By Brad Jennings
In 1997, Roger Cramer saw some letters sent to his grandmother that showed a relationship to President Dwight D. Eisenhower.
This sparked what has become an interest in researching early settler in Ogle County and helping others in the county trace their roots.
Cramer was born in Oregon but moved to Rockford as a young child. His parents had lived in Polo and he had family in Leaf River. He has retired to Arizona but has returned to Ogle County many times.
Cramer sat down to answer some questions about his interest in researching families from the area.
Question: What got you started in researching family ancestry?
Answer: I have been researching my family ancestry and all early Ogle Co. families since 1997. The spark that got me interested was some letters sent to my grandmother and other members of the Motter family in the 1950’s that show a relationship to President Eisenhower. A family researcher was looking for information on family members that descend from those that came to Ogle Co. in the 1850’s. No one to my knowledge in Ogle County ever researched the family connection accuracy. It didn’t take me long to prove how the relationship was. Ike’s great-grandfather was a brother of my third great-grandfather. I found an article in a Leaf River newspaper from 1958 describing the letters sent to several family members in Ogle County and included greetings that were received by then President Eisenhower sent to members of the family reunion being held in Pennsylvania.
My wife and I, who were both born in Ogle County, quickly realized that all of our ancestors were early settlers of Ogle Co. One of my ancestors, John Light, founded the town of Lightsville which prospered until the railroad came through in about 1880. The village of Leaf River was formed about a mile south of Lightsville along the railroad and many businesses and residents then moved to Leaf River.
Q: With the resources now available, do you miss the time when it was a little more difficult to track down ancestry information? Or do you enjoy the ease of the Internet?
A: Back in the early days of my research, there were very few online resources. I was fortunate to learn of a distant cousin who found early German church records and was able to translate and document my Matter/Motter family back to the early 1600’s through the time that some members came to America in 1751. This provided documentation for one of my family lines. Other research that helped prove my early family lines was aided by visits to libraries in Dauphin County, Pa., and Washington County, Md., where many of my family lived prior to coming to Ogle County. My aunt who had read the Cramer family bible years ago was able to help me construct my Cramer family line. The bible has since disappeared but fortunately she remembered many of the details and gave me several pages of notes in 1997 and 1998. My uncle, Howard “Jim” Cramer, who recently passed away at age 96 lived his entire life in the family homestead that my great grandfather purchased in 1875.
I enjoy being able to do a lot of research sitting in front of a computer but in early days had to rely on actual "hands on" research. I have found some documents that most likely would never appear in any online resource. Over the years we have made many treasured friendships with distant cousins that have lasted many years. I've been back to Pennsylvania three times for a reunion with family members from one of my family lines. We still get Christmas cards from family members we have met on our visits to France/Germany and Sweden.
In continuing my research of my other family lines, I visited Doris Vogel who was an early Ogle County family researcher and had a library in her home in Holcomb. I learned that the Leaf River Library had actual old copies of the Leaf River newspapers which included all issues from 1936-1969 and a few much earlier. I spent many Saturday’s going through these newspapers copying many interesting articles and obituaries. I also spent time at the Ogle County Genealogical Society library where I copied all the local cemetery records and found other interesting items. My wife and I visited the Northern Illinois University Regional Archives Depository in DeKalb and the Latter-Day Saints Genealogical Library in Salt Lake City. I started researching early Leaf River Township families and gradually moved on to all other township families.
Today there are many online resources available. I subscribe to ancestry.com which has billions of records accessible and genealogybank.com which has all old Rockford newspapers online and searchable going back to the 1850’s. Over the years the newspapers contained a lot of Ogle County news and obituaries.
Q: Ancestry sites have become very popular. Why do you think that is?
A: There has been an explosion of interest in family genealogy in recent years. I think it's likely became popular because people can more easily do research from their computer plus the availability of so many documents online. The advances in DNA technology has also generated a lot of family interest.
Q: What are some special things you have learned about Ogle County through your research?
A: I learned so much from my research, even of my own family. Reading news accounts of news and obituaries over the years have revealed a lot of likely forgotten events, i.e., bad storms, suicides, accidents, marriages, divorces, murders, gossip, etc. The older newspapers were more descriptive of many events than what is printed today.
I have all the Ogle County biographical books that have been published: 1878, 1896, 1899 and 1909. They are all copies except I have an original copy of the 1896 book. This was a big help in my being able to construct many family histories. We have several file cabinets full of records and correspondence collected over the years. I have gone through all Ogle Co. census records line by line proving and building family structure from over the years.
Q: Where can people find the information you have researched?
A: I maintain my personal genealogy web site which includes information on ours and many Ogle County families and also have maintained the Ogle County Genealogy Site for over 20 years. The Ogle County site contains 100’s of old biographies and obituaries plus much more. The addresses are:
Roger and Sue Cramer’s Genealogy Site:
Ogle Co., IL Genealogy Site:
I have created a database of over 280,000 names which include just about every Ogle County family with any roots or related to one that has. It became a retirement hobby after my wife and I retired and moved from Ogle County to Arizona. I have helped many people over the years with their research from all over our country and even have had a few international inquiries.
Sue also got interested in genealogy and has researched her family. We have both written books with our family history.
Q: Anything else you would like to add?
A: I use the Family Tree Maker program that allows me to generate family reports. I am happy to help anyone interested in their family history by sending you reports via e-mail.