PEORIA, Ill. — For years, dusty, battered volumes of records from the 19th and early 20th century have been stored in boxes in a forgotten corner of the Peoria County Courthouse.
The dirty, yellowed and rodent-chewed pages were on the verge of becoming useless. That was until Peoria resident Bob Hoffer stumbled across the books on a genealogical hunt for details in the death of his wife’s great-grandfather.
“They were going to dust,” Hoffer told the Journal Star in Peoria. “Left like they were for too much longer and they might not have had any value at all.”
They are called the undertakers’ records. They were compiled and stored by a fledgling Peoria County Health Department in the 19th century then moved to the county courthouse to free up storage space.
Inside the damaged books are the scribbling’s of local undertakers, who by order of the state Legislature were required to record the name, date of death, burial location, home address, age, birthplace, undertaker, doctor and cause of death of every person who died in Peoria.
Hoffer’s interest in the records prompted the transcription of local undertakers’ writings in the early years into tidy, easy-to-read computerized columns. The records, which cover deaths from 1872-1881, contain 4,180 entries, and are available for purchase from the Peoria Genealogical Society. They can be used for free in the Local History section on the lower floor of the Peoria Main Library.
The records are a snapshot of a bygone era, reflected mainly beneath the “Cause of Death” column.
“They are the missing link in Peoria genealogy,” said Amber Lowery, who works in the local history section of the Peoria Public Library, and who discovered a couple of her own ancestors listed in the books. “Their value to genealogists can’t be overstated.”
Hoffer gets credit for the first part of the salvaging of the information written in the undertakers’ records. He took the books to Peoria Camera, which donated space and equipment to the project to do it right.
The photographed images on a computer flash drive were then given to Alice Brophy, a retired schoolteacher and volunteer database creator for the Peoria Genealogical Society. Brophy then typed the information from the photographed images into her computer to create the database. She is working on the second volume of the Undertakers’ Records. She transcribes the records for hours every day.
Information from: Journal Star, http://pjstar.com