Category Archives: History

Aerial America Re: U.S. State Histories

by Susie Hillison

I  came across a program while enjoying my morning cup of “joe” this morning (Sunday, 10:30), that was new to me.  It was on  the Smithsonian Channel which I’ve since learned, features a wide array of programming covering science, nature, culture, history, air and spacecraft, and documentaries. They create everything from long-running series to one-off, in depth specials.  This one happened to be  Aerial America, which showcases each of the 50 states from the air, with special episodes devoted to small towns, the wilderness, etc. and narrated by Jim Conrad.  It caught my interest because this one was  on West Virginia.  My father’s paternal and maternal heritage is from there, back to 1700’s when it was still part of Virginia.  I found it  very interesting and informative.  I learned that the capital was initially located in Wheeling and how the change to surface coal mining is beneficial for the health of the coal miners but not without a cost to our environment.  We are loosing our Mountains and valleys from it.  When reading some of the Darlington papers, I’ve seen mention of  a Lafayette Co., WI resident (Knight) visiting in West Virginia.  Something for me to further investigate, since I have distant Knights thru my Stockwell line.

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Black Hawk War / Find A Grave

If you are interested in the Black Hawk War you will want to add this to your calendar to hear author and teacher of history, Patrick Jung. If you would like him to sign a book you will need to purchase it in advance and bring with you. The book titles have links to Amazon.

Patrick Jung, author of two books on the Black Hawk War, will be featured at the October 3 meeting of the Green County Genealogical Society speaking on the Black Hawk War in our area and resources for researching ancestors that were in the militia. Patrick Jung has written two books on the Black Hawk War: The Black Hawk War of 1832 (Campaigns and Commanders) and The Battle of Wisconsin Heights, 1832: Thunder on the Wisconsin. He will bring samples of his books for us to see, but won’t have any to purchase. They can be purchased online at Amazon or Ebay. He will be glad to sign any books  brought to the meeting.

The Green County Genealogical Society meeting will be held in the second floor meeting room of the Monroe Public Library at 10 am. Saturday, October 3. Visitors are always welcome and there is no cost to attend. The society is also holding free weekly workshops on various genealogical topics Thursdays through October at 10:00 a.m. in their Research Center in lower level of the library. You may call Sharon (815-868-2416) or Donna (608-921-1537) if you have questions.

FIND A GRAVE

Sunday, September 27, 2015 at the Lafayette County Historical Museum 1:30 pm.
Come to discover how Bill Holland became an accidental genealogy buff.  Learn about the morbid sounding site named Find A Grave, which lists almost all cemeteries in the United State, let alone the world, and lists almost all interments, and their family members, in those cemeteries.  This free site holds a plethora of genealogical information, and provides the beginning genealogist with an interesting and informative starting point for their family discovery journey.

Connecting to the “Old Country”

I’ve reached the place in my genealogy that I’m attempting to connect my ancestors to their roots in Europe. Only I’ve discovered it’s not so easy and even rather daunting to do European research. As I begin to dig into the “old country” here are some free websites that may be helpful in your search for the ancestors “across the pond”.

ASK ABOUT IRELAND <www.askaboutireland.ie>

This site has a free version of Griffith’s Primary Valuation, a key resource for 19th-century Irish research. It includes as explanation of how to interpret the valuation. Also you will find free e-books, online services for libraries, Irish history and cultural info.

FREEBMD <freebmd.org.uk>

The aim of FreeBMD is to transcribe the Civil Registration index of births, marriages and deaths for England and Wales. They’ve posted more than 248 million records created between 1837 and 1983.

GENEANET <en.geneanet.org/first-step/search-your-french-ancestors>

The GeneaNet genealogy database contains 2 billion individuals, 600,000 family trees, 6 million digitized records, 500,000 old books, 3 million old newspapers, and much more.

GERMAN GENEALOGY HOME PAGE <daddezio.com/germgen.html>

Since 1998, this site has provided German genealogy how-to along with data on surname studies, passenger lists, military records, vital records and more.

NATIONAL GERMAN MILITARY GRAVE REGISTRATION SERVICE <www.volksbund.de/en/volksbund.html>

Search for the names of more than 2 million German soldiers dead or missing from world wars I and II.

REGISTER OF SWISS SURNAMES <www.hls-dhs-dss.ch/famn/?lg=e>

This database covers all the families holding citizenship in a Swiss community as of 1962.

WIE WAS WIE <www.wiewaswie.nl/en/home>

The records include church registers and user-submitted family trees. This is the go-to source for finding ancestors in the Netherlands.

ACCESS TO RUSSIAN ARCHIVES <online.eastview.com/projects/ticfia>

This is an online database containing descriptions of approximately 80,000 archival fonds (record groups) from more than 20 guidebooks on Russian federal archives and 40 regional archives published from 1987 to 2004. It provides the most comprehensive access to the holdings of the entire Russian archive system in one place, with English transliteration.

AVOTAYNU < http://www.avotaynu.com/csi/csi-home.htm>

Consolidated Jewish Surname Index is your gateway to information about 699,084 surnames, mostly Jewish, that appear in 42 different databases. These databases combined contain more than 7.3 million records.

JEWISHGEN <www.jewishgen.org>

This easy-to-use genealogy website features thousands of databases, research tools, and other resources to help those with Jewish ancestry research and find family members.

This is just a start….a jumping off point. Take a dive and see what you can find about your ancestors from the “old country”. Share some of your favorite sites and success stories in the comments. Next time I will share more free sites for finding your European ancestors.


Fryxell, David A. “Catch the Wave.” Family Tree Magazine May/June 2014: 54-59. Print.

Fold3 – Free Revolutionary War Collection

Military records site Fold3 is offering free access to its Revolutionary War Collection free through July 15. Records include:

  • Revolutionary War Pensions
  • Revolutionary War Service Records
  • Revolutionary War Rolls
  • Final Payment Index for Military Pensions, 1818-1864

More information on the free offer is available at the Fold3 blog.

For more links to Revolutionary War websites check out this Family Tree Magazine article which has a list of helpful websites.

Happy 4th of July!! Celebrate safely!

Berry Tavern

Cory Ritterbusch from Friends of Berry Tavern

Cory Ritterbusch at the Lafayette County Genealogical Society

On Sunday Cory Ritterbusch of the Friends of Berry Tavern gave a presentation on the history of Berry Tavern and how they were able preserve this historic landmark (and are in the process of preserving) to the Lafayette County Genealogical Society meeting. We enjoyed the interaction with Cory and hearing his story on how he discovered the Berry Tavern and the history they have uncovered.

The Berry Tavern is one of the earliest taverns or inns in the state and is the last remnant of the once thriving lead mining community of Gratiot’s Grove. In the summer of 1827 Fortunatus Berry moved his family from Springfield, Illinois to the Gratiot’s Grove settlement. In 1829 he opened a log roadhouse taking in travelers, offering salt pork, straw pillow, hard cider and corn whiskey. When the Chicago to Galena stage line extended service to Gratiot’s Grove about 1839, Berry built a new wood frame hotel. This is the building that stands today.

Cory shared with us the story of the murder at the “Birth-Night Ball”. In 1842 a young tough man from Kentucky, drunk and upset that he was not invited upstairs to the ball to dance with the young bachelor women of the community, began brandishing a knife. He was taken outside by a cousin of the host to try to calm him down and when threatened he pulled his pistol and shot the man through the heart. He escaped, but was captured, tried and condemned to death. He was hanged before a crowd of five thousand at Mineral Point.

Root cellar at Berry Tavern

Root Cellar where cholera victim’s bodies stored.

A decade later in 1854, the cholera epidemic came to the Berry Tavern, now called the Lamar Hotel. While Mr. Lamar was away cholera killed eleven guests and family members within days. When the doctor and coffin builder came to the tavern they also died. Six additional travelers and stage drivers died following stops at the hotel. A stage coach came through and seeing bodies in front of the tavern kept on going. The tavern was quarantined until the danger passed. The bodies were wrapped in gunny sacks and stacked in the still-standing stone root cellar awaiting burial. On the property today is a cholera victims cemetery.

With the passing of the rail lines and the closing of the lead mines, the Berry Tavern became a farmhouse. It retains its original white oak beams, pine floors and stone walls. In 1914 a monument was placed there by the Daughters of the American Revolution to honor its place in history.

Restoration work at Berry Tavern

Restoration work at Berry Tavern

Bill Breihan, of Milwaukee, who is a distant relative of Fortunatus Berry, began the journey that led to the revitalization of interest in Berry Tavern when he inherited his family’s historical papers from his mother about 25 years ago. About 15 years ago he started looking to find out if the building was still there and at that time the house was occupied by renters. Breihan met Cory Ritterbusch and Chris Price, who were also interested in the local history of Berry Tavern. In 2011 the house was abandoned and they inquired about buying the house. The house was purchased and The Friends of Berry Tavern were established in 2013 to preserve this historical treasure for future generations. Their long term goal is to restore the tavern and open it to the public so they can learn about the history of the building and Gratiot’s Grove. You can follow the Friends of Berry Tavern on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BerryTavern.

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks

In December I encouraged you to pass your stories on so your children and grandchildren will know your stories and the stories of their ancestors. For Christmas this year I created a “Grandpa Book” for all the grandchildren. I gathered together several pictures from my husband’s childhood which included pictures of his grandparents and great grandparents. The book was a pictorial history of his life and ended with a page of all the grandkids pictures. What surprised us was the response of the parents (our kids). The grandkids thought it was fun, but their parents felt like they had been given a treasure – pieces of their dad’s life they never knew about. They laughed and they cried over the book.

Continue reading

Pass on the Stories

Often in our genealogy we focus on finding all the names and dates in our family tree but when it comes to passing the genealogy spirit to our children or grandchildren it’s the stories that count.

Recently my 15 year old granddaughter was staying with us. Along with her brother and sister they have always been home schooled. I always like to find out what projects they are involved with so I asked her what subjects she was studying this year. With a less than enthusiastic attitude she said she was studying American History. Let’s be honest and think back to our school days….names and dates get pretty boring and at 15 seem quite irrelevant. So I started telling her stories of her ancestors from the Revolutionary war and the Civil war. Continue reading