Recently, Jennifer Jewett Dilley of Des Moines, Iowa, reached out to the Publications office at NEHGS to discuss permissions for a project. Jennifer explained that her father Gerald Anson Jewett Jr. is “92 years young,” and that they are writing a book that chronicles Gerald’s life and the times in which he lived. It currently stands at three hundred pages and is nearing completion. Jennifer mentioned that Gerald’s great-grandfather, George Anson Jewett, was a member of NEHGS many years ago. I wrote down his name and wondered if we’d be able to uncover anything of interest on George.
I reached out to Manager of Manuscript Collections Tim Salls. Tim was able to locate George Anson Jewett’s membership form. Beginning in 1870, NEHGS asked new members to fill out this type of form. Many existing NEHGS members filled out the form as well. The forms were then back-filed according to the date they joined. While the form was discontinued in 2000, all returned forms are currently preserved within our institutional archives.
Tim explained that the questions on the membership form changed over the years. A typical nineteenth-century example includes name, place and date of birth, current residence, father’s name and date/place of birth, mother’s maiden name and date/place of birth, names of ancestors in direct line, wife’s maiden name, wife’s father’s name, date of marriage, names of children, history of education, offices held, works written/published, and occupation.
I shared a scan of George’s membership form with Jennifer and she was delighted. She immediately recognized George’s signature. “George was known for that beautiful signature of his,” she said, “and it hugely graces his headstone.”
George was elected a member to NEHGS in 1912 and ended his membership in 1933, as noted on the form. Jennifer shared that Annie, George’s beloved wife of 65 years, died on New Year’s Day in 1933. “It apparently really took the spunk out of my lively great-great-grandfather George. I can understand why he withdrew from your Society that year,” she said.
Last month, Jennifer volunteered in a headstone cleaning endeavor at Woodland Cemetery, where her great-great-grandfather George is buried. Woodland Cemetery, established in 1848, is the oldest cemetery in Des Moines and has over 80,000 graves. Jennifer cleaned the very block that contains her pioneer family’s plot, and she said it was a moving experience.