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Town's 150th Anniversary

From: Linda McCann
Hi, I really like your newsletters. Keep up the good work!! I have a couple of questions from this foggy morning in Iowa. [Feb 2005] My town is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year and Iím working with the committee gathering info. My ancestors were one of the founders of the town. Iíd like to find out what the population was during certain years, for example, when the founder died in 1892. Where would I look for that info?

Also, Iíd like to find what the weather was at certain times. Iíve gone to old newspapers and looked up certain dates, but they donít always have the weather. Does anyone know of a place where you could enter the location and date and it would give you some weather info? Does anyone know what a cemetery walk is and what info is included in each personís bio?

I've got some ideas to get you started:

1. COUNTY HISTORIES created in the 1890-1920 time period are found at local libraries, universities and state archives throughout the country.

2. OLD CITY DIRECTORIES often chronicle the founding institutions, schools and churches in addition to listing the individual, his occupation and residence. These predate the telephone. These are found in dusty corners of the courthouse, at the public library or historical society. I've also seen them at state libraries.

3. THE TOWN HISTORIAN, COUNTY HISTORICAL SOCIETY & COUNTY LIBRARY may have preserved items for display. This is also a source for the information you seek. They will have a copy of the county history which may have been done around the turn of the previous century. Check with the local reference librarian who might have a vertical file of notes and newspapers taken years ago.

4. US CENSUS BUREAU - The federal government took enumerations every ten years from 1790 through the present, with those records from 1790-1930 available on the internet. I would be interesting to incorporate scanned images of the census page showing the founding fathers as a backdrop to their portraits, and other artifacts from the period. Find these online in membership-only services such as and I view the latter through membership in the Godfrey Memorial Library

5. WEATHER - Contact the local weather bureau for statistical information on your area. They can guide you to on and offline resources. See also:

6. CEMETERY WALKS are a fun way to bring history alive, (pardon the pun.) Plan your route in advance, and determine which deceased 5-6 townsfolk with interesting personal histories and 2-3 other colorful character characters you plan to highlight during the walk.

If you were to dress in a period costume (say the 1890s) and meet at the gates of the cemetery, the mood would be set. Give each participant a flashlight in case it gets dark before sunset. Before you enter the cemetery give a little talk about the founding of the town.

This might include:

  • "Welcome to the 1st annual cemetery walk, in honor of the 150th anniversary of the founding of ________."
  • Describe your clothing, and place yourself in historical context. "I am dressed as my ancestress _________ would have appeared in 1892. Her great grandfather was _________, one of the founding fathers of this town. We will be visiting his grave before the night is over."
  • State "Tonight we'll be going back in time to learn more of the history of this town, and its early citizens. The terrain of the cemetery is understandably irregular and might prove challenging for anyone with difficulty walking. In this case, I recommend remaining at the gate where ____________ another cemetery walk docent will stand by to share the same town legends I'll discuss during tonight's tour. While the cemetery isn't known to be haunted, members of our local fire department are on standby nearby should any of this evening's participants experience a fainting spell." 
  • Foreshadow unusual characters "We'll be visiting the grave of two maiden aunts who ran the moonshine operation."

Then as you are walking to the first grave tell things like:

  • what the town produced (grain for whiskey distilleries in ______, or apples, except for the year 1888 when the worst freeze in recorded history nipped the blossoms in the bud.)
  • mention that folks were largely (Scots-Irish, Lithuanian, of Germanic descent or __________)

Spend 2 minutes or so at the first grave explaining who-what-where and then move on to the other graves you wish to spotlight. It isn't so much the graves, but the individuals and the development of your town.

If any of the gravestones have unusual markings, you might look into the meaning of them and incorporate this into your presentation.

Other things to weave into the evening's cemetery walk:

  • old sayings (Don't go north of the river after dark.)
  • telling about national current events at the time of founding (IE - the Civil War had ended, or the light bulb had just been invented, etc.)
  • describe typical housing (clapboard, log cabins)
  • distances (25 miles to the local courthouse for marriages)
  • mode of transportation (People got here by riverboat, trains pulled by steam locomotives, covered wagon.)
  • mention other town history highlights (The first grain mill in the county in the 19th century, or Jesse James passed through and holed up in the mountains west of town. Maybe you can add a story such as: the Citizen's Bank vault was robbed of its contents in 1855. Unfortunately the thief didn't know that a recent transfer of funds left only $20 in gold pieces for him to take.

Gosh, I don't live in your town, but I would love to hear what you end up talking about during the walk. It would be great to advertise that the cemetery walk will take place again next October 31st, and annually thereafter.

Happy family tree climbing!
Myrt :)
6023 26th Street West PMB 352
Bradenton, FL 34207 

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