Thursday, September 15, 2011

Day 10 of the Seaver Family History Mystery Tour

We ate breakfast at Frank's Family Restaurant in Jefferson WI, then were off to Dodge County for exploration and research this morning.  We found Rolling Prairie in Dodge County easily (the intersection of County Rd I and Prospect Rd).  There was even a sign on a tavern announcing that it was Rolling Prairie, but the door was locked (it being 10 a.m.).  We took some pictures, and the owner came out wondering why we were around so early.  I explained, and asked if there were any oldtimers around who remembered the Smith Inn that was on the corner 30 years ago.  Nope... the southwest corner of the intersection had a relatively new house on it, so there were no vestiges left.  The northeast corner was also Ranslow Smith's land, and the Waldmeyer farm is now there. 

Then we were off to find the Burnett Corners Cemetery.  Find-a-Grave says that it is 1.7 miles west of County Road I on County Road B.  Not exactly... it is about 0.5 miles west of County Road I.  We almost whizzed past it.  Find-a-Grave has over 800 listings, and one of them is for the wife of R. Smith who died at age 60 in 1865.  That's my Mary Smith!  The photo on Find-a-Grave shows an in-ground stone with stone pieces nearby.  What are the chances I would be able to find it?  I reasoned that since it was 1865, there were few stones at that time, and it would be close to the entrance.  Sure enough, I essentially walked right to it while looking for in-ground stones.  I pulled some of the grass/sod/weeds around the stone so that I could see at least as much as is in the Find-a-Grave photo, and took my own photos.  I thanked  my third great-grandmother for raising such an interesting son, Devier J. Smith, and asked for her guidance to help me figure out who his birth parents were.

Back in the car, and Maggie (the GPS voice) guided us to the Beaver Dam (WI) Community Library, which was said to have Dodge County newspapers on microfilm with an index, plus more local resources.  We walked in, and I asked a young lady where the local history material was, and she showed me.  Then she asked if I was a genealogy blogger - it turns out her aunt has a Google Alert for "Beaver Dam" and saw my blog posts about the Smith family.  While Anita was telling me about their resources, a local newspaper reporter took some pictures, and asked me if I would permit them to be used in an article about local family history.  I said sure, gave her my name, and got to work in the newspaper indexes.  Anita said that the two major county history books were online, and she volunteered to email the links to me. 

The newspaper indexes spanned 1853 to the present, but included only births, deaths, marriages, probate and anniversary stories.  Unfortunately, there were no listings for my particular Smith or Vaux families.  Next was the cemetery books - they have a book for transcriptions (done back in the 1970s) of cemeteries in each town in the County - a whole shelf of books well organized with typed pages.  I found Mrs. smith and Walter Vaux in the Burnett town book.  There were plat map books (1859, 1873, etc.) and farm books (up to recent times) with nice maps of each town and the farm outlines with names.  There were several other sets of records also, but mostly for the 20th century.  This was an excellent local history collection with a lot of volunteer work to index and organize the material. 

I met Linda for lunch at a tavern in downtown Beaver Dam, and used the wait time to list the newspaper entries that I wanted to obtain using the Old World Wisconsin manuscript that I have.  I copied a few of the  pages that mentioned Ranslow Smith's Inn or house, but was unable to find about half of them.  The Dodge County Citizen newspaper in the 1855-1870 time frame was a weekly with four pages crammed with national news, local news, government information and advertisements in small type over 7 columns.  It is impossible (for me, at least) to scan these pages easily...lots of scrolling up and sideways using the keys on the microfilm reader.  I checked the dates for the marriage of Devier Smith and Abigail Vaux (4 April 1861), Mary Smith's death on 12 May 1865, the births of the children of Devier and Abby between 1862 and 1868, and the time of Devier J. Smith's official name change in March 1866, with no luck.  There were not routine listings of births, marriages or deaths.  I had more luck with the two obituaries of the brothers of Ranslow Smith in 1876 and 1889 - in that time period, there were long lists of births, marriages, deaths, travel news, etc.  So the newspapers were not as revealing as I had I go onward to Plan C.

Anita told me that the Dodge County Historical Society had lots of old photographs, so we left at 3:15 p.m. to go there.  They close at 4, and Kurt Sampson, the archivist there, was closing up early.  I explained what I was after - a 1930 photograph of Ranslow Smith's Four-Mile Inn in Rolling Prairie, and we quickly found it in the photo files (which are separated by town in Dodge County).  He scanned it for me, gave me a print, and will send a digital copy by email tomorrow.  That was FREE (thank you, Kurt!) and was the "Catch of the Day" - no doubt!  I wish that I'd had more time there to inquire about vertical files and oldtimers stories, etc. 

We headed off to Madison and are safely ensconced in a Super 8 for the next two nights.  We ate at Cracker Barrel again, which is now off our "like" list because their salads are crummy.  All Linda could eat on the menu was Meat Loaf (yuck she says) and salads due to her allergies.  She's really struggled to find good meals on the trip. 

Friday is the visit to the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison in search of Devier's name change information, plus newspaper information for Linda's Leland/Natvig families in Dane County.  If we have time, we may visit a Norwegian Heritage Museum too. 


Nancy said...

I'm enjoying your blog about your Wisconsin Seaver Family History Mystery Tour. I hope to gleam some information to help me in my research in Dane, Jefferson, and Rock County Wisconsin when I go back to Wisconsin next year. Good luck in your research.

Lisa S. Gorrell said...

I feel your frustration on the research in Beaver Dam. There never seems to be enough time to find what you want. I took a similar trip to Montana (Anaconda, Butte, & Hamilton) when my children were young. I'd wished I had spent more time.