During the course of your research, you’ll have a nagging feeling of neglect for a certain person or family group. Maybe you were satisfied with your research and wondered off to more pressing projects. Perhaps you hit a brick wall and left to pursue other projects out of frustration. Or just maybe you were lured away by all those lovely Irish Parish Records which were just released for free online through the National Library of Ireland. Lovely stuff, parish records.
I’ve just returned from a research trip in Northern Georgia, where I was lured to several cemeteries, libraries, and archives in search for records for my mother’s application for the Daughters of the American Revolution. I think I have sources for nearly all the records I need now, apart from a few pesky marriage records. (Why can’t I find a marriage for these people? Geeze!) After spending so much time researching the maternal line of my family, my post research trip priorities began to shift to my father’s homesteading ancestors.
The nagging feeling for switching gears in my research began with guilt. Guilt that I’d been visiting with one side of the family more than the other. Without a 1890 census for reference, I had to look at an 1885 Nebraska State Census and the 1900 US Federal Census. Here are Frank and Anna Dudek with their children Agnes, Jennie, Frederick, Frank, and Albert as well as Anna’s mother Anna Kucera. Heaven bless the 1900 Federal Census enumerator Andrew J. Ruddy, as he included a date of birth for all family members during his visit to the household on June 27, 1900.
From the the original homestead record signed by President Garfield, I used Historic Map Works to overlay a 1899 plat map to the present day Google Earth map. The 160 acre Dudek farm has been swallowed up by a larger farm, so the sod cabin, barns, and outbuilding are completely gone.
My new mission has been trying to piece together the lives of my ancestors on a former homestead property. I have a few snippets of information from the original homestead document, a signed affidavit of property ownership (for legal or identity purposes), those gorgeous maps on Historic Map Works, family stories, and a treasured photograph of Frank Dudek with his work horses. My parents have Frank and Anna’s original bedroom suit, which they brought with them from Cleveland to Nebraska in 1883. In a quick browse through the family library, I located at least three books which had been purchased for the Dudek children for their homestead adventure from 1883-1903 such as The Secret Garden, Black Beauty, and Rip Van Winkle. Due to the ages of the children, it is a possibility the older girls received The Secret Garden and Black Beauty well before their younger brother scrawled his name ‘Bertie Dudek’ in each one of the books.
I watched all the episodes of the PBS series Frontier House in one night, and gleaned some ideas of what daily life was like on an 1882 farm. The skills and tasks of traditional and modern farm life is available on The Prairie Homestead, which is a fantastic a wonderful resource! The cheese making and natural insect repellent recipes are on my to-do list this week. The Smithsonian Institute hosts a kid-friendly Life in a Sod House page with free downloadable worksheets and activities. Simple, yes. Entertaining? Absolutely! I wished I had access to these worksheets when I was growing up!
One of my last tasks in this mission to bring the past back to life was through the family dinner table. What were some of the dishes they would have served or ate? Frank and Anna Dudek were married in February 1882, and Anna may have received a cookbook as a wedding present or as a farewell gift before heading to their Nebraska farm in June 1883. Staying true to the time period, I found a copy of Common Sense in the Household: A Manual of Practical Housewifery by Marion Harland and found an array of simple dishes, soups, and a hefty amount of household advice. This recipe for Turkey Scallop sounds easy and rather interesting:
I have a few alternative resource strategies to learn more about the Dudek family and their time in Nebraska. I found a great downloadable resource from the Nebraska State Historical Society called A Place in History: Researching Your Nebraska Property. It’s definitely a must-read for anyone researching Nebraska land records.
For anyone who’s interested in seeing a map overlay of your ancestor’s property, you will definitely want to register for a free Historic Map Works account, which includes a lot of the major services of the site at no charge. Some of the premium resources can be purchased by subscription or on a pay-as-you-go format. An annual subscription will set you back about $130, but check your local library or archive to see if they subscribe to the service. Keep your fingers crossed, as Historic Map Works may be provided on this year’s Try-It! Illinois Database Trial in October and November 2015. This trial will allow you to access Historic Map Works, Ancestry Library Edition, the Digital Sandborne Maps, Online Newspapers, and other amazing resources for free for the whole two month run of the trial. I’ll have an update about Try-It! Illinois in early October.
So now, I have a new purpose for researching homesteading ancestors. There are still a few questions I have regarding the land records, but now I have a new excuse to raid the family book shelves, write to extended cousins, and contact the Boone County Historical Society in Nebraska. I can’t wait to get started!
The next Fountaindale Public Library Genealogy Club meeting will be on Wednesday, September 9 at 7 p.m. when Jennifer Holik will present The Day that Lived in Infamy: Researching Your World War II Ancestors. Jennifer has published a two volume set of books on the subject which are available for purchase on Amazon. She will also have copies of her books for sale on the day of the program.
Also in September, the Fox Valley Genealogical Society will host George G Morgan at their 22nd Annual Conference on Saturday, September 26. Mr. Morgan will give four one-hour lecture topics on Locating and Accessing Published Genealogies Online, Five Reason the Records Aren’t In the Courthouse, Alternate Records You May Never Have Considered, and Sidestep Genealogy. Tickets are available online or by mail, and you will definitely not want to miss it!
See You at the Library!