Genealogical Records Sets Revisited

In February I wrote a blog post about a 2020 goal to digitize record sets held by my organization that would be useful to those engaged in genealogical research and that would be unlikely to be in the digital collections of large-scale genealogical databases such as Ancestry or FamilySearch. Despite the ongoing pandemic that work has actually continued to progress, with digitization of organizational and veterans records coming online steadily, if slower than might otherwise be the case in a non-pandemic year.

After digitizing around 8000 cards/clippings of veterans records, I decided I needed a change of pace and switched over to the digitization of organizational records. Briefly, this reformatting of organizational records involved going through our manuscript collections dedicated to specific social clubs, unions, societies, and the like, to identify anything described as a yearbook, directory, or membership list. There were several collections that were large enough to exist independently that were taken care of first, and then we also have a large manuscript collection that has handfuls of records from dozens of different orgs. This was the perfect palate cleanser after the large drawers of newspaper clippings as each of the individual projects was small and able to be brought online and completed in a day or two. Sometimes it’s nice to just have the win and feel like you accomplished something (now more than ever).

The most recent addition was a single yearbook from an American Legion post, the only thing from the folder that could be digitized for privacy reasons, as the other yearbook was too recent to go online. A project definitely able to be accomplished quickly as image capture, editing, metadata, quality control, and upload took me under two hours from front to back. My end goal is to get as large a corpus of these sorts of records online as possible, but I was curious to search one of the last names in the American Legion yearbook, chosen at random, just to see what would turn up. I was very pleasantly surprised by the results.

Ben B. Durfee’s entry in the American Legion, Toledo Post 335 Inc. yearbook, 1968-1969

Clicking around I stumbled across the name of Ben B. Durfee in the American Legion, Post 335 Toledo 1968-1969 yearbook. Durfee is a pretty fun name and seemed likely to be fairly unique so that the number of results would be lower and more likely to be relevant. I plugged it into our collection’s general search box to see what sort of results I would get. The name returned 44 results so I started clicking on things that looked promising and attempted to get some context for this individual generally.

I also checked Benjamin B. Durfee in our obituary index to see if I could get a death-date for him and ended up with two entries, one for the obituary and one for a newspaper article about Durfee. The article in particular has a title of “Longtime Toledo lawyer was WW ll naval officer” which tracks with everything else we’ve seen so far, confirming the entry in the American Legion yearbook as to his profession as an attorney, as well as the fact that he was a veteran. So the obituary indicates he dies in 2000 at the age of 81 and it puts his birth-year at around 1919.

Ben Durfee’s Senior Photography from 1937 Edelian

A Ben Durfee shows up in the 1937 edition of the Edelian, the yearbook for Edward Drummond Libbey High School. The math seems to confirm we’re talking about the same person here; if he was born in approximately 1919, he would have been 18 in 1937, the age of a senior in high school. This accounts for the resources that we would normally consider to be “genealogical records” but to my surprise, additional resources were returned in the search related to Durfee.

Toledo Troopers yearbook, November 15, 1973

The Toledo Troopers were a women’s professional football team playing out of Toledo in the 1970s and somewhat to my surprise, it appears that Durfee also represented the team as their attorney of record as noted in the 1973 yearbook for the team. The Troopers materials were digitized separately in an effort to document the team itself, without thinking of those materials necessarily as genealogical in nature, though of course they are that too.

Toledo History Vertical Files – Buildings – 1980-1984
Toledo History Scrapbooks – Buildings – G-O
Toledo History Scrapbooks – Apartments

As an attorney, it would appear that Durfee was active in real estate development, as a number of scrapbooks that have been digitized specifically for their relevance to our architectural records collections mention Durfee for projects that he was involved in, as well as one mention of the location of his offices in a major downtown Toledo building.

This was an arbitrary name chosen for the fact that it looks fairly unique (and fun to say aloud) that resulted in a wonderfully surprising amount of information that was already in our repository, and the great thing is that the “research” to uncover it took all of two or three minutes. It took significantly more time to write up a quick blog post about this than it did to actually uncover the information. Granted, this was some serious dumb luck; I imagine most names picked out of that American Legion yearbook wouldn’t have the same level of results, but this exemplifies exactly why this work is important and why bringing an increasing amount of these types of hidden genealogical records online will be a boon for researchers.

I think of the work of making genealogical records available online along the same as digitization itself; a person’s lived experience is the “analog” version of a human life, the records that document that lived experience constitute a sampling of the human life in order to create a “digital” version of it. While an Ancestry search would have likely turned up information about Durfee’s birth, death, marriage, and veteran status, we’re able to supplement those standard records with additional information that adds some more samples to the digital version of his life. Durfee was active in the veteran’s community through his participation in the American Legion; he was a National Honor Society member in high school and active in his school newspaper; he was involved with one of the most unique sports groups in Toledo history, the Toledo Troopers; he was involved with real-estate development professionally as an attorney.

All of this information helps round out the picture of Durfee and provides lots more leads for information should you wish to pursue it. The article that mentions where his law practice’s offices were could lead you to pictures of the building and maps of its location to understand where he spent lots of time in his work or what his view might have been like out his office window. Clippings about real estate projects he was involved in could lead to more articles about those projects, or county auditor information about the buildings. Knowing that he was involved with the Troopers could lead to reading all of the rest of the information we have available about the team. This digital version of Durfee’s life becomes a bit more in focus with each record.

Being able to supplement the traditional genealogical databases with our freely available material is a fantastic use of our time, and this throwaway search for a name in our repository reaffirms that fact for me in a wonderful way.