An Exciting Find: Iowa death records, 1921 – 1940

One of the roadblocks we frequently run into while helping patrons with genealogy and local history research is a gap in Scott County death records from 1921 – 1940.

During that time, death records were maintained by the State of Iowa and no copy kept by Scott County. We are still able to locate individuals from obituaries, cemetery records, and other sources most of the time. Death records, though, tend to have important names and dates. Many times patrons wrote to the State to receive a copy of their ancestor’s death certificate- for a small fee.

We were surprised, and extremely excited, to find this week that FamilySearch now has the missing death certificates from 1921 – 1940 on their website in digital form!

To find the information, go to

and look under Iowa records…

for Iowa, Death Records, 1921 – 1940.

You still need to contact the Iowa Department of Public Health to receive a certified death certificate, but for general research, the digitized version is incredibly useful.

Even more useful, is a free website!

(posted by Amy D.) 



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Digital Learning Day in the Archives

In honor of Digital Learning Day, the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center is highlighting HeritageQuest, one of the Davenport Public Library’s research databases. There’s a wealth of genealogical information to explore and you can access it from home, for free, with your library card!

How to get there:

From the library’s home page (, click on ‘Research Tools’ and select ‘Online Resources’ from the drop-down menu.


Next, select ‘Genealogy and Local History’ from the ‘View by Subject’ list in the drop-down menu under ‘All Online Databases.’


Choose the ‘HeritageQuest Online’ link.


Just click on the green ‘Begin Searching’ button to start discovering family history documents!


You can search or browse U.S. Census Records, city directories, the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedules, U.S. Indian Census Rolls, and more!


Check it out! Learn what online digitial treasures the Davenport Public Library has for you on Digital Learning Day 2017!

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Presidents’ Day

On “Presidents’ Day” George Washington and Abraham Lincoln are usually the first to be recognized, and quite logically so, since both were born in February. However, the spirit of the day can be broadened to include more “Presidents” of the past.


In November 1910, President Theodore Roosevelt made a visit to Davenport’s VanderVeer Park. The Music Pavilion was crowded with onlookers as Roosevelt addressed his constituents from the stage.


Image Source:  Archive & Manuscript Collection #2003-09    Photograph by J.B. Hostetler


President Woodrow Wilson was saluted by the boys from Battery B as he rolled into Iowa on the train across the Government Bridge in early 1916.


Image Source:  Archive & Manuscript Collection #2001-24               Photographer unknown


Speaking of trains, a pair of Roosevelts addressed a Davenport crowd from one in a 1936 campaign stop. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor earned a second term in the White House, defeating Republican nominee Kansas Governor Alfred Landon in that election.


Image Source:  Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center Davenport Public Library Photograph Collection VM89-000844


President Jimmy Carter and First Lady Rosalynn arrived in Davenport August 21, 1979 aboard a different type of transportation – the Delta Queen Riverboat! Speaking of Riverboats, (and coming full circle) who remembers “The President”?


Image Source:  Archive & Manuscript Collection #2009-19           Copyright Karen Deneve Clevenger Moline, IL


For these and many other interesting items, drop by the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center! But don’t come on Presidents’ Day. . . We will be closed for the holiday!

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An Unfortunate Valentine’s Day Blog

While researching recently, we came across what looked like a wonderful Valentine’s Day blog about love. It was only while doing further research we found it was more a case of love gone wrong.

On February 6, 1920 The Davenport Daily Times ran a lovely article about a local wounded soldier from the Great War who married his nurse.

Mckay Wedding

The Davenport Daily Times, February 6, 1920. Pg. 2

Young William McKay had left Davenport after enlisting in the United States Army on April 5, 1918. In July of that year, he was sent overseas to the battlefront as a member of the Transportation Corp 308. He was injured a short time later when the truck he was driving overturned and trapped him beneath it.

Mr. McKay was badly wounded and transported to the military hospital in Brest, France for recovery. His most serious injury being a crushed right leg that would never regain mobility. He also developed a leaking heart problem after the accident.

It was at this hospital he met a nurse named Mary Ward who had been caring for soldiers in Brest since July of 1918. Coincidentally, her parents had relocated to Davenport from Wisconsin while she was overseas caring for wounded patients.    

According to the article, as Mr. McKay was transferred to different hospitals during his recovery, Miss Ward managed to be transferred with him.

Mr. McKay was officially discharged from the U. S. Army on April 30, 1919 while recovering at Mercy Hospital in Davenport.

On January 31, 1920 the couple took out a marriage license in Scott County, Iowa. William McKay, 28 years old, and Mary Ward, 35 years old, were married February 2, 1920 at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Davenport. Their marriage license indicated it was the first marriage for both.

McKay Wedding License 1

SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage. #1479413

McKay Wedding License 2

SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage. #1479413

They were expected to reside after the wedding with her parents in Davenport.

We all thought it was a wonderful story and the next step was to look into records to track the couple over the years. We quickly realized something was wrong. In the 1920 census, taken in late spring of that year, William McKay is listed as single and living with his mother in Davenport. There was no trace of the Ward family.

Our first thought was his new bride had died in the influenza epidemic that had occurred in late winter/early spring in Davenport. But no death was found in the records.

What we did locate was a petition for divorce filed by William McKay on March 6, 1920 in the local newspaper. The reason for the divorce being Mr. McKay had found out on March 4th that his wife was still married and that husband was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

We turned to for further information and found that Mary Ward had married a George McNitt in 1897 in the state of Wisconsin. We were able to locate the couple living together in Beloit, Wisconsin with her parents in the 1900 United States Census.

We then found Mr. McNitt in the 1910 United States census in Beloit with a new wife named Emma. They married in 1906.

Could this all have been a misunderstanding we wondered?

Then we located a marriage record from Kane County, Illinois. Mary Ward had married a William J. Borsdorf on June 16, 1910.

We are unable to find Mary or William J. Borsdorf in the 1910 census, but we did find William’s WWI Draft Registration card from 1917, which lists his wife’s name as Mary. Mr. Borsdorf was living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at the time.

We then find Mr. Borsdorf in the 1920 United States census listed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin as a boarder in a house. He is listed as married, but no wife is listed with him.

We believe William J. Borsdorf is the husband that William McKay learned of on March 4, 1920.

We did not find a final divorce record for William and Mary McKay. We did find a case number and District Court docket number. We believe, based on other cases we have read about, that the marriage was considered void (or “set aside” using a term we find in newspaper accounts of the period) as the divorce petition was filed just over 30 days after the marriage vows were taken and that she was married to someone else.

A search of local police records find no charges were filed against Mary for bigamy.

To make things even more unusual, we find in the 1930 United States census that Mary had returned to William Borsdorf and they were living together as husband and wife in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

They remained together in Milwaukee until Mr. Borsdorf died on March 30, 1948. Mary died on September 9, 1956. They were buried next to each other in Holy Cross Cemetery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

As for William McKay, he never remarried. In another twist, after Mr. McKay’s mother passed away he moved to a Veterans Hospital probably due to his injury and heart problem. We find him living there in the 1930 and 1940 United States census records.

Where was the hospital located? Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Mr. McKay passed away on August 31, 1948. His body was returned to Davenport where he was buried in Holy Family Cemetery.

His obituary in The Davenport Democrat and Leader stated he was never married.


  • The Davenport Daily Times, February 6, 1920. Pg. 2
  • SC Microfilm 977.769 Marriage – #1479413
  • The Davenport Daily Times, March 9, 1920. Pg. 8
  • The Davenport Democrat and Leader, September 1, 1948. Pg. 13

(posted by Amy D.)


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In Memoriam: Dudley Bell Priester

Dudley Bell Priester was born January 18, 1923 in Davenport, Iowa to Oscar and Helen (Bell) Priester. According to the 1930 U.S. Federal Census, his father was vice-President of Priester Construction Company and his mother owned a gift shop.

The family lived at 2745 Wood Lane in the McClellan Heights neighborhood in East Davenport. Dudley attended Davenport High School and, later, Lawrenceville Prep School in New Jersey from 1939-1941, where he was captain of the wrestling team. He then went to Princeton University in the fall of 1941.

NameDudley Bell Priester School Lawrenceville School Year 1941 U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Original data: Various school yearbooks from across the United States.

Name Dudley Bell Priester
School Lawrenceville School
Year 1941 U.S., School Yearbooks, 1880-2012 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010.
Original data: Various school yearbooks from across the United States.

He graduated in 2 years so he could go into the Civil Engineering Corps of the Navy. He served in the 111th and 56th U.S. Naval Construction Battalions stationed in the South Pacific during WWII.

After leaving the Navy, he started working at his father’s company, Priester Construction, but his first construction job was the administration building at the Rock Island Arsenal in 1939. Priester was in charge of the construction of the Davenport Public Library building designed by architect Edward Durell Stone that was completed in 1968. He was also responsible for the Modern Woodmen of America office in Rock Island, the foundation construction at Alcoa, and many other local projects.

Priester married Jean Elizabeth Hansen in March 1947 and had 5 children: Bill, Nancy, Ted, Charlie and Mary. They lived in a mansion at 49 Hillcrest Avenue from 1954 – 2012, before downsizing to a condominium at the Carriage Club.

Priester served on the board of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra, Davenport Museum of Art, and Putnam Museum, was a member of the Master Builders of Iowa, and served as President of the Outing Club and the Town Club. He was a stamp collector and loved to wear a bow tie, preferring the Churchill (blue with white polka dots)

Dudley Bell Priester passed away January 23, 2017 at home.

posted by Cristina

Works Cited

Davenport, Scott, Iowa, United States; county district courts, Iowa. “Dudley Bell Priester.” 20 January 1923. “Iowa, County Births, 1880-1935,” database, FamilySearch. 20 May 2016. <>.

“Dudley Bell Priester.” Quad-City Times 26 January 2017: A8.

“Iowa, World War II Bonus Case Files, 1947-1954 [database on-line].” n.d. <>.

Jensen, Julie. “Priester constructing a pretty interesting life.” The Leader 05 December 2003: B6.

Lawrenceville School. The Lawrenceville Olla Podrida. Ed. Jr., William Howard Stoval. Lawrenceville,: Class of nineteen hundred and forty-one, 1941. 01 February 2016. <>.

Speer, Mary Louise. “Davenport library celebrates 40 years.” Quad-City Times 06 October 2008: B1.

United States of America, Bureau of the Census. “Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930.” 21 April 1930. 01 February 2017. <>.

Wundram, Bill. “Bow tie wearers bow to nobody.” Quad-City Times 25 August 2010: A2.

—. “Noted Q-C mansion yields treasures.” Quad-City Times 25 September 2012: A2.



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In Memoriam: Sgt. Major Alvis Marshal Taylor

Sgt. Major Alvis Marshal Taylor, one of only two Quad-City area survivors of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, passed away last week on Monday, January 16, 2017.

Alvis Taylor was born on March 18, 1923 in Caldwell, Burleson County, Texas to William Marshal Taylor and Martha Elizabeth Harper. Below is his birth certificate:

Alvis Taylor Birth

The 1930 Census shows Alvis M (age 7) living in Burleson County, Texas with his parents and siblings: William (age 35), Martha E. (age 29), Willie E. (age 12), Ester M. (age 9), and Milton (age 1).

Alvis Taylor 1930 Census

Alvis enlisted in the U.S. Army at age 16. In the 1940 Census, we see young Alvis M. (age 19) stationed with the 11th Medical Regiment at Schofield Barracks in Oahu, Honolulu, Hawaii.

Alvis Taylor 1940 Census

At 11:55am on Sunday, December 7, 1941, Taylor was working alone at the Barracks Hospital when he witnessed Japanese planes circling in figure 8 formations, attacking U.S. Naval ships anchored at Pearl Harbor. The planes were flying so low he could see the Japanese pilots inside. Two rounds of bombs and torpedoes sunk 4 U.S. battleships, damaged 4 others, killed 2,402 and injured almost 1,200 American sailors and Marines. 90 percent of the people there were on shore leave.

The first sergeant and other senior NCOs were married and living elsewhere on post, so on his colonel’s order, Taylor took over. He called in doctors and coordinated dozens of ambulances to take the wounded to hospitals. At one point, he was sent to Pearl Harbor with 32 of his 67 ambulances. He was told to pick up the patients on ships and in the water.

Taylor was subjected to enemy fire when he accompanied the ambulances, but he managed to escape without injury. Thankfully, none of his ambulance drivers were killed.

After the tragedy, Taylor, who earned the Legion of Merit for meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements, returned to Schofield Barracks and to his regular duties. Later, he was sent to the Transportation Corps OCS, then continued his military career at various locations, including the Rock Island Arsenal.

First Sgt. Alvis M. Taylor married Mary Emma Garrett on December 20, 1942 in Austin, Texas. Their first son was born in Japan, where Sgt. Taylor was stationed. Mary passed away on December 18, 2005 in Coal Valley, Illinois. She is buried in the Rock Island National Cemetery.

Taylor kept his Pearl Harbor story to himself, not talking about his experience until many years later.

“You can see the pictures, but you can’t smell it and taste it. My dad can still smell that smell and taste that taste 73 years later. He remembers every minute of that day – from when he woke until he passed out from exhaustion,” said Taylor’s son Brian in a 2014 interview.

Alvis Taylor retired from the U.S. Army in 1959 as a major after 20 years of service; he retired from the U.S. Army Armament Command in 1980 after 20 additional years of civil service.

He received a Quilt of Valor in 2015, an experience he found “overwhelming.”

“This quilt is given to you, to wrap around you to give you comfort and warmth and know that you were prayed for, supported and given a heartfelt thank you.”

And a heartfelt thank you from us to you, Alvis Taylor, for your service. 

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In Memoriam: Bill Edmond

William F. “Bill” Edmond was born December 4, 1949 in Indiana, PA. His parents were Robert and Elsie (Sees) Edmond. He attended High school in Michigan and attended the University of Texas, El Paso. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War. Bill married Pamela Jean (Lutz) Gephard on December 2, 1995 in Las Vegas, NV. They moved to Davenport in 2005, where he worked as a salesperson for Buysse Dodge and Terry Frazer’s RV Center.

Bill Edmond was elected 2nd Ward Alderman in March 2009, filling a vacancy left by Shawn Hamerlinck, who had been elected to the Iowa Senate. During his campaign, he stated that his top priorities were infrastructure improvements and maintenance and public safety. He was also a Candidate to the Iowa House of Representatives for District 89 in November 2012.

A fiscal conservative, Mr. Edmond was Vice Chairman of the Finance Committee. He was also the Council Liaison for the Davenport Municipal Airport. His most notable contributions were planning for Veterans Memorial Park and the off-leash dog park at the foot of Marquette Street at Centennial Park.

Sadly, Bill Edmond died on Tuesday, January 10th in Davenport. He will be buried at the National Cemetery in Rock Island.

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A Moment in (Watch) Time

Once again our J. B. Hostetler glass plate negative collection has yielded another fascinating image: a young H. E. Meier posing in his World War I Doughboy uniform.

Herman Edward Meier was born to John and Christina Meier on July 21, 1896 in Nebraska. He enlisted in the United States Army on June 25, 1917, just shy of his 21st birthday. Sadly, during his time overseas his only sibling, Marie Meier, died on December 9, 1918 in Davenport during the Influenza epidemic. He was discharged on January 22, 1919, having achieved the rank of Sergeant. Herman then returned to Davenport and the family concrete block business; the next year, on November 25th, he married Leona Meyer. He died in Davenport on February 8, 1973, and was buried at the Rock Island National Cemetery in Rock Island, Illinois.


H. E. Meier taken by J. B. Hostetler. c. 1917. dpl17572a

It is the wrist watch peeking out from under Mr. Meier’s sleeve that caught our attention.

In the late nineteenth century, the wrist watch was known as a delicate piece of jewerly worn by women. The first was created for a Hungarian countess by a Swiss company in 1868. While there are some references to the use of wrist watches by men at this time, including the German Navy in the 1880’s and during the Boer War, it was not widespread.

Even by the beginning of World War I, the wrist watch was not a common fashion accessory for American men. Our photographs show local worthies wearing pocket watches well into the early twentieth century.

The reason wrist watches became popular during World War I is simple: a military man could not be fumbling in his clothes for a pocket watch in the midst of battle. The wrist watch provided quick and easy access to the correct time.

We were very pleased to find this early example of wrist watch-wearing among our portrait photographs!

(posted by Amy D.)


  • The Davenport Daily Democrat and Leader, December 9, 1918. Page 11.
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Iowa’s 170th Birthday – Life in Davenport at the end of 1846

The State of Iowa turned 170 years old this week! Let’s have a look back at what was going on in Davenport at the time. 

From the Davenport “Town” Council Proceedings for December 8th 1846:

The big issues: amending the corporation charter to add Ferry privileges, roaming hogs, a fence for the City Cemetery, and a few people still owing money for road taxes.

img_0125 img_0124


Selected stories from the Davenport Weekly Gazette, Thursday December 31, 1846:

It had been a pleasantly mild winter up to that point.

Prices for produce and provisions seemed reasonable.


Wagon traffic to Iowa and further west had increased considerably. One correspondent in Peoria theorized it was due, in part, to the results of the most recent elections. 

As-Shaw-E-Qua (Singing Bird), widow of the distinguished war chief Black Hawk, died in the Sauk camp, on the Kansas River, on the 29th of August last, aged 85 years. (Notice they called Black Hawk a “war” not a “tribal” chief.)









There was a bribery scandal in the Iowa House of Representatives…







Huldah Sloper, wife of Samuel Sloper of Centerville, Scott County, died of Typhus Fever on December 17th, 1846, at the age of 57. She was the mother of 17 children and grandmother of 38, most of who lived in Scott County. The family has a road named after them. 

Estate notices were posted for Lucius Moss, Robert Carleton, and Joseph Conway.

Genealogists know that it’s rare to find an obituary for a woman during this period. Deaths were not recorded in the state of Iowa until 1880; burial records, church death registers, and probates were the only proofs available.













Happy birthday, Iowa!


(posted by Cristina)

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In Memoriam: Ellis Kell

The Quad Cities lost a local legend last week with the passing of Ellis Kell. 

Mr. Kell was well-known for not only his love of music, but also for his enthusiasm for life and the Quad Cities. 

Ellis E. Kell, Jr. was born on August 26, 1955 in Rock Island, Illinois, son of Ellis Sr. and Rose Chambers Kell. He graduated from Rock Island High School in 1973 and earned a bachelor of arts degree in journalism from Augustana College Rock Island in 1979. 

Ellis married Kristie E. Swanson on June 30, 1984 in Rock Island. They had two daughters, Karli and Ali.

After college, Mr. Kell worked for the Rock Island Argus and was one of the creators of QC Online, the newspaper’s website. He also worked as promotion coordinator for the Mississippi Valley Blues Society, record reviewer for The Blues News, and advertising sales coordinator and columnist for Oil the Music Magazine.

In 2004, Ellis joined the new River Music Experience (known locally as the RME) as the Membership, Operations and Special Events Manager. His most recent job title was Director of Programming and Community Outreach.

Music had always been a part of Mr. Kell’s life. His musical career began at age 13, when he joined a kids garage band called Genesis. In 1979 he played with Diamondback, one of the top bands on the Quad-Cities club scene at the time. He then played solo before joining the Blue Collar Band in 1984.

He fronted the Ellis Kell Band starting in 1990 and opened for many renowned artists, including Leon Russell (who also passed away this year), B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Little Feet, and Robert Cray. Mr. Kell stated in interviews one of the biggest thrills in his own musical career was being called back on stage by B.B. King after opening for the musician in 2008.

His band released two albums: “Down to the Levee” in 1993 and “Ellis Kell Band and Friends 2000”. They were also featured in compilations “Run, Run Rudolph: The OIL Christmas Compilation” in 1995 which raised money for Save the Mississippi Wails, a non-profit organization that provided area musicians with financial help for medical bills.

His song “Irish Digger” written in 1994 after the death of his father and modified in 2002 after the death of his daughter was featured in a compilation album. Another song, “Flood of ‘65” got a lot of airplay after the Great Flood of 1993. 

In 1996, his band released a song on the web called “Internet Blues”, which streamed on QC Online’s “Sounds of the Quad Cities”. His music was also featured on Quad-Cities Jukebox, which could be accessed by calling CITYLINE.

Through his work at the River Music Experience, he mentored many young musicians, arranged music programs for children, and organized student-centered camps and classes, such as Rock Camp and Winter Blues.

He was excited about the chance for young people to talk to older musicians: “It’s wonderful to get to see these kids meet these people, and they’re no longer somebody on a screen or an album cover, but they’re real people and they’re nice” he said.

In 2002, after their 17 year old daughter Karlie Rose died in a car accident, Ellis and his wife Kristi created the Karli Rose Kell Music Scholarship Fund, to assist young musicians whose family would not be able to afford music lessons.

Ellis E. Kell, Jr. died on Friday, December 16, 2016 at his home in Rock Island. He was 61 years old. His ashes will be inurned at Chippiannock Cemetery in Rock Island.

We thank you, Mr. Kell, for sharing your love of history, music, and life with us.

Ellis Kell Performs at DPL's E.D. Stone building's 40th Anniversary [Oct 2008]

Ellis Kell Performs at DPL’s E.D. Stone building’s 40th Anniversary [Oct 2008]

(posted by Cristina)


  • The Quad-City Times, August 10, 1993. Pg. 4 T.
  • The Rock Island Argus, June 26, 1994.
  • The Rock Island Argus, December 19, 1994.
  • The Rock Island Argus, December 7, 1995.
  • The Rock Island Argus, October 28, 1999.
  • The Rock Island Argus, December 22, 1996.
  • The Rock Island Argus, October 27, 1996.
  • The Rock Island Argus, October 13, 2000.
  • The Quad-City Times, September 28, 2003. Pg. H 8.
  • The Quad-City Times, June 12, 2004. Pg. G 9.
  • The Quad-City Times, November 11, 2006. Pg. B 1.
  • The Quad-City Times, May 15, 2007. Pg. A 1.
  • The Quad-City Times, May 16, 2015. Pg. 1.
  • The Quad-City Times, December 20, 2016.
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