The Road to Algona, IA

Monday, August 17, 2009
Algona, IA

We pulled up stakes at Myre-Big Island State Park this morning and were rolling down I-35 into Iowa by a bit after 10am. Conditions were great for driving today with mild temps and winds. At Clear Lake we made a bend to the West on US-18 which took us the 50 miles to Algona.

Algona is the County Seat of Kossuth County, the largest county in Iowa geographically speaking. If you check out a county map of the state you'll see how orderly and equally sized all the Iowa counties are... except for Kossuth County. It appears someone forgot to draw the line dividing it into two so it'd match the rest. I haven't discovered the reason for that yet.

We found a really nice County Park about three miles north of Algona called Smith Lake. It has about 40 campsites and can handle our size camper. No full hookups, but we do have 50amp electric -- not that we need it.

The reason we're here is to do some research on some of Dar's ancestors. After quickly setting up camp we drove down to the Courthouse where Dar found stacks of records in the County Recorders Office to keep her busy the rest of the afternoon.

To help her out (and speed the process a little), I set out with the car and found an old church cemetery where many of her ancestors are buried. There I walked, shot photos of pertinent monuments, and, alone, pondered our short life here... and how quickly most of us are forgotten. We're looking for information on Dar's great grandfather, and it's tough to find good facts or anyone who knows anything, much less any history of his life. And he died just a hundred years ago.

Ah, you say... there was little written record of people's lives back then. Record keeping was poor. They wrote wonderful letters to each other but many of those have been lost. Surely, with the help of technology and electronic records things will be different for us.

Not so fast, oh hopeful one. Too much information may be as bad as too little. A hundred years ago a family could probably keep every photograph ever taken of them in a small envelope. We have a few of these precious visual records of a few family members, and they speak volumes. They're so powerful as you look deeply into the eyes of these people, long dead, and wonder what they're lives were like... what they were thinking about... what was important to them. Having your photo taken in those days was a monumental event, something to be dressed properly for so you'd look your best. They were probably aware that future generations would see these pictures and they may have wanted to tell us something. Photography was so new.

Today, we take hundreds of photos in one day. People have digital albums of tens of thousands of photos, during a lifetime, perhaps hundreds of thousands. Besides pictures, there are electronic records of everything you do... what cereal you buy at the store, your preferences in magazine subscriptions, what TV shows you watch, what you had for lunch, where you travel, and what you bought with your credit card. The government has vast records on each of us. Our insurance companies have even more. Health records, bank records, phone records, real estate transactions... it boggles the mind. And, of course, you're nobody if you don't have a blog or facebook page these days. The amount of information on a typical person has exploded exponentially in just the past hundred years.

My guess is that the pile of stuff on each of us is so vast that no one will want to take the time to go through it. How do you start looking at a hundred thousand photos? And besides, they'll be busy making their own pile of information, which, ultimately, no one will care about either. Is this living? What's become of us?



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