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Barry Schrader
Columnist

 

I write this column for the following newspaper:

  • Daily Chronicle : DeKalb County Life

The Articles started December 2007.

 

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17 Years of Records: Volunteers like Marian
make the world go around

By Barry Schrader.................................April 28, 2009

After interviewing a dedicated 17-year volunteer last week, I can’t help thinking people like Marian Anderson are what make our world go around, just hoping there will be more people like her coming along in future generations.

Marian lives at Barb City Manor, a retirement complex in the old DeKalb Public Hospital building, and hung up her volunteer badge three years ago because of failing eyesight, after spending lots of days of her life over a 17-year period helping DeKalb County historian Phyllis Kelley collect, index and file much of the county’s records that were stashed away in the basement of the Sycamore courthouse. Plus, she became an expert in finding and indexing obituaries from throughout the county for future generations and genealogists so they could easily locate their ancestors 10 years or a hundred years from now.

Gathered in front of the Sycamore Public Library, where the Joiner History Room is located on the second floor, are (from left) county historian Phyllis Kelley, Marian Anderson and Bud Burgin. (Barry Schrader - Daily Chronicle)


Marian also had a lifelong career working in the county clerk/recorder’s office, most of it under the late county clerk, Ralph Joiner, whom she praised for caring about old records and making sure they were preserved by finding places to store them in the bowels of the courthouse during his many years in public office. She was also thankful that a more recent county clerk, Terry Desmond, also preserved historical files and continued Joiner’s efforts.
Anyway, Marian showed me a crooked index finger on her right hand – a testament to her years with a fountain pen in hand copying land records and other files into big journals and ledgers before there was such a thing as large typing machines and computer scanners. Her main job was recording legal land transactions and indexing other files in the county offices. She can even remember some of the more colorful and creative boundary descriptions, one of which went like this, “from a stone in a creek to an Oak tree, to an Ash tree, then so many chains and so many links over to another stone ...” and so on. This was long before surveyors had the benefit of the GPS coordinates.
Marian also told about the earliest plat books that were handwritten in beautiful script and hand-colored maps that are collectors’ items today. The county hopefully still has those originals tucked away. Besides her courthouse career, Marian, with a little help from her late husband, Walter, had time to raise their six children – three girls and three boys.
But getting back to her volunteer work, I learned from historian Phyllis Kelley how valuable Marian was in preserving records. She spent hundreds of hours copying obituaries by hand from old newspapers and clippings donated to the Joiner History Room, then indexing and filing them in loose leaf binders where researchers can access them in minutes. I also learned that another longtime volunteer, retired banker Bud Burgin, has spent more than 10 years coming in weekly to the history center to perform a multitude of tasks and has taken over the obituary indexing from Marian. But now they have copy machines to make the task easier and faster. Bud is also the History Room’s expert on southern DeKalb County, having been a banker in Hinckley and Shabbona for many years. Just ask him about any cemetery, church or business that existed back in time and he can likely give you the answer you are seeking, according to Phyllis.
All this leads up to the fact that the Joiner History Room (named after the late county clerk and his wife, Bertha) will be observing its 20th anniversary in existence at an open house from 1-3 p.m. Saturday upstairs in the quarters at the back of the Sycamore Public Library. When you come in the door, you are confronted with an array of Turner Brass torches, maps and photos all over the walls, rows of bookshelves, and a weathered roadside sign that says “Beulah P.O.” It is best to ask Bud where in the south part of the county that little crossroads settlement was located. On that Saturday, besides Phyllis and Bud, you may get to meet volunteers Sue Breese, Fran Besserman, Jackie Tyrell, Shari Baker and Patsy Lundberg. The thousands of hours these people and several before them have contributed to preserving, filing and indexing our county’s treasured past makes the Joiner History Room one of the most valuable assets in our county. Stop by and say thanks to them. And you might even stumble across some family history you didn’t know was on file there!

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Barry Schrader
PO Box 851
DeKalb, Ill 60115