CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - In the basement of the Masonic Library in Cedar Rapids, there's a hidden treasure that few people know about.
"We have almost anything that you'd ever look for," said Charlene Hansen with the Linn County Genealogical Society. She's been helping people track down deceased relatives, birth records, and old pictures since the early 1970's. Most of it was given to the Society by Linn County.
"People don't realize what we do have, but we not only cover Linn County, which most people think, but we cover other Iowa counties, other states, and other countries," Hansen told us.
There are cabinets packed with newspapers on microfilm, like The Daily Rustler out of Center Point.
"This is January 6th, 1892," said Hansen as she looked at the film over a backlight. It contains advertisements for great deals on shoes and "winter goods," among other things. "They could get flour, per sack, for a dollar," Hansen read.
There's also Civil War enlistment records and obituaries dating back to the late 1800's. Every item is cataloged and indexed before it's placed on a shelf.
"They're not any good without an index," Hansen explained.
Some people, like Barbara and Frank Edmunds, come in with only names to go on. They're digging for information missing from burial sites in the Czech National Cemetery, as they update their records digitally.
"There's a lot. Right now we're right at 10,000 burials," said Barb, thumbing through old obituaries. Many of them are missing birth or death dates, and some have no obituaries at all.
Questions don't always lead to answers down here, with so many nameless faces lining the walls.
"Some of them are very, very old; we don't know who they are, even," said Hansen. "But somebody does."
And should that somebody stop in for a visit, they may discover a piece of themselves they didn't realize was missing.
"All of the pictures with the names on them are invaluable to somebody looking for their history. And they're going to run upon it," Hansen told us.