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My dad’s family lived all over the Old Northwest. For the past two weeks, we took a driving tour of several of those states. During that time, we visited courthouses, libraries, cemeteries, and historic sites.

Many of the historic places on our itinerary were off the beaten track. We found these quite interesting:

  1. Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve in the Kansas Flint Hills.
    The National Park Service protects a remnant of the once vast tallgrass prairie ecosystem at the Spring Hill Farm and Stock Ranch. This opulent ranch with its limestone ranch house was much different from the homes of my 19th century ancestors on the Kansas prairie. The ranch house and outbuildings are all open to visitors who can see the surrounding prairie, too.
  2. Lincoln Log Cabin State Historic Site in Coles County, Illinois. This place preserves the 19th-century home of Thomas Lincoln and Sarah Bush Lincoln, father and stepmother of President Abraham Lincoln. Sited on a working, living history farm, it includes a reproduction of the two-room Lincoln cabin. My family settled in Coles County about the same time the Lincolns arrived there. I imagine they lived as subsistence farmers just as the Lincolns did.
  3. The John Hay Center in Salem, Indiana. This Washington County museum honors the statesman John Hay who served as secretary to Abraham Lincoln and held posts, including Secretary of State, under four other Presidents. He was born in this county, and my Reed forebears lived there, too. The Center has a fine genealogy library where the kind staff assisted us with some research.
  4. Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad in Summit County, Ohio. This train runs along the Cuyahoga River, not far from where my Dunbar ancestors settled in 1831. The ride showed me the local wildlife, glimpses of the Ohio & Erie Canal, and traces of the area’s industrial history.
  5. Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home in Lee County, Illinois. My husband/tech advisor had German ancestors who settled in this county, and we drove through the farmland where they worked. When we realized that Reagan’s boyhood home was in nearby Dixon, we had to stop in. The docent provided us a wonderful tour of the house the Reagans lived in from 1920-1924. We could picture our grandparents living the same modest way the Reagans did.

These stops were just part of our trip. They provided a diversion from doing genealogy every day and helped us learn the history of the places where our ancestors lived. We enjoyed every minute.

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