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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Basic Biittner: Getting in touch with Our Past

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I recently undertook a three-day "educational road trip" with my brother and sister, to explore our family roots in Clayton County, Iowa. For those of you who don't know, Clayton County is located on the far eastern border of the state. The county seat is Elkader, which strangely enough is named after an Algerian emir, Abdel Kader, and the most famous landmarks are the Effigy Mounds, which I vaguely recall from my 6th grade Iowa History class. Some other Clayton County towns are McGregor, Postville and Monona.

My father's ancestral family lived in Monona County from approximately 1843 until 1869, when my great-great-grandfather Reuben, his wife Mary, and their children headed west, as part of a group that eventually settled in this part of the state. Reuben, a grain merchant, built one of the first homes in Aurelia about 10 years later That house is located at the current 404 Main Street in Aurelia, and is now owned and operated by the Aurelia Heritage Society, as the Heritage House.

We have a fairly good understanding of the family history from that point on, thanks mainly to my late father Rex, who was a good family historian and story-teller. We really didn't know much about the pre-1869, family though, and it was for that reason we headed out to Clayton County.

While in the county, we found the grave-sites of a few relatives, and also the land records of property they owned. We did not find the actual headstones of Reuben's parents, John and Lanissa, though records we found at the Monona library indicate that earlier "walkthroughs" of the cemetery done by the W.P.A. showed their presence in the Monona City Cemetery. Our best guess is that their headstones have since disappeared, and we may place some kind of marker there in the future if we are able to establish their exact location.

The purpose of this column, though, is not to re-hash my family history, but rather to encourage all of you to find out more about your family roots. It can be fascinating, and it just may tell you something about "where you came from." I would encourage everyone to do so - and you don't have to wait until you're in your 50s or 60s to do so.

We would like to trace our family further back. Rueben was born in Ontario, Canada, but we have read that many records there were destroyed by a fire years ago. Nevertheless, my brother Doug, who along with my son Aaron has been the spark-plug in re-igniting my interest in the family history, has another road trip in the back of his mind, when he finishes up with his current up-dating. Seems he'd like to travel to Toronto ...

I checked. My passport doesn't expire until 2012.

Dan Whitney
Basic Biittner