(Please note this profile was originally published in 2011 and some of the information is outdated.  It is reprinted here exactly as it originally appeared with permission from APG.)


Genealogy in the Heartland:*


Thirty-five years ago, Alex Haley published his novel Roots, the saga of a young man seized by slave-traders from his native African home and transported into enslavement. The book galvanized the genealogy movement, and countless devotees still credit the book and critically acclaimed, immensely popular television series with having spurred their interest in finding the roots of their own ancestors.

Jerry Edwards was likewise influenced by Haley’s book. “I have always had a fascination with history, particularly American history,” Jerry says. “I started researching my family when Alex Haley’s Roots first came out, and I’ve had a passion for genealogy ever since. I think it is the thrill of the chase and the fact that there is always more to learn, another relative to find, another time and another place to research.”

Jerry focuses on American genealogy. “American history and genealogy is my strong area of interest.  The last of my lines to come to here came in the 1830s, and most of them were here even long before that. I’ll never get across the pond with all the work I still have to do right here.”


State Historical Society of Iowa

Jerry has a significant advantage in living near the State Historical Society of Iowa. Its formidable newspaper collection represents hundreds of Iowa communities spanning the years 1836 to the present, its vital records from 1880, and its state census records from 1840 represent an impressive collection of records. Jerry confirms the significance of the Society: “The Historical Society has locations here in Iowa City and in Des Moines. If an item is located in only one branch, it can be requested to be sent to the other one at no charge. They also have a special collections room that not a lot of people seem to know about. There is a tremendous amount of Iowa reference material there that is not in their main catalog. “The librarians there are wonderful. They are knowledgeable and always willing to help. In fact, the special collections room isn’t open on Saturday, but if you tell them what you want beforehand they will take it to the regular reading room for your use on Saturday. I think they cringe when they see me coming on Friday afternoons.”


The Ups and Downs of Client Work 


Jerry has a busy client trade. “Many of my clients have dealt with such recent events as heir searches and the like. One challenge in working with clients is getting them to tell me exactly what it is they want, instead of: ‘Find Everything You Can.’ “The best part of working with clients is helping them discover what they are looking for. Sometimes it can be heart wrenching. I had one client who had me go through two years of local newspapers, searching for anything related to unexplained deaths, cult activity, or arson. The reason? Her sister and cousin were murdered thirty years ago, their bodies found in a burned out pickup. She was still trying to find answers to the unsolved crime. “I did have one woman who wanted me to trace her grandfather’s ancestry so she could give it to him as a birthday present a week later. I explained to her that’s not exactly how it works and never heard back from her. “I had one gentleman from England contact me to find some distant cousins here in Iowa. I was successful in doing so and both he and his relatives were extremely grateful. They even eventually met up with each other. That was extremely rewarding.”


A “Dangerous Man” and a “Solo Man”


Jerry’s favorite ancestor is John Webb, whom he describes as “quite a character.” Jerry continues: “[John] was demoted from corporal to private during the Mexican War, is mentioned as a ‘dangerous man’ in one Iowa murder case, and was the executor of the estate of William Conklin. Mr. Conklin was by all accounts a very violent man and ended up being murdered by his wife, who was later acquitted as acting in self-defense.” Another of Jerry’s favorite ancestors was named Soloman (or Saloman, or Solomon), who seems to have just dropped onto the planet at the time of his marriage. “I have not been able to identify his parents or any other of his family members before marriage,” Jerry explains, “so I like to refer to him as ‘Solo man.’”


Inspiration, Insight, and Institutes 


Jerry has gained inspiration and insight attending the genealogical institutes . “I cannot tell you how fortunate I feel to have been able to attend institutes taught by some of the most eminent American genealogists. Thomas Jones, Elizabeth Shown-Mills, and Josh Taylor immediately come to mind. They have taught me so much! I hope to get to study under each of them again in the near future. Claire Bettag is also an inspiration. “I attend as many institutes as I can. In addition to several national conferences and the Professional Management Conference in Little Rock, I’ve been to National Institute on Genealogical Research, the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy the last three years, and June will be my fourth straight Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR). I think IGHR is my favorite because there is more of a chance to mingle with other attendees and the faculty during meals and other events.”


As Iowan as You Can Get 


Jerry is a true Iowan—born, raised, and having lived in Iowa almost his entire life. “Many of my ancestral lines have been here since the 1840s and before, so I consider myself about as ‘Iowan’ as you can get without being a Native American,” Jerry explains. “I hold a Bachelor of Liberal Studies from the University of Iowa (where else?). I have an administrative position in Human Resources at the University of Iowa, where I’ve been for almost twenty years.”



*”Genealogy in the Heartland” Association of Profession Genealogists Quarterly XXXIII-Number 2 (June 2011):  68-69.  [Reprinted with permission.]



[Update on “Solo man” Hoffman:  Since this article appeared, I have determined the parents and siblings of Solomon using indirect evidence.  An article describing the difference between direct and indirect types of genealogical evidence professionals use can be seen here.]