered that Columbus originally mortgaged land in December of 1923 and property and paid it in full in September of 1929.        

Screenshot of record in Jefferson County, Alabama Courthouse Deed Book 128, page 501 (Probate Office)

The land record mentioned a few of the lots that Columbus purchased, and it gave the plat map book and page number:

We have more great finds to share which we will tell about in the next post. It was so wonderful to hear Ellis exclaim: "This is the best day of my life."  If you have never been to the courthouse to handle the records that document your ancestor, it is an experience that cannot be explained and definitely worth it. 

I will never forget my husband's face and his joy in making this discovery in the courthouse and in the other courthouse discoveries we will share in an upcoming post: