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History detectives go on 1,000 mile search

Friday, June 22, 2012

Courtesy photo/Sue Doak An old newspaper article gave a few more details in the death of Joseph Exline.
Susan Doak,

SW Nebraska Genealogy Society

McCOOK, Nebraska -- In May, my cousin from Texas and I headed to Iowa for a 1,000 mile genealogy search. While a lot of things are available online, some things just have to be done as if you were a history detective!

Sheri had a goal that she wished to accomplish: Find the grave of our great-great grandfather who was murdered in 1893, close to the town of Moulton, Iowa. She wanted the whole picture: Death certificate, trial transcripts, obituary and gravesite. We knew he had been murdered because we had found a short newspaper article from the Cedar Rapids paper, mentioning the sketchy details of his demise, but nothing else was available online. Sheri had hired a genealogy researcher from the area but the news article remained the only clue.

When you decide to do on site research, you never know what you will find. Some courthouses are modern and organized to aide in genealogy research; others not so much! Some, but not all, welcome your presence. Be prepared to not be allowed to copy any papers with a hand held scanner or photograph the records. Also understand that while counties are in the business of recording information, most small population counties are struggling to keep their doors open and their staff will be friendly and helpful but also overwhelmed with the normal day-to-day business that they must provide to their constituents. It pays to prepare for your search by familiarizing yourself with a basic idea of how you research legal records.

As a member of the SW Nebraska Genealogy Society (SWNGS) you can learn pointers and gain access to directories that help guide you to the records within this area.

Our murder mystery search in Iowa was mostly unrewarded. Our great-great grandfather at the time of his death was essentially a man with no family. After the death of two of their children, his wife had moved with a son to Kansas, but great-great- grrandfather Joseph remained in Iowa near the town his brother had founded (Exline, Iowa).

We found the death certificate for a man who was unidentified with murder listed as the cause of death. Another news article named our grandfather as the victim and the three young men arrested as suspects, but no court cases were found showing that they had been brought to trial.

Sadly, no one ever went back and corrected the death certificate to show Grandpa's name when finally identified and apparently, even his wealthy brother failed to claim his body or give him a funeral and headstone. We assume he lies in the pauper's field off to the side of a beautiful little cemetery we found.

This was not the last sad event the Exline family. The successful brother's young daughter was also murdered with no one brought to justice for that crime, either.

We found no kings or queens in our heritage but royalty is not who settled this country and buried their loved ones as they traveled further and further west. Some found life so hard that they gave up all hope and ended up vagrants, murdered in an old barn with no one to claim their bodies. Sad yes, but it is a piece of the puzzle to the mosaics of our lives. SWNGS can help you find those pieces.

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