They’ve Made History Together
If you did it in Kootenai County, Al and Betty Shane probably know about it, wrote it down and made it public.
“We’ve dug into everyone’s business,” Al says with a touch of pride.
“It’s our hobby,” Betty says and waves her hand at the 30 volumes in the Hayden Lake Library’s Idaho history section that bear the Shane name on the front cover.
The books tell all, especially about the first half of this century - who married and who’s buried, who bought land or homesteaded, who went to school and who graduated, who taught and how much each teacher was paid.
There are books that name jurors and who was bonded and where and when doctors, dentists and pharmacists graduated from college.
“Nothing was safe from us,” Al says.
Until now. The Shanes wrote their last chapter of Panhandle history this spring. Poor health forced them to close the book on work that area historians cherish.
“These records are critical to historical research,” says Kim Brown, who heads Kootenai County’s Historic Preservation Commission. “To get so involved and compile volume after volume of material is just unbelievable. This work will be appreciated for many years to come.”
The Shanes were swept into a historical vortex 16 years ago and made no effort to free themselves. Tracking dates and details exhilarated them. As soon as they finished one project, they started another, and historical societies sang their praises.
Spine problems forced Al to retire from rural mail delivery too young. He was 58 and craved work, so he indulged his ever-growing curiosity in his family history. Betty was a willing accomplice.
“We wanted to see what kind of people we came from,” Al says.
Common sense directed them to start with living relatives and family Bibles and journals. Together they tracked Betty’s relatives back to 1607 Jamestown and Al’s to the 1750s.
When they hit a wall, the Shanes turned to the local genealogical society. Life was never the same after that.
The society’s amateur historians taught the Shanes all sorts of detective tricks, then put them to work on community projects. Kootenai County has no official historian, so the preservation and organization of the area’s history depends on volunteers.
The Shanes joined the society’s project in Coeur d’Alene’s Forest Cemetery, where they spent a year scribbling onto index cards information from 12,700 headstones. They found a few hundred more graves listed in custodial records and included them in an alphabetical listing.
The project was such good training that Al and Betty decided to index Kootenai County’s 22 other cemeteries. Hearsay and stories from some of the area’s most senior citizens directed them to some overgrown burial grounds.
The Shanes let nothing stop them. They crawled on their bellies 100 feet under bushes to reach the county’s most-concealed cemetery at Loff’s Bay.
One project led to another. The ledgers at the courthouse were as good as buried treasure. Al and Betty hand-copied onto index cards marriage records from 1881 to 1938, alphabetized them and typed them into six volumes.
Most county records were in ledgers, but the school census from 1898 to 1947 was on brittle folded paper and scrolls.
“We had to tape them together to read them,” Betty says. “It was just pathetic.”
The Shanes printed information as they found it except in a few cases.
Some school records dubbed kids “insane” or “deaf and dumb.” Al and Betty changed the labels to “mentally handicapped” and “deaf and mute.”
When their eyes threatened to cross from the strain of reading ledgers and microfilm, the Shanes returned to cemeteries. They indexed graves in Bonner and Benewah counties, then worked on Coeur d’Alene Indian burial sites from 1844 on.
A few months ago, they packed into the Hayden Lake library’s file cabinet their final project - more than 150 film rolls of the Panhandle’s historic newspapers.
They bought some from the Idaho Historical Society and hunted down and filmed others, like the 1910 Kootenai County Democrat, the Post Falls Advance, the 1891 Hope Prospector, the Clark Fork Times from 1912-1914 and the Farragut News from 1942-1944.
The history they’ve absorbed was the only pay for their 16 years of detail and detective work. But it was all the Shanes wanted. Now they’re ready to let someone else take over.
“We’ve got to slow down,” Betty says. “It’s time we mowed the lawn.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo