A Look at HeritageQuest Online’s New Interface

One of our subscription databases got a new look and some new content this week! The “improved” HeritageQuest Online (now powered by Ancestry) can be accessed from home using the link on the Online Resources page under Research Tools on our website. Just type in your Davenport Public Library card number to start searching.


They have added more Federal Census records (1790-1940), including Defective, Dependent and Delinquent, Mortality, Slave and Non-Population Schedules, Indian Census Rolls, Veteran Census of 1890 and Census of Deaf Marriages 1888-1895.


Their Family History Books interface has been updated and they have also added US City Directories to that section. Now you can search or browse Davenport City Directories 1861-1960 right from your home!


Another new feature is an interactive map that shows counties in each state for each census year. Your ancestors may have lived in the same place for generations, but the name of that place may have changed over time. This map will help you figure that out.


New research aids contain tips on how to get started, searching the census, immigration, military records and ethnic genealogy. Some of the tips might be helpful if you’re coming up empty or you’re getting too many search results.


There are some “improvements” that we’re not so excited about. If you’re familiar with Ancestry’s intuitive searching, you know how sometimes it’s not very helpful.  We tried entering a location, but got results from a completely different region. If this happens to you, try alternate spellings, restricting to exact, and leaving location fields blank.

Feel free to try this at home!

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Join Our Family Album!

Tuskegee Institute Singers

The Tuskegee Institute Singers were not related to each other, but after so much time on the road, making music, they were family.

It’s no secret that family photographs forge connections to the past. We may never have met Aunt Betsy or Great-Grandpa Milton, but we can see ourselves in their faces and learn something of our family circumstances through their clothes and smiles and settings.

Our Special Collections Center has hundreds of faces and family groups in our photograph collections. Our patrons have not only found their ancestors among these images, but they’ve also made connections to our shared history.

We’re proud to say that our image collections are something of a Community Family Album.

But we’re afraid some of our community has been  left out.

Most of our portrait photographs were taken by only one or two studios—the Hostetler Studio and the Free Studio, in particular—for only a few decades.  These studios were not necessarily affordable to everyone and weren’t necessarily the first choice for many ethnic groups in Davenport.

Some of our patrons have been generous enough to add their families’ images to our collections, either by donating their originals or allowing us to scan them for our digital archives.  But not everyone knows that our Center equipped to archive and preserve donations of local photographs.

We are!  And we need your help to fill in the gaps in our “Album”!

If you have portrait photographs of family members (or people you consider family) and can provide information about them—even if you only know their names and relationship to you—we would love to add them to our Archive to preserve and provide access to them for future generations.

Contact Jessica Mirasol, the Special Collections/Archives Supervising  Librarian: jmirasol[at]davenportlibrary[dot]com

Your family is part of our history—please help us put faces to them!

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The Great February Escape

While most of us want to stay inside on cold, snowy February days, there are those who don’t mind the weather as long as they are able to get out in the fresh air.

That is apparently how six prisoners felt on February 18, 1869, when they broke out of the Scott County Jail in the middle of a blustery winter day.

Turns out, it was not that hard to do.

The six men included Benjamin F. Newell, who was awaiting trial for counterfeiting;  Michael Clancy, who was awaiting trial for murder; Michael McCoy who had pled guilty to assault with intent to rob; John Harvey, who had pled guilty to larceny and burglary; Elisha Buckner, a horse thief; and Pat McCann, who was waiting to be tried for larceny.

The men had watched the jailer and staff and had learned their daily routines. They knew on this particular Thursday, the staff would be especially busy next door at the courthouse, where several trials were going on at once.

Despite the snow and cold, the six men made their move.

A description of the jail can be found in a March 28, 1855, advertisement in the Davenport Daily Gazette for construction bids. The jail was to be built of stone with a size of forty-two by fifty-two feet containing twenty rooms.

Fifteen of those rooms were for the prisoners; the remaining five were for the jailer—generally the Sheriff—who would live at the jail with his family.  The jailer’s wife was expected to cook for the prisoners along with doing their laundry.

Davenport Daily Gazette March 28, 1855

This bid does not mention how many floors the jail had, but we are able to glean that information from Mr. William Ott, who reported the escape. Mr. Ott’s commented in the Davenport Daily Gazette on February 19, 1869, that he thought the men originally were talking to the female prisoners on the second floor of the jail.

The jail was located near the corner of Ripley and Fifth Streets next to the courthouse. The front of the building housed the parlor, or waiting room, for the jail on one side and the jailer’s parlor on the other side. A long hall ran down the middle to the jail area.

A thick stone wall made of rubble stone about twenty-one inches thick separated the jail from the front section. Behind the thick wall was a large room with an indoor privy at one end and jail cells along the back wall.

Sometime in the morning of February 18th the prisoners began to dig into the wall dividing the jail from the jailer’s parlor. Using pieces of metal found in the area, they dug until the afternoon. They took the rubble from the wall and dropped it down the privy at the opposite end of the room.

They finally broke through about 4:00 p.m.

The escape almost failed in the first few minutes when Michael McCoy got stuck trying to get through the hole. It took a great deal of shoving and pulling by his friends to get him through.

The men crawled into the jailer’s parlor and spotted a jug of alcohol. They apparently refreshed themselves and handed the jug through the hole for the eight male prisoners who had decided not to risk daring escape; most had been arrested for petty offenses and did not wish to get in more trouble.

The intrepid criminals crawled out a parlor window and then hopped the back fence to the sidewalk, which is where Mr. Ott spotted them. Once he realized it was an escape he ran to the courthouse to alert the Sheriff.

According to the Davenport Daily Gazette and the Daily Democrat,  the courthouse erupted upon the news and men ran to saddle their horses to find the escapees.

Mr. McCann and Mr. Buckner were caught soon after their escape. They had both headed out to the prairie (now the Locust Street area) in separate directions, but were easy to track in the snow.

Mr. Clancy and Mr. McCoy stuck together and headed to Buffalo, Iowa. They spent the night in a barn there before being caught the next day.

As for Mr. Newell and Mr. Harvey, it was rumored they headed toward the Mississippi River—but as far as our resources tell us,  no trace of them was ever found.

The Daily Democrat  reported on February 19th that “The place where they got out was a very weak spot…”   This seems to be an understatement. Though no further condition reports were made, we can only guess that the wall was strengthened after this incident—or possibly the prisoners were given more supervision, even on busy days!

(posted by Amy D.)

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Lovely Couples of Davenport

Shuey AngelsValentine’s Day is for couples, so what better way to celebrate than by sharing some of the lovely photographs of Davenport couples taken by the Hostetler Studios?


Benadom - William and SadieDr. William A. & Sadie Benadom, [ca. 1905]

 Dr. Benadom owned and managed the Benadom Sanitarium in Davenport.
He’s clearly crazy about his wife!


Moeller -- Hugo and Emelia

Hugo & Emilia (Wulf) Moeller, [ca. 1910]

 Hugo Moeller and Emilia Wulf were married in 1905.
Five years later, their daughter Janetta was born
and they apparently had no spare time for photography studios.


Peterson -- Lavinius and Anetta

Lavinius W. & Anetta (Hoepfner) Petersen, [ca. 1905]

 Lavinius and Anetta Peterson
celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary in July of 1908.
The Hostetler Studio also photographed them separately, but they look happier together.


Best -- Louis and Clara

Louis P. & Clara (Krause) Best, [ca. 1910]

Louis Philip Best married Clara Louisa Krause on January 12, 1899.
He might look grumpy, but as President of the Woodruff-Kroy Company and Vice-President of the Robert Krause Company, he was probably just busy.
Mrs. Best, as the wife of a busy man and the mother of two children, was probably extremely patient.


Masters 2

Masters 1Mr. & Mrs. F. A. Masters, [ca. 1910]

 We don’t know much about this stylish couple, except that they had excellent taste in fashion.


Decker-- Charles and Isabel

Charles W. & Isabel (Morgan) Decker, [ca. 1910]

Charles Decker and Isabel Morgan were married in 1872.
They had three sons, and a country house for them to run around in.
Mr. Decker died the year before they would have celebrated their 40th anniversary.


Hayward -- Eugene and Ellen

Major Eugene B. & Ellen (Phelps) Hayward, [ca. 1910]

Eugene Hayward and Ellen Phelps were married in New York in 1864 and came to Davenport in about 1869.
They celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary by having their photograph taken.
They may be sitting in separate chairs at the moment, but don’t let that fool you;
by all accounts, they doted on each other.

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Introducing LibGuides!

One of the biggest challenges of doing genealogy and local history research is that there are so many different places to look for records and information.

We have indexes and databases to help, of course, but we have to remember to check each one separately so we don’t miss anything!

Luckily, we have LibGuides to help!

Compiled by your friendly neighborhood librarians (that’s would be us), LibGuides are useful resources that can make our collections more accessible to researchers near and far.

Our first LibGuide is for Genealogy and Local History Links. You can find it on our website under “Tips, Tricks & How-To’s”



So far, the topics include cemetery research, church records, immigration/naturalization, land records, Rock Island Co. IL resources, Iowa resources, and vital records.

We’re also adding LibGuides all over our website!

Do you need to write a paper about a local historical figure or event? Want to know everything we have on a particular subject? You can find our list of Suggested Research Topics  on our website under “Tips, Tricks & How-To’s”.



For each topic, you will find links to free online resources, books from our catalog, links to articles on our blog, photos from our collection, finding aids from our Archive & Manuscript collections, citations for items in our Ephemera files, brochures and lists compiled by Staff.

If you’re a student with a local history research assignment—or you’re helping one—these Topics can save you a lot of time:



Our intention is to have links and citations of all of our available resources for each topic in one place, so we can better assist our patrons with their research needs. These will be helpful for students working on National History Day projects as well as researchers everywhere interested in finding items in our collection.

Check back often, as we will continue to add LibGuides for more topics in the near future!



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Rhomberg’s: A Look Back at 80 Years of Fashion Forward

Davenport Democrat, 11Sept1949

Davenport Democrat, 11Sept1949

Rhomberg’s Fur and Leather Gallery, the last of the Quad-City furriers, recently announced that it will be going out of business, after nearly eighty years in Davenport.

Davenport Democrat, 25Sept1949

Davenport Democrat, 25Sept1949

The family-owned retailer, which was established in Dubuque in 1907, was first listed in the Davenport City directory in 1936, opening in a corner of the Kahl Building (336 W. 3rd Street).

The store remained there until 1953, when it boughtout another local furrier, Richter. The business, which took the name Richter-Rhomberg, moved to a roomier location at 219-221 West 2nd street.

In 1978, the store relocated to 213 West 2nd Street and went back to its original name. Rhomberg’s stayed downtown until 2001, when the business moved north to 4642 Brady Street.

Although its inventory expanded over the years to include leather goods and other types of high-quality clothing, the business was best known for selling, cleaning, and storing fur coats and accessories.

Many a Quad-City resident remembers that their mother or grandmother—or in one case, an uncle—depended on Rhomberg’s to take care of their best winter wear.

Rhomberg’s has been part of our community for the better part of a century and will continue to be a part of our fond memories.

Its closing is truly the end of an era.

Davenport Democrat, 5Oct1955

Davenport Democrat, 5Oct1955


(posted by Pat R.)


“Davenport furrier hits the century mark.” Quad City Times, 16February2008


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The St. Elizabeth’s Tragedy: Part II of II

Please click here to read Part I.

During the cold dark morning hours of January 7, 1950, St. Elizabeth’s, part of the Mercy Hospital Complex, had caught fire, placing 63 patients and 2 staff members in danger.*

Before fire fighters and police arrived, several people from the complex attempted to rescue patients from the burning building. They’d been stopped by the interior locked doors on the main floor as they tried to enter through the lobby.

Patients were seen in the windows trying to escape, but they, and their rescuers, were hampered by security bars. Several witnesses ran to Mercy Hospital’s maintenance room in hopes of getting a blow torch or saws to use on the bars. That room was locked and they were unable to gain entrance to the tools.

As firemen and police arrived they used their keys to attempt to open the window bars from the outside. Others went into the building through the basement doors and tried to go up that stairwell as the main lobby area was filled with smoke and fire.

In the middle of the building, a dumb waiter ran from the basement to the third floor. Rescuers who attempted to enter the basement reported to the Corner’s Jury Inquest that flames had been coming out of the dumb waiter, quickly preventing them from reaching the far side of the room to access the stairs to the upper floors in a rescue attempt.

The wind also hampered firefighting efforts that night. A strong wind blew smoke around the building making it hard to see patients in the windows. It also caused the fire to spread more quickly.

St. Elizabeth's on Fire with trucks

St. Elizabeth’s Fire. Photo courtesy of The Quad City Times.

Within twenty minutes of the arrival of the first fire truck, the blaze was out of control. Forty minutes after the first alarm, the entire structure was on fire. It took about two and a half hours for the fire to be put out. No other building on the property was lost.

The heavy loss of life came as no surprise: Forty patients and the night supervisor, Mrs. Anna Neal, died.  Mrs. Neal was found by firemen in a patient’s room on an upper floor. It appeared to the firemen that she had gone to help the other patients, but lost her own life in the process.

Only twenty-three patients and Nurse’s Aide Josephine O’Toole survived.

Davenport Police and Fire Departments and Iowa state investigators immediately began to search out the source of the fire and the reasons it had spread so quickly.

Hospital rumors began circulating that a female patient at St. Elizabeth’s claimed she had started the fire. The woman, who had been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, had voluntarily entered St. Elizabeth’s as a patient on December 12, 1949 and was set to be released January 7th of 1950.

Later, her comments were reported at the Coroner’s Inquest.

In the early morning hours of January 7, 1950, the twenty-two year old female patient was in her room on the main floor of the building. In her possession was her husband’s silver lighter, inscribed with his initials; it had been missed during the routine bedtime search for cigarettes and matches.

On most nights her room had remained unlocked. Things changed that evening with the latching of her door: the evening nurse reported she had to secure the room during the bedtime check, as the woman kept leaving her room to go into other patients’ rooms.  The nurse was alone on duty and worried about the patient’s safety if she roamed while the nurse was caring for the patients on the upper floors. The evening nurse went off duty at 11:30 p.m. and was not involved in the fire.

The patient stated that she had looked out of her window and had seen her husband being held against his will in the building across the way. She tried to get his attention, but could not. She also could not leave her room as the door had been latched, which added to her fears.

At about 2:00 a.m., the patient used the lighter to light a newspaper on fire. She waved it in front of the window to attract help for her husband’s imagined plight. As she did so, her curtains caught fire.  She opened the window, inadvertently fanning the flames, and then went to her door and began to pound and call for help.

When Mrs. Neal opened the door, the patient first ran to another patient’s room to tell her to get out, then ran to the parlors near the lobby. The parlor door leading to the lobby was locked. The patient stated that she dropped the lighter and broke a glass door pane. She reached through the broken glass and opened the door from the other side, cutting her hand in the process.

She exited the building and was found walking outside. The patient was taken to the ER for stitches and began telling the staff that she had started the fire.

As the investigators continued to search for answers, they found evidence to support her story: a silver lighter with initials engraved on the bottom that matched the patient’s husband’s initials was located in the parlor area, not far from a door with a broken pane of glass and blood on a piece of glass and door jam.

Several witnesses stated the fire was first spotted coming from a window on the main floor just north of the fire escape on the east side of the building. The room belonged to the patient in question.

The Corner’s Jury Inquest led to the calling of a Grand Jury to determined whether the patient would be criminally charged with the deaths of forty-one persons.

The Grand Jury convened in the beginning of February 1950. Their findings matched those of the Corner’s Jury Inquest. The patient, who had been transferred to Mt. Pleasant State Hospital, had been declared insane by doctors.  Due to the declaration of insanity, a trial was not pursued.

The tragedy of the St. Elizabeth’s fire brought into focus the dangers of older public structures. The interior of the building was wood lathe and plaster construction with wood wainscoting in the rooms—all extremely flammable. The space between the plaster and exterior wall allowed the flames to travel quickly up to the attic area. It is believed that the open window allowed wind and air into the room that fed the fire. The door to the patient’s room was also likely left open which accounted for the flames traveling so quickly into the hallway.

By chance, the room in which the fire started also had an opening for the dumb waiter. The fire traveled quickly through the shaft, spreading in both directions to the upper floors and the basement.

Other factors that allowed for the spread of the fire included the uncapped chimney flues, which allowed flames easy access to the upper floors, while the fire fed off fresh paint and varnish which had been applied only a few months before.

The converted attic only had one stairway, narrowing the path of escape. The locked bars on the windows prevented those on the lower levels from leaving as well.

In addition, the decision had been made to delay the installation of a sprinkler system, for financial reasons.

St. Elizabeth Day After Fire

After the fire. January 7, 1950. Photo courtesy of The Quad City Times.

St. Elizabeth’s was never rebuilt. By 1955, Mercy Hospital decided that it would no longer provide long-term psychiatric care; St. Joseph’s, St. Elizabeth’s counterpart for male patients was torn down.

As for the deceased, sixteen bodies remained unclaimed after the fire. Some were too badly burned to identify and others had no family. These women were buried in Sacred Heart Cemetery on the Mercy Hospital grounds, alongside the Sisters of Mercy who had passed before them.

St. Elizabeth’s fire remains one of the greatest tragedies in Iowa history.

(Posted by Amy D.)


*The information in this post was obtained through the interviews conducted for the St. Elizabeth Hospital Fire Inquest – Microfilm 977.769 Cor.

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The St. Elizabeth’s Tragedy: Part I of II

In the early morning hours of January 7, 1950, as frigid winter temperatures were made harsher by a strong wind, Mercy Hospital night orderly Murray Francis noted an eerie light glowing outside. Shortly after 2:00 a.m., he activated an alarm.

St. Elizabeth’s was on fire.

St. Elizabeth's Summer 1949 Close Up

St. Elizabeth’s during the summer of 1949. The chimneys in the rear of the photo were part of the separate laundry building.
Photo courtesy of The Quad City Times.

St. Elizabeth’s was part of the Mercy Hospital complex in Davenport. Built around 1874, it housed psychiatric patients along with a few surgical patients when space was needed. St. Elizabeth’s was primarily used for female patients, while male patients resided in St. Joseph’s, which served a similar function.

Both buildings were four story structures. The basement was at ground level with an elevated main floor that was reached by walking up a flight of outdoor stairs to a lobby. Once inside the lobby there were interior doors that were kept locked at all times for patient security.

By 1950, the main floor housed parlors along with rooms for “acute” patients. These patients were staying in the hospital on a voluntarily bases for psychiatric needs or were post-surgical cases. The second and third floors (which when looking at the building from the outside would appear to be the third and fourth floors) housed long-term committed patients. The top floor was actually a converted attic with only one stairway to access it.

The interior of the 75 year old building had recently been freshened up during the summer of 1949 with new paint, new electrical wiring, and other updates. However, installation of a fire sprinkler system had been delayed due to finances.

The outside of the building looked similar to its earlier days. One physical change over the years had been the removal of two large chimneys that were taken down when a new heating system was installed. While the chimneys were removed from the exterior of the building, the interior chimney flues remained uncapped in the converted attic, which would prove to be a dangerous mistake, later.

For patient safety, bars had been installed on the windows of the upper three stories. The bars could only be unlocked from the outside. The nuns, nurses, and local fireman carried keys to unlock the bars in case of emergency.

St. Elizabeth’s was a self-contained unit that allowed patients to move about freely between their in-house therapy appointments.  For the most part, doors to the patient rooms were not locked at night except when needed for patient safety.

Patients were even allowed to smoke in their rooms or the parlors. The night nurse gathered the cigarettes and matches during final rounds and locked them away until the next day.

According to the book, From Simplicity to Elegance: The Story of Mercy Hospital, Davenport 1869-1994 by Sister Mary Brigid Condon (SC 362.11 Con) on the night of January 6, 1950, there were 63 patients in St. Elizabeth’s under the care of RN night supervisor Anna Neal. No other staff was on duty, though Miss Josephine O’Toole, an off-duty live-in nursing aide, was sleeping in her room on the second floor of the building. If there were any problems Mrs. Neal was to awaken Miss O’Toole for help.

But later, during the Scott County Coroner’s Jury Inquest,* Miss O’Toole testified that she was not awakened by Mrs. Neal on the morning of January 7th , but by the sounds of screams coming from elsewhere in the building,  shortly after 2:00 am.  As she left her third floor room, she reported, the hallway was already filling with smoke.

St. Elizabeth Entrance on Fire

Front entrance to St. Elizabeth’s. Note firemen from different departments fighting fire.
Photo courtesy of The Quad City Times.

Second Assistant Fire Chief Harry Lange reported to the Corner’s Jury Inquest that the first alarm call came into Central Fire Station at 2:06 a.m. Fireman Philip Axelrod stated to the Inquest he was part of Fire Engine Company 6, the first truck to arrive on scene a few minutes after the call came in.

Fireman Axelrod noted flames were shooting out of a window on the main floor just north of the fire escape on the east side of the building when his truck arrived. The flames were already reaching up to the roof from the outside. Two more fire engines arrived along with a ladder truck to the first alarm.

It was immediately apparent that extra resources were needed and a second alarm was called for additional trucks. That brought three more engines and another ladder truck to the scene. Soon a third and fourth alarm were called as the fire quickly spread throughout the building. Not only were fire fighters trying to rescue patients inside and put out the St. Elizabeth fire, but the surrounding buildings also needed protection from the flames. The two buildings in closest proximity to the fire were the hospital laundry and the convent.

Soon over one hundred fire fighters from all over the area were battling to not only put out the fire, but save the 63 patients trapped behind the iron bars and locked doors that prevented their escape as flames swept through the building.


*St. Elizabeth Hospital Fire Inquest – Microfilm 977.769 Cor . The Inquest took place on February 2 and 3, 1950.

Please click for Part II.

(posted by Amy D.)

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Reviewing the Year in Review: a helpful short(ish)cut

Review of the Year 1922

Any historian or genealogist knows how useful newspapers can be.  These primary resources are a treasure trove of information, from announcements of births, marriages, deaths, and scandals, to reports of elections, entertainments, and probated wills.

Newspapers can provide information on almost anything—the tricky part is finding it, especially when no specific dates or subject indexes are available.

Our Special Collections Center has a variety of name and obituary indexes that provide good coverage for the Gazette and Davenport Democrat newspapers, but our  subject index for the Quad-City Times only runs from 1993 to the present.  We  subscribe to a historical newspaper database that allows keyword searching for earlier papers . . .  but there are still a lot of years that simply aren’t indexed or digitized, yet.

Lucky for us, Davenport newspapers usually published special Year-in-Review sections in either the last issue of the year or the first of the new one.

These sections act as sort of summary and index for the events of the year, big or small, and can be invaluable for researchers who are trying to find something in a year for which no separate subject index has been compiled.

They can help pinpoint the year—and even the month—that  a building was constructed . . . even if it wasn’t a “major”building:

Headlines Manufacturing  1Jan1922


They can provide financial information for the city (and on specific banks):

Headlines Financial  1Jan1922


They announce industrial advances, proposed developments, and business relocations:

Headlines Industrial  1Jan1922

They examine taxpayer’s money at work—and provide charts and photos:

Headlines Misc  1Jan1922

And can provide the number of births, marriages, and deaths in one convenient place:

Headlines Realty  1Jan1922


You can even get a look at the crimes, catastrophes and scandals for that particular year:

Headlines 1Jan1922
Going through these pages may not be as convenient as an index, but it still beats going through every page of an entire year of the newspaper—especially on microfilm!

Why not come in and try it out?

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Our “Special” visitors for 2014

In 2014, genealogists and history researchers came from all over the country to the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center, to use our wonderful resources. We also had email and phone requests come in from all over the world!

They came from far away to fill in the blank branches of their Family Trees. They found copies of birth, marriage and death records of their Scott County, Iowa ancestors. They came to do research on the Iowa Soldiers’ Orphans’ Home, Colonel George Davenport and Bix Beiderbecke. They looked at newspaper articles on microfilm, online databases we subscribe to and our photograph collection. Their searches were made easier by the many indices that have been prepared by our volunteers from the Scott County Iowa Genealogical Society.

Last year we had visitors and research requests from 38 states, Canada, Germany, France, Italy and Australia!

Our superlatives were: Avon Park, Florida, in the southeast and Edmonds, Washington, in the northwest. Or e-mail patrons were from as far away as Treviglio, Italy, in the northeast; and Darlington, South Australia, which is almost as southwest as one can go!

Check out this map with all of our visitors for the year 2014, as recorded in our Guest Book. Pretty cool, huh?

We thank our patrons for visiting us this past year. We hope to see you again soon!

And if you came in to visit but did not sign our guest book, let us know in the comments, so we can add you to our map!

Are you planning to visit us this year? We look forward to helping you!

(posted by Cristina)

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