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Sunday, October 21, 2012

Illinois State Genealogical Society Conference - Rockford, Illinois

This past Friday and Saturday, I spent my time in good ol' Rockford, Illinois.  The ISGS hosted their Fall conference at the Clock Tower Best Western Center.  The speakers were great....meaning  John P. Coletta and others.  So much to see, much more to learn.

I have written previously about how important it is to attend these conferences.  Large or small, one day or four days, there is always something that you take away from these gatherings of professionals involved in preserving history and family stories.

In addition, the vendors and organizations that participate by showing their wares and sharing their knowledge are just great.  The Genealogical Society of Winnebago and Boone Counties co-hosted this event.  Their display table featured so many of the wonderful programs and projects that they had completed.  Cemetery transcriptions, vital records abstracts, mapping projects and newsletter publications are just a hint of the holdings of such a society that can be so useful to the family historian.  Likewise, the Illinois State Genealogical Society had an impressive display of their projects, and provided an opportunity for every visitor to donate to the funds used for the digitization of the War of 1812 records.  Fold3 and the Federation of Genealogical Societies are involved in a matching fund program for this most important venture.  Won't it be  wonderful for everyone to view the military records of ancestors living during that time period.

I was fortunate to win a nice book in the door prize event, a publication by the Kane County Genealogical Society.  I will be sure to donate it to my local historical society's research library.  The was a White Elephant table that was showered with publications from historical and genealogical societies throughout the state.  I picked up a few that I thought would be of interest to me.  I can always put them back on the next White Elephant table after I am finished with it.  I am sure that someone else would be able to use the valuable information that can be found in these magazines and articles.

Before I left Rockford, I stopped in to visit the main Rockford Library in the city, next to the river. What a nice facility.  The third floor housed the local history collections.  I entered the impressive archive room and asked to see some high school yearbooks from the 1940s.  I was asked by someone who found my name on the Generous Genealogists listing to help them find a photo of their relative who just might have attended high school in Rockford.  Sure enough, I found the senior photo.  Wonderful.  I quickly made two copies of the page and another copy of the title page of the yearbook.  This kind of thing makes me feel so good, just being able to help out someone who is in need of my help, and they can't be on site to get it for themselves.  I took advantage of this type of services many years ago, and was immensely  grateful for the help that I received.  It feels good to pay it forward.

Just to repeat myself, be sure to take a trip to a conference.  Nearby or far away, you will never regret it.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

Another FUN Genealogical Society event

On Saturday, I attended the Chicago Genealogical Society's "Dark Alleys of Chicago Family History" tour.  What a fun time.  Craig, the group leader on this trip, wanted everyone to focus on the relatives in our family trees who "did not behave themselves".

He lead us on a bus tour of very interesting, historically significant city locations that were associated with some the darker sides of the Chicago landscape.  Remember Richard Speck, the creepy guy that murdered/raped seven nurses on the south side in the 60's?  He was finally arrested at the apartment complex at 617 Madison Street, now called the Presidential Towers, in 1966.

We stopped at the site of the famous Haymarket Massacre in 1886, and stood on the very same brick paved alley where the event occurred.

We passed by the home of former Chicago Mayor, Carter Harrison, at 314 South Ashland, where he was assassinated in 1893.  After that, the site of the Black Panther Raid of 1969 was on tap.

The next stop was one of sorrow, as we approached the neighborhood of the terrible school fire at Our Lady of the Angels, which took the lives of many children and nuns in 1958.  There was a funeral in progress at the church, now a mission, so we could not get off the bus at this point.
Other points of interest that we visited included : the Biograph Theatre, where John Dillinger was gunned down; The site of  the St. Valentine's Day Massacre where the Capone gang takes care of the Dion O'Banion/Bugs Moran gang.  Later the conversation turned to Emma Goldman, the Free Love Anarchist from Russian descent.  Passing by the area of Lottie's Pub and Margie's Candy and Ice Cream shop enlivened the group, although we could not stop in  due to time constraints.  Various areas were of significance since they were sites of Hollywood movie shoots.

Stopped at the Newberry Library right in front of Washington Park, where John Wayne Gacy used to pick up some of his young victims.  Nice guy.  That is where we sat and had lunch...a nice Panera Bread menu of sandwiches, chips, cookies and drinks.

After dining, we continued on our tour, going on to the south side sites, passing by the areas of the Holy Name Cathedral, Iraquois Theatre ( where the horrible fire took so many lives in 1903 ), the Maxwell Street area, and past the Prairie Avenue area where those with fat wallets lived in the time of the Marshall Field family.  And, some of those homes are still there, standing tall and fine.

On Wabash Street, we stopped at the now empty lot where the Four Deuces Club, otherwise known as the headquarters of Al Capone, was located.  And we discussed the notorious "Baseball Bat dinner" where Capone swiftly beat the heads of two of his dinner guests who were less than faithful to their boss.  That incident happened at Michigan and Cermak.  I had to tell my short tale of passed relatives who lost their lives trying to hone in on some of Capone's business.  It did not turn out so well for them, but they had one of the finest funerals in the St. Louis area in 1927.

We tried to enter the gated area of the Stephen Douglas tomb, however, it was locked and guarded by a dog who was more interested in getting petted than biting.  The area of Camp Douglas is now housing and buildings of the first university of the area, as requested by Mr. Douglas, himself.  Incidentally, the Confederate soldiers who passed away while incarcerated at Camp Douglas are buried in Oak Woods Cemetery.

Driving further on the south side we came upon the Chicago Union Stock Yards where a few race riots have occurred over the years, namely 1919-1920.  There is a very nice memorial there for the members of the Chicago Fire Department who have passed in the line of duty.  We were unable to visit the home of Bobby Franks at 5052 South Ellis, the site of the Leopold-Loeb murder of Bobby.  It was getting late, almost 4 p.m. by now, so we headed back to the Ogilivie Transportation Center where we began our tour at 9:30 a.m. that morning.

It was a very long day, but I learned so much and really enjoyed being a passenger on a nice, posh bus, being escorted around a town so rich with history.

Recommended reads as a followup for this trip:  Return to the Scene of the Crime (Cumberland House, Nashville, Tenn. 1999), and Return Again to the Scene of the Crime (Cumberland House, Nashville, Tenn. 2001), in addition to "If Christ Came to Chicago" by William T Stead, Laird and Lee, 1894.

So just another reminder, Join a few local societies to add to your educational enrichment and understanding of the past.  You won't regret it!