A Return to the Archives

Courtesy of ideas.ted.com

I’m calling what happened a two for one. This week, I was able to resume visiting local archives. Oh, what a feeling!

I scheduled a visit with the first archive to review their holdings on a pioneer of my town who I’m writing a journal article about. After spending three hours reviewing the documents I was stymied by one that was a bibliography missing the previous page. I took a note to find the information elsewhere.

Since it’s been a long time since I visited the museum part of the archive I decided to take a look around. One of the docents saw me pondering an exhibit and we got to talking. I mentioned how I was confused by the display as I’d never seen a setup like it was (a barbershop in the same room with a post office in the back and a general store adjacent to the barbershop). He said he thought it was off, too, and said he assumed it was due to space limitations.

One thing led to another and the topic turned to a Super Fund site located in my city. He was knowledgeable as to what had occurred as he had been employed there for 10 years as a chemist. Honestly, I don’t recall many details as I was living in another part of the county when the plant closed so I hadn’t followed the story closely.

The man claimed that the company had followed all federal guidelines and explained the process that had been used to work with the lower grade phosphate; they incinerated it at a high temperature so it would form a softball size structure. He did say that when the plant first opened in the late 1940s that process hadn’t been used and some chemicals had been discharged into the ground. Over the years, he claimed, the company had corrected that problem.

The clincher to the story is that he claimed the company was shut down when a finding of arsenic was discovered when an elementary school across the street from the plant was going to install playground equipment. The company was blamed for the arsenic though they never used it.

I asked how the arsenic possibly got there and he didn’t know. Then it hit me; it was the site of a former sawmill from the late 1800s. Arsenic was used to treat wood to preserve it from insects.

I told the gentleman that I thought he should record his memories of working at the plant but he declined. My take is he was still bitter over his job loss. I decided to blog the story, keeping him anonymous at his request, because there should be a record of his insider view of what occurred.

I discovered after I got home that the missing bibliography page was housed in a book in a university’s special collections department. Two days later I arrived to find the information.

Somehow, when I went online to check holdings I did not see a button that I was now supposed to make an appointment to view the book. Luckily for me, the kind student who was tending the desk helped me so I was able to find the information. Eureka! The page contained a name of an author for a book I had at home that had reported the story I was writing about but added where she had found the information – in an unpublished, undated manuscript held at a museum that was now permanently closed. The author mentioned it was missing when she was seeking it, probably in the late 1960s. So, now I’m on the hunt for a missing manuscript.

While I was at the second archive, the student brought out a book I hadn’t asked to see and said he thought I might be interested in it. I looked through it and got some ideas for future research.

Boots on the ground enabled me to get additional information about topics I might investigate someday. That was value-added that I find well worth the trip.

Making the Most of Your Research Trip – Part 6

Originally published on genealogyatheart.blogspot.com on 28 Aug 2016

Please check out my earlier blogs about my recent adventures researching in Pennsylvania.  At this point in my travels, I had one afternoon and one morning left in the area and hadn’t really found much.  To recap:

  1. No will at the courthouse – only the index of the will; the county archivist will be notified to be on the look out but I did search the entire box and it wasn’t misfiled there.
  2. No voter’s records maintained after 10 years (and I was searching mid- 1800’s)
  3. No city directory’s for the years the family resided there
  4. No road work orders
  5. No education records – they were burned during the Civil War
  6. Found several deeds and one mortgage – not all were for my family but the ones that were I found helpful.
  7. Found one tombstone but still needed to know where several other family members were buried.
  8. If time permitted, wanted to find church records for an unknown church once located between Waynesboro and Gettysburg.  Nothing like being precise!
  9. Still needed to finish going through local newspapers for any reference to the family – like an obit which would have really made my day

I drove back from Chambersburg to Waynesboro and parked in front of the Historical Museum.  It’s located on Main Street in an old house.  I almost had a heart attack though; it was 12:50 and the sign said it closed at 1.  Omg!  10 minutes!?  That’s not what the closing time said online.  Maybe it was summer hours and the website hadn’t been updated.  I quickly went inside.

No one was on the first floor.  I called out “Hello,” and heard a response from somewhere upstairs so I walked up.  A kind older gentleman was in the library.  It was about the same size as the Franklin County Historical Society – two rooms floor to ceiling books.  I told the gentleman how glad I was that I had made it before he closed.  He said he had plenty of time so not to worry about the sign. Thank goodness for passionate historians!

I told him what I was looking for – I had listed the information on Evernote on my Kindle during my lunch break.  The Society’s collection contained mostly genealogies so we began looking for the surnames of those I was interested in.  We found two – they weren’t the direct lines I was interested in but they were cousins.  I knew this because I always research extended family members; I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found valuable information that way!  I am definitely a FAN Club member.

At the bottom of a Family Group Sheet was a note that an obit for a family member had been found in a newspaper I had never heard of and the date was given.  This was the family that I had found in the second cemetery that morning.  Oh happy days!  Maybe it would lead me to where their father was buried and a firm death date.  The gentlemen told me, though, that he doubted any copies of that newspaper, which had been a county newspaper, still existed.  Of course there wasn’t a clipping of the obit in the Society’s file.  I could still check with the two libraries to see if they had digitized records so at least it was a lead.

At this point my cell rang – it was the Reverend who I had left a note for earlier in the day regarding seeing the cemetery records of his church’s cemetery.  He told me that he had gone home, which is where the records are kept, and his wife had not found the individuals I had listed.  I asked him if I could look myself.  In hindsight, I realize this came across as crass but that wasn’t my intention.  I wanted to look at who else may have been buried in proximity to the family I had found; I was not doubting that his wife had missed the names I sought.  I could tell from his tone of voice he was not pleased.  He said he had other plans for the day.  I asked if he was available the following morning, my last available time I would be in the area.  There was a long pause.  I pressed on that I was a genealogist from Florida and that I would be willing to meet him anywhere and any time to see the records. He asked where I was and I told him.  He said it would take me about a half hour to get to his home.  I wrote down his address and told him I’d be there as soon as possible.

Now I realize in hindsight this was really stupid on my part.  I was going to someone’s home I didn’t know, alone, in a rural area I wasn’t familiar with and to people who didn’t want me there in the first place.  At the time, though, it seemed like a great idea.

I thanked the volunteer at the historical society and he asked where I was headed off to.  I told him I was going to see the cemetery records.  He had a hunch that my elusive parents may have been buried in Price’s Cemetery as many Church of the Brethren were buried there.  I asked where it was located.  Lo and behold – Price’s had changed names and is now called Antietam and surprise, surprise  –  it was the same cemetery where I had found the son buried in the Pentz family lot.  I asked, by chance, did the gentleman know of the name of a Church of the Brethren denomination that once was between Waynesboro and Gettysburg.  Sure, he did – it was Price’s Church.  Bingo!  Did he happen to know where the records were kept for Price’s Church?  He suggested I ask the reverend I was going to visit as he was the minister of the church that had taken over when Price’s disbanded.  Now I was on to something!

Next time – I’ll talk about my unusual visit with the Reverend.