26 June 2016

The Value of Historical (and Permanent) Vertical Files

Historical vertical files can sometimes prove to be among the most useful collections of materials in a library or archives. They become especially valuable when viewed in a special local history collection and archives context. Sometimes an historical vertical file is the only place where one can find a ticket stub to a significant performance of a local play, a photograph of a church event, a railroad schedule, deed to a property, or a clue about just how influential an event or person may have been when it came to politics back in the day. We actually have had customers cry out with delight at uncovering a clue that proved key to their research in the process of going through a BDC vertical file!

Merriam Webster defines the term "vertical file" as: "a collection of articles (as pamphlets and clippings) that is maintained (as in a library) to answer brief questions or to provide points of information not easily located." The official Society of American Archivists definition provided in "A Glossary of Archival andRecords Terminology" gives two quite different meanings. The term can apply to the furniture housing the files as well as to what we in the archival world refer to as “an artificial collection of materials, often of an ephemeral nature, collected and arranged for ready reference," which tend to be generally housed in letter or legal sized folders. 

Back when the Research Room was on the first floor of the building, the vertical files were priority #1 for protecting during a hurricane pack up. Why? Because there is absolutely no way that we could ever totally recreate the contents of the over 1100 vertical files we have again if they were to be destroyed. Vertical file contents vary so widely in original source, format, and time acquired that it would be an impossible task. 

When I came aboard in 1999, we have four 36" long drawers full of files. Now we have fourteen 36" long drawers full of files. Some vertical files had a lot of content when I came aboard in 1999. Some I compiled from scratch. Most have been added to in the passage of years. Some content was assembled in the course of guiding research for customers interested (most often) in other topics. As long as the information “fits” the collection development policy and we can properly house the material, we can find a way to organize it so researchers can find it. 

Historical vertical files are never static. We create new artificial collections or add to our holdings from time to time as collection development policy and circumstances merit. Three recent cases in point:  
  • We've recently created a "Manatees" vertical file because a College of Charleston Graduate student was researching the topic and he had some references to articles in the Beaufort Gazette from which to start. While he was doing his newspaper microfilm research in our Research Room, we made a copy of articles he found for him to take back to Charleston and made a second copy of those same articles for our own files. Over the course of the next several weeks, he was kind enough to send us digital copies from the Charleston News and Courier and the State newspapers of manatee sightings here in Beaufort County for us to add to the new BDC "Manatees" vertical file. We helped a customer; the customer helped us provide even more information for future customers to review.
  • We have increased our clippings in the "BASF (Badische Anilin-& Soda-Fabrik A.G.)" vertical file in the past month because the curator of a new exhibit at the Port Royal Sound Maritime Center shared photocopies she collected during her research process with us. She saw materials from our BASF vertical file that she had not uncovered during the course of her investigation and was kind enough to send us digital copies of what she had uncovered. We helped a customer; the customer helped us provide even more information for future customers to review.
  • We recently subdivided the contents of the "Daufuskie Island" vertical file into three files because it had grown so large.
    • Daufuskie Island
    • Daufuskie Island Council
    • Daufuskie Island Front Porch 

None of the vertical files are intended to be the final word on any subject. They are meant to be pointer files to give a researcher context and clues so that the researcher can go deeper into the topic using other resources if s/he wants to go deeper into the topic.

None of the vertical files consist of the same content. I will use the Family Surname files as an example. We currently have over 100 different Family Surname vertical files here in the Research Room cabinets. Some of the vertical files only have genealogical information included in the file along the lines of who begat who. Some of the family vertical files contain reports about crimes perpetrated or endured by specific family members. Some family vertical files have information about the family business. Some of the family vertical files include content that touches on scandal. Some of the family vertical files include content only about how wonderful or talented or rich or significant the family was in the past. Some of the family vertical files have a combination of all the above. 
For example, I was asked about the contents of the Cram Family vertical file several months ago. In this instance, the file has newspaper and magazine clippings with dates ranging from 1936 to 1982: “Mrs. Ruth Cram’s Broad River Place sold to L. M. Cook” (Beaufort Gazette, 1958); “Four More Indicted in Cram Burglary Case,”(Island Packet, 1976) and “More arrested in Cram Robbery”(Beaufort Gazette, 1976); an excerpt from “Slouching towards Bluffton,” by Emma Edmunds from the Atlanta Weekly (1982); and “Mr. Harry Cram and Miss Ruth Vaux Married” (Beaufort Gazette, 1936.)  

The titles of the historical vertical files housed in the BDC and in the Lowcountry Room at the Hilton Head Branch Library are listed in the SCLENDS catalog. You can search on "BDC Vertical Files" as a Keyword in All Formats, limiting the Library to "Beaufort - Beaufort District Collection" to get the full list. If you want an alphabetical listing be sure to Sort by: "Title A-Z.

Or just contact us (gracec@bcgov.net or 843-255-6468) and we'll tell you whether or not we happen to have a vertical file on the topic

Please note: The Library system will be closed Mon., July 4th for Independence Day.

23 June 2016

Known Research Room Schedule Adjustments

Traveling ClipartIt's summertime and the living is easy. Well, perhaps not easy, but it is when a lot of Americans take a little time off from work to refresh themselves. AAA estimates that due to lower gas prices, more than 1/3 of Americans will take a family vacation this year. Some of these people will consider traveling to do genealogy research as the best way to rejuvenate or connect with family. 

Nothing is more depressing than to arrive at a Research Room expecting to find it open but instead find that it is closed - or what you want to see is stored off-site - or that the person who knows the most about the topic you've come to research is on vacation, etc. You get the idea I'm sure.

Most cultural heritage agencies are conscientious and take great pains to post hours of operation and adjustments to those usual and customary hours of operation on social media and webpages as well as in and around their facility. But the bottom line is this: It behooves the would-be researcher to check before traveling. 

One of the best pieces of advice that any researcher can take to heart is: "Contact the Research Facility ahead of time to make arrangements and to confirm that it will be open the days and times you'd like to do your work."

In other words, don't leave home without first checking with the Research Facility about access to the collections on the dates and times you have in mind to do the research. 

As of this writing, here are the list of known schedule adjustments for the BDC Research Room over the course of the Summer. There may be more and last minute adjustments at that - depending on staffing challenges and the weather. (Hurricane season began June 1 after all). Please make a note about these scheduled Research Room adjustments to our customary hours of public service.

Mon., July 4: All units of the Beaufort County Library are closed for Independence Day.
Thurs., July 7: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Fri., July 8: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Mon., July 11: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Fri., July 22: Research Room closed for staff continuing education activity 

Scheduled staff vacations will affect public service days during much of August with lunchtime closures of the Research Room on the following dates:

Thurs., August 4: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Fri., August 5: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Mon., August 8: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Thurs., August 11: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Fri., August 12: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Mon., August 15: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Thurs., August 18: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm
Fri., August 19: Research Room open 9 am to Noon; closed Noon to 1 pm; open 1 pm to 5 pm

Again, I reiterate that there may indeed be more adjustments necessary between now and Labor Day. Life happens; Hurricanes happen; Staff  (and their family members) get sick; etc.

17 June 2016

Genealogy: It's a Process

As you may know the BDC has 5 major focuses for collecting materials and providing services: history, Gullah culture, genealogy, archaeology and our natural environment.

We often help people interested in learning more about their ancestors who once lived in this area and in that process we end up teaching them a bit about the genealogical process. Some people arrive knowing a fair bit about the genealogical process but knowing little to nothing about local and state resources here in South Carolina. Some people learn best by using self-paced tutorials in print or over the internet. Some people prefer a bit more guidance. Some people learn best in an one-to-one learning situation such as during a Research Consultation. Some people arrive expecting for their entire family tree to miraculously appear from our vertical files or with minimal effort on their part. (These folks are sadly disappointed by reality.)

Genealogical research takes time and effort - and requires acquisition of a unique skill set. Getting that skill set can vary depending on one's interests and inclinations. For example, some people enjoy workshops, teaching themselves, or learning as they go.

If you're a self-learner interested in the African-American genealogy process, we highly recommend the "African American Genealogy: An Online Interactive Guide for Beginners" by Dee Parmer Woodtor, author of my favorite guide to the process of doing Black family history, Finding a Place Called Home (1999).
If you're a self-learner interested in learning the basics of the say Polish American genealogy process, Cyndi's list about Poland is a good place to start. She has links to just about every national and ethnic group on the planet. (That written, she doesn't as yet cover extraterrestial life - but who knows? That may be coming soon.)

We provide access to Ancestry Library Edition on all our public computers in the Beaufort County Library. You can explore the Learning Center for help. (Alas, we cannot provide access to ALE over WIFI nor to your home or office.)

Similarly, Family Search has a learning center with tutorials for three skill levels of family historians: Beginner; Intermediate; and Advanced. If you're new to the practice, check out the "5 Minute Genealogy" series.

Contact me (843-255-6468, gracec@bcgov.net) to set up an appointment for some one-on-one help to flesh out your family tree. Our services and appointments are free of charge (though you will have to pay 10 cents per photocopy and 25 cents per image made on the microfilm reader/printer).

One of our fellow Beaufort County Historical Resources Consortium members, the Heritage Library Foundation, has recently opened a branch office in the Santa Elena History Center. It, too, offers access to genealogical sources and databases. Contact them at 843-686-6560 for additional information about their services, resources, and fees.

12 June 2016

June 16th - Closed For Lunch

Due to expected staff shortage on Thurs., June 16, the Research Room will have adjusted hours. 

Come do your research with us in the morning from 9 am to Noon, take an hour lunch break while staff does, and return at 1 pm for an afternoon of delving into our many reference materials. We close up shop at 5 pm.

Looking ahead:
Expected BDC Research Room lunchtime closures will occur on July 7, 8, & 11 due to staff shortage.

Please note that the entire Library system will be closed all day on Monday, July 4th. 

31 May 2016

SC Humanities Festival, June 9 - 11

You know how often I remind everyone that Dr. Rowland says "All American history begins in Beaufort, SC?" Well, as the events and activities scheduled by the SC Humanities Council illuminate, it does! 

The South Carolina Humanities Festival, June 9 - June 11,  is a prime opportunity to engage in some local history stay-cation activities that bolster Dr. Rowland's oft quoted statement. During the Festival, arts, cultural and educational organizations from Beaufort to Bluffton and Hilton Head will participate, presenting a wide variety of special events including lectures, films, tours, art shows, exhibits, performances and much more, around the theme of community collaboration, to demonstrate a sense of place. Among the many co-sponsors are the Beaufort County Library and other organizations in the Beaufort County Historic Resources Consortium (BCHRC). In other words, now is your chance to explore the area's museums and historic sites and cultural events within the whirlwind of a statewide sponsored festival atmosphere. A Stay-cation well worth considering if you relish local history, historic site visits, Gullah culture, natural history, archaeology or family history!

Check out the conference schedule.
  •  Please note that some events require pre-registration.
  • Please note that a couple of events are ticketed and require payment of a fee. 
  • However, most of the events are free - if you register.  
You can register at the Beaufort Branch (311 Scott Street) or the St. Helena Branch (6355 Jonathan Francis Senior Road) libraries to pick up a button that allows free entrance at select  scheduled events. (I already did.)  

Maria Benac, Manager of the St. Helena Branch Library and I will be staffing the Beaufort County Library's table at the Opening Night Reception. Drop by to just say "Hello" or to ask us questions about how the Library supports local history and culture.

Heads up: An anticipated staff shortage on June 16th will affect our Research Room schedule a bit. The Research Room will be closed from Noon to 1 pm for hourly staff to get a lunch break. The Research Room will be open 9 am to 12:00 pm; closed Noon to 1 pm; and will re-open from 1 pm to 5 pm.