by Connie Shipley
In the past year, I have gone through many distinct steps organizing my time and energy to gather information about my great-grandfather. In this article, I want to share some sources you may not realize are at your fingertips to help you put your own life story together, or that of people in your family. At one of our Personal Historian Zoom meetings, Nancy Burkhalter shared that librarians are great resources, so ask a librarian for help. I tucked that piece of information in the back of my mind!
Knowing that my great grandfather had gone to Astoria looking for work in the years after he arrived in Portland in 1885, I knew I wanted to go to the Astoria library and look through the newspapers of that time. Because of COVID, the library was closed for a long time. This last summer the library opened, and I steeled myself to be prepared to go through microfiche or carefully go through newspapers if they would let me touch the originals. I went down to Astoria, staying overnight in a delightful bed-and-breakfast, and went to the library. When I asked to see the early Astoria newspapers, the librarian said that during COVID, the University of Oregon library had borrowed their newspapers and now they are all available on-line digitally. Wow, what I thought was going to take me a long time only took me a couple of days because I could search digitally using my great grandfather’s name, Emil Schacht, in the comfort of my home. The University of Oregon is systematically digitally scanning the small newspapers throughout Oregon. Here is the website: https://oregonnews.uoregon.edu/. I have also taken advantage of my membership in the Multnomah County Library, where you can find the Historical Oregonian and Oregon Journal newspapers available for digital search: https://multcolib.org/research-tools.
With great anticipation, I went to the Oregon Historical Society library when it opened in October. I told Scott Daniels, the librarian, that I wanted to look in the Lewis & Clark Expo files for the minutes of the executive committee and any references to Emil Schacht. When I arrived for my first appointment, he handed me a box and I started going through handwritten ledgers of minutes for the various committees, including the architectural committee, led by Ion Lewis. It was wonderful reading the minutes, seeing the evolution of the concept of having an Exposition in 1901 to its actually happening, on time and completely ready for visitors in 1905. One day he brought me a folder where he had found a handwritten letter by my great grandfather, accepting the invitation to a meeting to discuss designing the buildings at the Exposition. There was a limited group of seven architects who received these invitations. This handwritten letter was the first time I saw my great grandfather’s handwriting. It was a magical moment for me.
After going through five boxes of folders and ledgers of the Executive Committee and the Secretary, I asked the librarian how many boxes OHS has on the Lewis and Clark Exposition. He told me, “120.”
Realizing that I needed to focus on the use of my time, I went to the Wilson Room at the Multnomah County Library and looked for more papers of the Secretary of the Exposition, Henry Reed. There I found his “History of the Lewis & Clark Exposition.”. He was the best person to write it and he took on the responsibility reluctantly. He wrote the book and deciding it wasn’t worthy of the significant event the Expo was, he wrote a second, longer version, which I am now reading. While I was reading this book last time I was there, the librarian was quietly looking through the American Institute of Architects newsletters, looking for references to Emil for me. He also told me that the special newspaper put out by the Exposition is also digitally available now and sent me the link. I really appreciate the support these librarians are giving me. And I say, it is available to you too.
In researching the clients for whom Emil designed his homes, I have found that many of them were also recent arrivals to Portland. One gentleman, born in Weyauwega, Wisconsin and grew up in Oshkosh, made his money in Ogden, Utah and came to Portland and had Emil design him a beautiful home in Albina. He decided to live the life of farmer, with a farm in the Medicine Hat Alberta Canada area (where my maternal family line also settled), and enjoying warmer weather after the harvest back to Portland, and eventually Palo Alto California for the winter. I decided I wanted to find a picture of Emil’s client and reached out to the Historical Societies in Oshkosh and Medicine Hat. Leaving a message on an answering machine, I was so delighted when the President of the Winnebago County Historical and Archeological Society called me back, late in the day his time, and walked me through their on-line picture collection to the one portrait of the client’s father that was available. Neither Society was open at the time of my inquiry because of COVID, so it touched me for this man to assist me as best he could. This shows you the power of asking.
Another website that I think you may find helpful in searching for a relative is the free “Find A Grave” website: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial. An army of volunteers are going into the cemeteries and taking photos of the gravestones and posting them on this website with the person’s information on the gravestone. They have posted obituaries on some. If you are looking for a relative, be sure to try this website. You will also find links to their family members by their memorial ID number so you can follow a trail of family lineage. I found that my father’s parents and his siblings were not cross-referenced, so I became a member and started posting pictures and plan to post small biographies of all the family members with their pictures. I have found their “suggest edits” function to be easy to work with. If you want to leave the story of some of your family members without making a book, this is a way to share their stories with future generations with minimal effort.
As I go into 2022, I am grateful to learn that so much help is available from librarians, and I’m looking forward to them helping me find online resources to help me with my projects. I hope this story of my journey will give you the curiosity to see what you can find without leaving the comfort of your home or when you do go to a library. The librarians are there to help you! Best wishes for good health, good work, and joyful surprises,
Connie Shipley, Capturing Your Life Stories