However, all those hours Donath has spent poring over old Lincoln
newspapers at the Lincoln Public Library and other documents at the
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library have become timesavers for
individuals and families trying to find out about their local
When Donath was asked what brought him to Logan County,
he said, "A stork." It was this same stork that delivered a brother,
Tony, and a sister, Linda, to parents Raymond and Mildred Donath.
The Lincoln native went to LCHS and then went on to graduate from
Lincoln College in 1966. He finished his education at Illinois State
University in 1970 in math education and obtained his master's
degree in 1983.
Donath had stints as a teacher in Elkhart and Broadwell before
relocating for 23 years to the Livingston County area. It was there,
at Woodland Community Unit 5, that Donath taught for 10 years before
becoming principal and then superintendent of the 7-12 school.
During that time Bill and his wife, Shirley, raised two daughters,
Lisa and Cindy Cale, who married brothers, and thus the same last
Bill says that when he came back to Lincoln, he accidentally
became an archivist. Involved with the Logan County Genealogical &
Historical Society, of which he is now president, Donath wanted to
make the job of finding out information about local ancestors easier
"I have been to many genealogical societies and came away
disappointed," Bill said.
Many societies just have compilations of records, and sorting
through book after book to find someone or something seemed too
haphazard to this most organized man.
Starting at the Lincoln Public Library, Donath began with the
earliest microfilms of old Lincoln Evening Heralds, dating back to
1859. Thoroughly reading each one, he wrote down the names of
everyone in the news, the date of the paper, the page, the column on
the page and briefly what the information was about. Bill said that
each year of newspapers produces approximately 5,000 entries in his
In order to show how much easier it is for families to research
with his system, Donath brought out the three large volumes he has
compiled already. A person can look up a name, alphabetically
listed, and be directed in a moment to historical information
without spending hours going through old records. Showing how quick
his system works, Bill looked up a name he wanted to show. It was an
entry for Abe Lincoln that showed Abe getting his name in the paper
for delinquent property taxes on a downtown lot. Bill said not to
worry, as Abe did pay the bill.
The job will still take many more years, as Donath is now up to
August of 1872, with roll after roll of microfilm still to be
The period during the Civil War took a long time to index, but it
also revealed to Bill many fascinating facts about our population
during the war. For one thing, he discovered Logan County was one of
the few counties that never had to issue a draft for troops during
Making an educated estimate, Donath said that perhaps 65 percent
of the registered male voters were in the war at some time or other.
"I came across one story that said there were only 14 able-bodied
men left in the entire town of Elkhart," Bill said.
This very busy period in our county's history revealed a great
deal more information. Logan County soldiers mustered into 80
different regiments. He also found that the list of 322 soldiers
named on the county's Civil War monument as having died in battle
was incomplete. Currently, Donath has 116 more names, originally
omitted from the monument, which was badly damaged in a December
Donath is a member of the committee to restore the statue, and
his knowledge has been invaluable to the group, not only in making
sure that all who served and died will be remembered, but also in
finding out how the statue originally looked. A new list including
the additional names will be placed on the second floor of the
[to top of second column]
To garner even more meaning for the monument, Donath went to the
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library to go through Civil War
records. He has compiled over 2,300 names of county residents who
served in the war. Those names will be included in an honor roll of
all the county's Civil War veterans.
Bill has become more that just a compiler of indexes of names.
From all his research he's now a historian on the period.
Paul Gleason, a noted local historian and the chairman of the
Civil War monument restoration committee, appreciates Donath's
efforts and knowledge. "Bill has done extreme research day by day,"
Gleason said. "To come up with all the information he has and to
have it recorded is simply an amazing feat." Gleason also made
mention that Donath has compiled everything he could find on the
monument and will release this volume for sale at the genealogical
society meeting on May 18.
One of Donath's recent findings bears timely significance. It is
a picture of the old soldier Civil War monument. In this picture the
statue isn't as worn as it became in later years. Donath was able to
deduce to within a few years when the picture was taken. The statue was
moved to its present location in 1903. The U.S. Post Office building
wasn't in the picture. "The building was built in 1906, so the
picture had to be between 1903, when the statue was moved, and
1906," Bill said.
It is obvious when talking to Donath about local involvement in
the Civil War that his excellent memory has turned him into a true
historian of the early days of Logan County, and he readily shares
Ron Keller, curator of the Abraham Lincoln Heritage Museum at
Lincoln College, praised Donath's work ethic and help. "Bill is
always willing to provide us with information or materials," Keller
said. "We ask and he finds. He is incredibly helpful, resourceful
With six years into the monumental task of reading every single
paper since 1859, Donath admits he will never finish the task
himself. "I'm hoping other people will pick up (indexing records),
perhaps take a certain decade or a town such as Atlanta or Mount
Still with a never-ending job in front of him, Donath does the
detailed, meticulous job with a smile and a great deal of
satisfaction, knowing that his work helps family researchers easily
find out information about their early ancestors.
It is this dedication to our community's recorded heritage that
causes us to include Bill Donath in the records. Thanks to the power
of the Internet, Bill Donath from this day forward will forever be
recorded on the Web as the May 11, 2009, LDN Personality of the
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