It was early in September 1980, when a story about Orchard Grove and the Kenney Family was being prepared, the old timer thought that the best way for finding history of Orchard Grove was to go out on the farm to talk to Bessie Kenney. Mrs. "Cordie" (Cordean) Kenney was a Lake County historian for many decades.
On one of the last pleasant visits there, Bessie's answer was "All the answers to your questions are over there," (as she pointed to a neat pile of large scrapbooks). "It is all there."
Bessie Scritchfied-Kenney was born in 1902, graduated from Lowell High School in 1920. She married Cordie in 1925 and had three children - Russell, Donald and Bonnie Schwanke.
Bessie spent years on her scrapbooks, was long time secretary of the Lake County Historical Society, and helped to carry on the "5 Year Reports of the Historical Secretary" that were first written by Rev T.H. Ball before 1900, and found time to write poetry in her free time. She died April 20, 1981.
A few weeks after her passing a very important phone call came from son Russell who asked if the Old Timer wanted those scrapbooks. Hastily they were retrieved from Orchard Grove and thankfully accepted. The large books were separated by years and contained important information: obituaries, biographiess, news stories, photos and more. A master index was needed and made for easy access, and much of the vital information was copied at the library website or placed in family history files for viewing.
Surprisingly, the first volume begins in 1890. It was presented to JP Spalding by Mary and Albert Thompson in 1890. JP was Bessie's grandfather. He began the scrapbook and Bessie finished it. So began her lifelong collection of history. It is an interesting collection to look at with notices from an "Appointment to Postmaster" for Joshua Spalding dated 1869 to a news item about JP's 188 pound pumpkin displayed at the fair in 1900. She chronicled births and deaths, marriages and children, reunions and journeys.
She covered political events such as the election of Jessie Hayden as Mayor of Momence and the more personal milestones of silver and golden wedding anniversaries. It is a personal journey reflecting daily life in a small town. She continued her journey throughout her life, filling many volumes with information that has become the foundation of the genealogist. The books are plain, unlike those popular with hobbyists today, but so full of life they take on a life of their own. A complete bibliography for the pioneer history column would fill a small volume. One of the most important additions is "Bessie's Scrapbooks."
Thank you Bessie, from all of us.
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