Community members wanting to search for their ancestors have no farther to go than the Heritage Hall museum in Slater.
The Slater Area Historical Association (SAHA) received a Small Operating Support grant from the Iowa Arts Council approximately one year ago. The grant covered the cost of a one-year subscription to the website, ancestry.com, and the purchase of a computer, printer and scanner that are used for genealogy research, said Mary O’Donnell, a SAHA volunteer at Heritage Hall. The website allows individuals to search census and voter lists; birth, marriage and death records; immigration and travel records; and military records of family members. With the grant, SAHA has opened a genealogy station where people can use the computer to access ancestry websites. Since opening the station, a number of people have come in, some on a regular basis, to look up information on their ancestors.
"People come in to look at family trees, and we thought it would be neat if they had access to ancestry.com," O’Donnell said of the SAHA’s decision to offer the service.
Marjorie Johnson of Sheldahl used the station for the first time last week. She was looking for military records of her husband’s father. She said she is grateful for the tools SAHA provides to help research family history.
In addition to local residents, the genealogy station has attracted people visiting relatives in the Slater area. A family from Virginia was able to locate the graves of their relatives who were buried in Slater, thanks to the research they did at SAHA, O’Donnell said. Another family from Tennessee spent four hours at SAHA doing research.
Family stories, books written by community members, 4-H club records, Slater business ledgers, Palestine Township Justice books, old telephone books and obituaries of former residents are also available at Heritage Hall for researching purposes. The obituaries date back to the 1890s and are in both newspaper-clipping format and on the computer in electronic form.
O’Donnell said they wanted to offer the genealogy station for two reasons. The first of those was to help people learn about Slater’s history and add to the SAHA’s collection of historical information. The second reason was to bring in people who may not otherwise have any interest in Heritage Hall. O’Donnell said people will often come in to use the genealogy station, and while there, they become interested in what is going on within the museum.
"It gets people in here and adds to their resources and history, as well as to ours," O’Donnell said. "That’s the important part."
Plans are already in the works to improve the amount of research people can do at Heritage Hall. O’Donnell said they would like to obtain permission from families who have roots in the area in order to make more family trees. They are also in the process of recording veterans’ stories and putting them on a computer. Once funds are raised for a building remodel, SAHA would like to have a room dedicated to genealogy research, rather than having the computer and information in the same room where volunteers work.
The genealogy station is open to anyone, and non-SAHA members are asked to give a free-will donation for using the station’s services. People are welcome to use the station when Heritage Hall is open on Thursdays, from 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. O’Donnell said people can also make appointments to use the station during times when the building is not open.