Genealogical Research in Koochiching Co.

March 16, 2010

Traveling to International Falls in 2000 and 2001 was to meet my cousin who was 87 years old.   I did spend a lot of wonderful hours with her and she told me great stories about the McDonald’s.  Now I was very new to genealogy back then but I was learning real fast.

On my first visit there in 2000, the Koochiching County Historical Society was closed for renovation.  So I learned a valuable lesson and that is to always call or email an archive or society before you go to verify hours and to make sure they are going to be open.

The second time I visited was June of 2001.  I wrote a nice letter to the Koochiching County Historical Society well in advance of my visit.  I was just learning about my family so I wrote as detailed a letter as I could at the time.  I had a lot of questions.  A few examples included my grandfather Ronald S. McDonald and his term(s) as Commissioner of the town.  I also asked about my great Uncle Jack McDonald and his time as mayor of the town.  This way when I arrived I would be able to jump right in and seek the information I needed.

The Director, at the time, had no interest in my research.  He led me to the basement of the society and I spent most of my time trying to make sense out of the mess.  He pretty much left me to fend for myself which I prefer but it was difficult to find things.   Frankly, I really don’t think he read my letter.   It was unfortunate.  I know that the Koochiching County Historical Society assists others in research for I have seen their references in other sources.  It didn’t stop me from digging further.

International Falls Public Library

What turned out to be a gold mine was the International Falls Public Library which was just down the street.  A librarian in that library had started a newspaper clipping file.  Among those files I found obituaries, other articles on my family and more.   Always check out the local library for you never know what you will find. Sometimes it is a good resource and other times it is not.   In this case it was great:

Of course you have to stop in at the Koochiching County Courthouse which is right there on the town square.  I visited them for the birth records of my family and later for the deeds (land records).  This was my first time in a courthouse and it was a great experience.  They were all very helpful.

While there I had learned that my great uncles, grandfather Ronald’s brothers, had been fireman.  So my hubby and I visited the local fire department there in International Falls which is also on the town square and had a wonderful time talking to the fireman.  They gave us coffee (hmm…maybe some cookies?) and a book on their history.  Of course my family is in that book.   See new link below.

FIREMAN BOOK:  “Proud Traditions: A History in Words and Photos of International Falls – Fire Fighters 1900-1994 – Protecting Life and Property.”

This booklet is compiled from newspaper articles from the various International Falls newspapers and lots of contributors like the Koochiching County Historical Society.

The sky was menacing as I recall in 2001 and there was a threat of a twister on the radio at the time, yet we still went out and had dinner.  We went to  the Spot Fire Restaurant for dinner.  This restaurant had a museum of fireman memorabilia, photos and actual restored fire trucks.  My great uncles were listed on the wall there.  We had a nice chat and tour with the owner.  The food was delicious!  The website seems to be gone.  I hope it is still there?

Don’t forget to check out the visitors information center in a city you are visiting.  They have a lot of good information, maps and more to help you with getting around and familiar with an area:  City of International Falls

I have great memories of International Falls and my time there.

International Falls and the Rainy River!

March 10, 2010

Learning about an ancestral location is fun.  So here is a little bit about one of the places in my families history.

International Falls lies on the banks of the Rainy River.  My family settled there.  The Rainy River follows the international boundary line between the United States and Canada.  This city is at the very top of the State of Minnesota.  If you stand on the United States side and look across, you see the lights from Canadian homes and businesses.

Rainy River

Here is a link to a map of the town:

International Falls was first a part of Itasca County up to 1906 when it came under Koochiching County.

Smokey Bear

I traveled to International Falls twice so I know a tiny bit about the area.  I visited there in 2000 and then again 2001. I went there to learn more about my dad’s family, the McDonald’s and to meet my cousin Mary McDonald Louiseau. Mary was 87 years old at the time. She was my grandfather Ronald’s niece and a cousin to Keith. Her father was Jack McDonald brother to Ronald.  The photos are from those trips.

International Falls is famous for being the coldest city in the United States.  They have a giant thermometer in the town square to keep track of the temperature.

Here is a link to some Google images of International Falls:

Wikipedia gives a nice description of the city at:,_Minnesota

There are two huge Lumber mills that sit on the banks of the Rainy River. You drive across this very narrow 2 lane bridge to get to the Canadian side which is named Fort Francis. Don’t forget that Canadian money!  I am sure the crossing requires more identification then it did back in 2000.  So be prepared!  Some time in the early 1900’s they built up the river and made a dam across it.

The website of Koochiching County has a section on history and nice article on E. W. Backus the “last of the lumber barons.”  Keith’s father, Ronald, worked for this man in the early 1900’s per family history.  Ronald was a lumberman. In this article there is a picture of E. W. and other pictures that show the river, lumber mill and more.

Learning about the history of ancestral locations is challenging but rewarding.  See the link for the home page to the Koochiching County history pages to the right under “Favorites” where you will find more history about the area.

Keith’s Sister: A Tribute to Miriam

February 19, 2010

Miriam Summer in Selah, WA


In writing this MacDonell blog I will mention my Aunt Miriam frequently, especially regarding the McDonald’s and the Barclay’s.  She wrote and prepared about 6-9 pages of notes on the family that I have in my possession.  She wrote them and probably did the research back before 1980 and maybe even earlier.  She was kind enough to send me copies of these notes in 1986 when I asked her about our family.  Along with the notes she sent other charts and pictures which I will share.  I wrote back and asked questions and she responded with more pages.    

It will make more sense for me to share bits and pieces of Miriam’s Notes and Family information as I progress through this blog.  In the post dated February 8, 2010 “Clan Donald.” I have a small part of a section of her notes included “The MacDonalds.” I think Miriam did a great job.  There are some minor mistakes.  There are vague statements she has written that have made it difficult to determine what she was talking about.  Those statements have made it a little frustrating because I can’t ask her questions.  I also wonder what lead her to focus on a particular piece of information.  She references books which I have managed to find and add to the family history library.     

Working with Miriam’s notes and charts, I have learned that when you do genealogy you have to be careful and explain why you used a certain source, or where you got that information.  If you are speculating or throwing out theories then you let the person know that it is a theory and this is why?  When you use a quote from a book.  You need to reference that quote carefully so if the person wants to go back to the source and review the information they can.  It is also wise to make sure you carefully craft a quotation.  Never add to a quotation or alter it at all.    

My Aunt Miriam was about 5 feet 2 inches tall.  She was a school teacher.  She never married.  She taught ninth grade English at the Franklin Junior High School in Yakima, Washington from about 1945 to her retirement in 1973.  She moved to Yakima about 1935 looking for work.  Later in life she traveled the world visiting Scotland, Ireland, England, Europe, Israel, Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Guatemala, Hawaii, and Alaska.  She visited the Orient which included China, Singapore, Bali, Bangkok, Japan and walked the Great Wall of China.  She travel to Russia with my mother in 1972.  I will probably share some of those photographs which are not of the greatest quality.  I recently compiled a booklet of her travels along with burning several CD’s of her photographs.  I published it and gave it to the family for Christmas.  Miriam was deeply Catholic.  I have her rosary beads.  She traveled twice on what was called the “Holy Land Tour.”  She went with her sister Vivian  in 1973 and later her sister Jean in 1977.  This tour took them to Rome, Israel and Greece.      

I never sat down with her to talk about the family.  I was not ready in 1986.  It was not until 1998 that I finally plunged in and took off with the family genealogy.  Unfortunately Miriam died in 1997. She was 91 years old.  Her last years were not great, she suffered from dementia. Yes, I missed out again on asking questions.  Still, if I had not asked for the information back in 1986 I would have struggled.  She gave me a starting point.   I wonder what she would have thought about all the information I have gathered? She often said we were “dour Scottish people.”   Thank you Miriam your niece is very grateful that you pointed the way.


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