On the record ... with Dorothy Stoddard
MALTA – Thanks to one local woman, people researching family trees in Malta or who just want to know about the early residents of the village have a new place to look.
Dorothy Stoddard has completed "A Scrapbook Obituary Collection for People With a Connection to Malta." The book, released in December, contains approximately 3,100 obituaries with ties to Malta, dating back to the 1840s. It comes in both book and disc formats.
The lifelong Malta resident said it took her 15 years to compile the information. She searched family collections, local newspapers, funeral homes and other sources. Stoddard received some help from her daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Tom Plote, but did most of the work herself.
Stoddard said her interest in obituaries probably comes from her father, who was the president of the Malta Cemetery Association for a number of years.
"He did a lot of trimming around the tombs," she said, adding that she used to help him. "That's probably how I got started."
Aside from the main cemetery, Stoddard said the only other known cemetery in Malta is a small family plot a couple of miles east of town, although there could be old, private plots she isn't aware of on local farms.
Copies of the scrapbook, which costs $80 for the book and $25 for the disc, can be purchased by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
According to her daughter, Stoddard will donate the original documents to the Regional History Center, located in Founders Memorial Library at Northern Illinois University.
“She put in a lot of work on this thing," Ken, Stoddard's husband of 62 years, said.
Stoddard spent a few minutes discussing the book and the project with MidWeek reporter Doug Oleson.
MidWeek: How did you get started on this?
Dorothy Stoddard: It started out 15 years ago. I had gotten hurt in a little accident and hurt my leg, and decided I'd better have a project going so I don’t think about that. I had these six obituaries, which were relatives' collections, and decided maybe I should work on those. I’d been wanting to do something with them, but I didn’t know what. So I took them to a copy service and made copies and cut them out and alphabetized them. Then I borrowed scrapbooks and collections from other people in the area. I just kept working at it.
MW: When you started out, did you have a goal or did it just keep growing?
DS: It was something to do, more or less. ...I thought I’d compile them, and have them all in one place.
MW: Did you have a computer when you started?
DS: No. I did it on paper. I took 17x14 (inch) pages and put about 10 on a page.
MW: Did people ask you to organize their collections?
DS: As I was working at it two or three years, I thought, I've got a copy of the Malta Cemetery book that the woman’s club gave us. I thought if I would add some more columns and show parents and spouse and marriage dates, things like that, it could be helpful to people. So I did this book ("Cemeteries of Malta Township, 2003").
MW: So then what happened?
DS: As I worked two or three years later, I thought about the Memorial Day bulletin, which listed mostly World War I veterans. I thought we could add to it. I did more research on deceased Malta veterans. I searched libraries and various places for more information.
We just had a page of that. Now we have the War of 1812, the Civil War, the Spanish-American, World War I, World War II and the more current ones. Then I got to thinking maybe it would help the community if we had a list of the living veterans in the area. We added that (for the 2010 Memorial Day bulletin).
MW: And then you continued with the obituary book?
DS: I continued off and on, mostly off I guess you could say, with the obituary book.
I slowed down this fall and my daughter Nancy and (son-in-law) Tom finished it. They did it so it’s in book form and also in disc form. Tom knew of a printer he worked with, and he got this accomplished.
MW: Where else did you go for information?
DS: I also went to the funeral homes and asked them if I could go through their records to see if I could find obituaries from older people. Both of the mortuary people let me look at their books.
MW: Was it hard to find information? Were people cooperative?
DS: Most of them were. A few of them I should have started a little sooner. They destroyed them (the records) the year before.
MW: What about anyone in town?
DS: I think I asked different ones if they had scrapbooks of obituaries.
MW: So you basically do this alone?
DS: A gal who was the secretary of our church – Karen Garland of the Malta United Methodist Church – knew I kind of wanted to get into computer, but didn’t know how to do it. One day she said she can come and show me how to do it. That’s how I got started on the computer.
Nancy and Tom have helped at various times.
MW; Once you learned the computer, did that make it easier?
DS: Not for me, but it got in there.
I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but, one night I was working, when I first started on the computer, I was getting tired and I thought I’d better quit. The next thing I knew, I raised my head up and the whole thing was doing it backwards, the alphabet. It was quite a mess. I called Tom and he came and fixed it and brought it back to where it was.
MW: How many obituaries did you come up with?
DS: There are 3,100. I may have had a duplicate here or there.
MW: When you started did you think you’d end up with so many?
MW: So are you done or are you gong to add on to this?
DS: That’s the end of it.
Actually, I thought I was going to end it in 2008, but I didn’t get it accomplished so there’s a second part of this, which is also alphabetized, from 2008 to 2012.
MW: It’s just people with a collection to Malta, is that correct?
DS: I tried to. But the first six collections I didn’t delete any. I knew there were a few who weren’t too much Malta people, but where do you stop if you start deleting some?
MW: Were there any obituaries that really stood out?
DS: I can’t think of any right off hand. They all have their own stories.
MW: Who was the first person buried here?
DS: Sarah, the daughter of Jane and Reward Stuartevant, was buried in 1858. I believe, from checking over as much as I could, that is the first person buried in the Malta area. I'm sure there could have been others on family plots on some of the farms around here that aren't written down.
MW: Did you enjoy this or was it something that once you got into it, you just wanted to finish it?
DS: I just like this kind of stuff.
MW: Did you think it would be this much work?
DS: No, I just started at it and kept a-going. I also work on family histories in the area.
MW: If someone wants a copy, where do they go?
DS: They can contact me because I pay the printing costs and we have to take the printing costs out before we can turn the rest of it over to the historical society.
MW: Are you a member of the Malta Historical Society?
DS: No, I’m not. I told them until I got this done I wasn’t going to be a member because I thought they’d put me to work.
MW: So even though you’re not a member, they still get the proceeds?
DS: Yes. The profits of the 2003 book went to the women’s club before it dissolved and then it went to the Malta Historical Society. It wasn’t really a money-making project for me; it was just work.
MW: Basically, then, you did this to help people with their genealogy?
DS: Yes, I did it to help people. Different ones would try to call someone they thought was connected to the cemetery and ask for information and I just thought if we had something like this it would be more helpful.
MW: What's it feel like now that you’ve put this all together?
DS: I'm glad we did it, but it's kind of a relief now that it’s done. Someone else can work on the next 20 or 30 years.