Read All About It: The Stark County Genealogical Society

By: Jeffrey Kiley - Advantage Archives
The Stark County Genealogical Society’s Community History Archive features The Stark County News (from 1857-1984 and from 2002-2009) the Stark County Union published in 1882, and The Prairie Times published in LaFayette, Illinois, from 1987-2000.

The  Stark County Genealogical Society collects, organizes and disseminates genealogical information related to current and former citizens of Stark County.  Don Schmidt has served 15 years as the Vice President of SCGS, an organization founded in 1992.  Don is a retired research scientist who is intensely interested in the history and genealogy of Stark County.  He searches old newspapers for obituaries, family histories, sporting events, stories on family reunions, announcements of marriages and published histories of the communities, churches, schools, cemeteries, businesses, social clubs, and other institutions in Stark County.

Weekly newspapers from small town America are gold mines of local history.  The social sections were the “Facebook” of the times.  Community correspondents documented who in town visited whom, who came to visit from out of town, who played cards or bowled, who hosted Thanksgiving dinner, who attended family reunions.

~Don Schmidt, Vice President of SCGS

Don Schmidt of SCGS selected Advantage to digitize the Toulon newspapers.  He based his decision on the recommendation of the head librarian for the Galva, Illinois, Public Library.  She was pleased with the job that Advantage had done to digitize and post online the Galva newspaper.

SCGS selected Advantage Archives to digitize old Toulon weekly newspapers and now these newspapers are available with free online access through the Toulon Public Library’s  Community History Archive .  The content is made up of 61,740 pages of The Stark County News (from 1857-1984 and from 2002-2009) and 70 pages of Stark County Union published in 1882.  In addition, the website contains 5,897 pages of The Prairie Times published in LaFayette, Illinois, from 1987 to 2000.

After using the Toulon Community History Archive , Don has recommended Advantage Archives to the Bradford, Illinois, Public Library for Bradford newspapers and to the Henry County Genealogical Society for Kewanee, Illinois, newspapers.

The Stark County Genealogical Society (SCGS) is located in Toulon, which lies in West Central Illinois. SCGS and Advantage Archives have partnered with the Toulon Public Library District to provide Stark County citizens and genealogists researching Stark County ancestors with a way to connect with their history via a Community History Archive.

One bonus is that these newspapers recorded obituaries and death notices of relatives of Stark County citizens who had moved away. This constitutes a very significant genealogical resource. The family may not have known where the relatives had moved to or when they died. Often these relatives passed away in large cities whose newspapers published only the obituaries of prominent citizens.

Stark County is an agricultural community with four villages––Wyoming (1400 people), Toulon, (1300), Bradford (800) and LaFayette (200). It is one of the smallest counties geographically in Illinois. Its peak population was approximately 11,000 from 1880 to 1920. Its current population is 5500 people. Toulon is the county seat.

In 2013, the Stark County Genealogical Society started a fund-raising campaign to raise $8000 for digitization of Toulon/LaFayette newspapers. The microfilm rolls of these papers were kept at the microfilm reader-printer in Toulon Public Library. Don chaired the fund-raising effort. Solicitation letters were sent to a recently upgraded SCGS mailing list. Also, ads were placed in the local newspaper asking for donations. Patrons were asked to buy the digitization of one microfilm roll, which was $90 at the time. The $8000 was collected within six weeks, with 85% of the donations being $90 or more. Most of the donations came from the solicitation letters.

Having these old newspapers online has been a real boon to genealogical and historical research. The Toulon newspapers in the Community History Archive are most commonly used to look up genealogy information. Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, and it only continues to grow.

Genealogy researchers often search for obituaries in historical newspapers.  These are sources of valuable information such as date of birth, names of parents, name(s) of spouse, marriage date, names of children, death date and cemetery of burial.  Advantage Archives Community History Archives search engine makes the search for obituaries as convenient as possible.  Don described the most recent upgrades to the archive “genius, delightful.”

Advantage continues roll out updates as they become available. Some updates are visually obvious to the user, such as the recent addition of a query builder to make complex searches more intuitive, but many are “under the hood”.

We direct the majority of our resources towards making the content more discoverable. Creating easy and practical access to the history contained in the archive takes precedence over everything else.  ~Jeffrey Kiley, Advantage Archives

The search engine for the newspapers have been improved by Advantage in several stages. Don reports that he saw a tangible improvement with each upgrade. That is, the change made searches easier and more proficient. A lot of platform upgrades in the digital world seem to focus on making the program able to do more things, be more flexible, rather than to improve, to make more user-friendly, its basic functions for its current users.

Explore The Toulon Community History Archive

The Community History Archives are designed to be powerful, but not intimidating. It needs to be friendly, intuitive, and easy to learn. Advantage has focused on making it as simple as possible, so that everyone…from students to grandparents (and everyone in between) can browse, search, view, clip and share articles, headlines, pages, and stories recorded in the pages of the community newspaper. Just type a search and hit “enter” or browse to a specific year, month, day or page in any (or all) publications contained in the archive.

The platform is intended to serve as a “portal to the past”, allowing those primary source documents to give an accounting of history as told by the individuals that witnessed it. The pages in an archive, when stitched together, tell the story of the people, places, and events that shaped the community.

The guiding question at Advantage has always been “what can we do to provide users the tools they need, to discover the content they are looking for”. That means making the platform simple and efficient for the majority of users, without sacrificing the tools and performance required by serious researchers.  We are always looking for new ways to return more results, faster, and on the first try.  ~Michelle Maltas, Advantage Archives

Don shared how he searches for obituaries in Toulon Public Library CHA (1859-2015).

Case History: Peter Grubb, death date unknown. (He searches for “Grubb” for all the years, even if he knows the exact date of death of Peter Grubb.)

Potential hits are shown up to 10 per page. The paragraph (half dozen lines) extracted from each potential hit is clearly displayed with the date and page number of the issue clearly marked. The search word, in this case “Grubb,” is not the first word listed in the first line of the paragraph.  Thus, one can see immediately if the “Grubb hit” pertains to Peter Grubb.  This is really helpful.

Wyoming, Ill., Public Library selected a different company to digitize and post the Wyoming, Ill., newspapers.  The first lines in its hits are “…Grubb.”  One has to open each potential hit to see if the hit pertains to Peter Grubb.

The results page offers several refinements, and quick visualization of the results.

In the left hand navigation, you can see that there are 464 hits for Grub in the Stark County News, and 22 more in the Prairie Times. Don points out that the “Grubb hits” are sorted by decade, and the decades are sorted by year. Years are sorted by month.

Months are sorted by day, using monthly calendars. (The monthly calendars are really helpful). The date(s) of the issue(s) with the hit is highlighted on the monthly calendar (see above example).

A click on STARK COUNTY NEWS above the sought-after issue goes directly to the proper page in the issue.

The banner at the top of the opened page gives the page number, name of newspaper, day of the week and date of issue.  This makes for easy and convenient documentation of the location of the obituary.  This is really helpful.

The page on which the obituary occurs can be downloaded as a pdf document.  This allows the text of the obituary to be copied and pasted into a word processor file for editing into a transcription of the obituary.

A good black and white copy of the clipping can be snipped from the pdf file, using the Microsoft Snipping Tool.  The clipping can be pasted into the obituary document to back up the transcribed version.  Organizations that are sticklers for genealogy source verification, such as DAR, would want to see the clipping.

Surname searches also lead to articles on weddings, anniversaries, family reunions, troubles with the law, individual achievements.  During these searches, one often finds on the same page as a sought-after obituary an interesting story, a funny anecdote, or a fascinating short article detailing living conditions at the time.  One can also find an “orphan obituary,” an obituary for someone who died and is buried in the county but has no surviving gravestone or no registered Illinois death record.  These unexpected jewels can be easily documented and published in an SCGS publication, in the current local newspaper, or on a genealogical website such as www.findagrave.com.

Here is an example of an accidentally discovered anecdote:

At Advantage, we have embraced the idea that preserving history is a shared responsibility. We partner with local community publishers, libraries, and other like-minded individuals to make local content more accessible, now and in the future.

SCGS is considering adding other important sources of Stark County family history into the Toulon Community History Archive.  There are about 20 years of bound volumes of The Stark County Sentinel in storage at the Stark County Historical Society.  This newspaper was a competitor of The Stark County News.  The Sentinel’s editor was a writer and poet.  His articles provide a different perspective on historical and genealogical topics.

Other examples to add to the Archive would be an 1873 plat atlas of Stark County with a color map of each of the eight townships; a 1907 plat atlas, with photographs of family homes and farmsteads; a 1900 Directory of all of Stark County; and a 1917 agricultural directory of the county.

We believe strongly in building long lasting partnerships, which is why we enter into them with the intent of shouldering our fair share and taking the burden off of the community for the ongoing costs associated with storage, hosting, development, and maintenance of the Community’s History Archive. We are an active participant in the community’s efforts to make their collective history more accessible.

Advantage partners with communities just like Stark County across the United States. We work together to archive & provide practical digital access to local historical content in print, that would otherwise be lost to the erosion of time. If you would like to see more local history online, please contact your local library, newspaper publisher, genealogical society, historical society, or educational institution, and encourage them to learn more about creating a Community History Archive or have them contact us at (855) 303-2727.

Connect Your Community To Its History! Explore A Partnership With Advantage & Discover “History As it Happened “. Use the form below to connect with us, and let’s discuss way’s we can ensure your local history is easily accessible!