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Friday, June 2, 2006

The bronze image of John William Straughn stands 12-feet tall and weighs nearly 500 pounds.

The statue, located on the south side of 15th Street between Araphoe and Curtis streets in Denver, Colo., is larger than life, a fitting tribute for the colorful and flamboyant man with humble beginnings in Putnam County.

A deputy and jailer under the famed lawman Bat Masterson in Dodge City during the late 1800's, Straughn and his wife Sarah owned a local inn there called Colonel Straughn's. While at Dodge City, he also was charged with moving the bodies from the original "Boot Hill" Cemetery to the graveyard's modern location.

Although he was a Civil War veteran and wheelwright, Straughn's metal cast figure with a pick in one hand and a huge gold nugget in the other was dedicated as a symbol of the Denver Mining Exchange in 1891, for his work as a Colorado miner.

This is a long way from where he and his sister Mary were raised by his grandparents, William and Elizabeth (Kurtz) King, just west of Limedale in Putnam County, Indiana.

It is this kind of unique genealogy find which has driven Oklahoma attorney Gregory A. Boyd from full-time law practice to the dream jobof a genealogy junkie.

He now spends his days (and nights) publishing a series of books which contain maps of original homesteads, roads, waterways, towns, cemeteries and railroads from counties across the country.

It was while on the heritage history trail that he found the colorful character of John William Straughn in his wife Vicki's genealogy.

"She had no idea she even had ancestors from Indiana," Boyd said.

Plotting pioneer maps based on free U.S. Census information available online became a nighttime hobby for Boyd who considers himself an insomniac.

The lack of sleep may have been a gold mine for Boyd who spent the late-night hours developing software programs which would automatically plot maps and grids for his books.

He now has more than 100 family map books for counties in Arkansas, Illinois, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Utah, Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, Michigan and more.

"Family Maps of Putnam County, Indiana" by Boyd is available for order at www.arphax.com.

The maps and information in Boyd's books are the tools Local History Librarian Don Weaver, with the Putnam County Public Library (PCPL) uses every day.

Weaver heads the staff of the PCPL Local History room, which works to preserve local historical and genealogical information and make it available to the public.

Weaver said genealogy searchers could take something like Boyd's book and compare it with other information at the library. He explained most genealogists prefer to find two different points of confirmation when looking for an event or individual in their family history.

For example, someone might take a name from a census document, then compare it to a church baptismal record. A really great find would have some kind of additional anecdotal information with it, such as a diary entry or a note in the minutes of a public meeting.

Although local residents regularly use the Local History services at the library, most of the patrons are from outside Putnam County.

"They want to find out if someone lived here based on information they got off of the Internet," Weaver said.

He said one family who visited came all the way from Alaska.

"They had driven 4,100 miles trying to find all the places their family had been," he said.

Most come ready to compare information taken from the U.S. Census or one of the online genealogy tools available free to patrons, to the other hardcopy resources available at the library.

The earliest U.S. Census information available dates back to 1790 and is recorded every 10 years after that.

The census material came in handy for New Winchester resident Cindy Rutledge, who stopped by the PCPL Local History room to research the history of the founder's of her church.

She compared church records with cemetery, census and other resources at the library.

"You have to watch out for when there were different clerks and people keeping records," she said. "Sometimes the spellings were different."

Patrons searching for family history during the last 70 years have to rely on sources such as church records, diaries and court and county documents, because the most recent U.S. Census available is from 1930.

"In order to get people to fill out the forms and give the full information, the government promised no personal information would be available for 70 years," Weaver said of census results which are not made public for 70 years.

So, people come to the library, to search the information gathered in the Local History room including some family bibles, maps and the newspaper database.

The information can be researched while on a visit but not checked out to take home.

With the library's new electronic card catalog system Polaris, Weaver said, he hopes staff will soon be able to make database searches even easier for patrons.

Despite the modern tools used to plot, research and make discoveries in genealogy, a trip to the Local History room also shows that the way we live, work and move about the country really hasn't changed. This is evident in the way researchers often find family history scattered across counties and states.

"People think that with business the way it is now that long ago society was not as mobile as it is now," Weaver said. "But in early U.S. history, people moved around a lot too."

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