Part I: How to Preserve Your Family History—10 Minutes at a Time

By Darcy Dougherty Maulsby

With the holidays fast approaching, you have a prime opportunity to preserve your family history, 10 minutes at a time. Even better, did you know this history can help your children and grandchildren thrive?

Preserving history doesn’t happen by accident. This became clear as I researched and wrote my new book, Calhoun County, which showcases the stories of small-town and rural Iowa life through the eyes of those who lived it.

As I asked friends, neighbors and local museum volunteers to contribute vintage photos for my book, I heard, “I’d love to help, but we don’t have those pictures.” Some images succumbed to fires, while others were destroyed in flooded basements. Sometimes photos and documents were thrown out in a housecleaning frenzy years ago.

Darcy.Maulsby.molasses.cookies.Feb.2015.2That’s why there’s something special about old photographs, letters and documents that survive. I’m grateful to the people who preserved stories of the February day in 1934 when the infamous gangsters Bonnie and Clyde robbed the Knierim bank. I’m also thankful to the anonymous photographers who took pictures of major events in Calhoun County, such as President Taft’s 1911 visit to Rockwell City, and the time when Babe Ruth played golf at Twin Lakes Golf Club following a batting exhibition in 1940.

Top five tips to keep history alive

I was able to include all this and more in Calhoun County. Along the way, I discovered five key things you can do to preserve your own family and local history in as little as 10 minutes at a time:

  1. Exchange family photos and stories rather than gifts. During the holidays, have family members bring copies of family photos they think other relatives might not have. Then enjoy sharing the photos and the memories. Include the kids and young adults in these conversations, whenever possible.
  2. Protect photos from the sun. Display copies rather than originals. Also, store photos in acid-free boxes and acid-free albums with non-PVC plastic pockets and no adhesives.
  3. Print your photos. Schedule 10-minute work sessions to select digital photos you’d like to print. Then make time to print them using high-quality inks and photo papers, not just a desktop printer and typing paper. Also, schedule 10-minute work sessions to begin scanning old photos you want to preserve. Use an external hard drive or cloud system to back up your digital files.
  4. Document the details. Whenever possible, note who is pictured in each photo. Use a soft lead pencil or photo-archiving pen to also list where the photo was taken, the date and a bit about the event depicted.
  5. Go high-tech. Download apps like StoryCorps to help collect your family history via your smartphone. Also, use your phone’s voice recorder or video tool to record your family’s stories.

Today Darcy is sharing with us one of her favorite Calhoun County recipes. She won a blue ribbon with these Magnificent Molasses Cookies at the 2015 Clay County Fair. They are her dad’s favorite cookie, so she especially enjoys baking them and taking them to the field at harvest.

To be continued Monday …

Darcy's Magnificent Molasses Cookies


1-1/2 cups butter, softened 
2 cups granulated sugar 
2 eggs 
1/2 cup molasses 
4-1/2 cups all-purpose flour 
2 teaspoons baking soda 
3 teaspoons ground ginger 
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon 
1 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/4 teaspoon salt 
3/4 cup coarse (turbinado) sugar, or granulated sugar


Preheat oven to 350°. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and molasses. Combine the flour, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix well.

Shape dough into 2-in. balls and roll in coarse sugar. Place 2-1/2-in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake 13-15 minutes or until tops are cracked. Remove to wire racks to cool. Yield: 2 dozen.