Don’t Overlook the Local Historical Society


I spent a few hours at the local Jackson Historical Society this past Sunday photographing some of the pieces which will be included in the annual White Mountain Art Show and Sale.

Jackson, New Hampshire is a small town of 800 residents and a popular tourist destination, with a rich historic past dating  from the late 1700’s.

Warren Schomaker, now 86 years young, is President of the town’s Historical Society.  It is his passion.  He wears every imaginable hat – fundraiser, grant writer, record keeper, landscaper, docent, etc.   For this, he receives no salary.  Although future plans may include a paid employee, today there are only volunteers; few in number.

I tell you this, because many of the small towns where your ancestors lived are just like our small town. 

The Jackson Historical Society has boxes and boxes and boxes of records. Some are related to town business (such as selectman meeting minutes, which name residents who spoke at meeting or brought an item up for discussion at a meeting). Others are filled with old family papers, scrapbooks, diaries and photos; donations from Jackson families, many of whom have resided in the town for generations.

Some points (which I would guess apply to most small Historical Societies):

- The Historical Society is advertised as being open 9-4 on Saturdays but, I believe Warren would be thrilled to meet you there at any time day or night to give you a tour.  In most Historical Societies there will be someone like Warren.

-  Although there is an index of records online http://www.jacksonhistory.org/collection.html, it is not all-inclusive and does not do justice to this vast collection, as is the case with many understaffed organizations with limited funding.

- Warren will tell you that Alice Warwick Pepper is the town historian.  She has boxes of Jackson  records stored in her home and has written a book tracing the genealogy of the first Jackson families http://www.jacksonhistory.org/merchandise.html – she would be thrilled to tell you all about your ancestors. I have found that most small towns do have someone who has been deemed the town historian either formally or informally.

- Warren will tell you which families in town are unwilling to turn over their historic papers for preservation and have instead chosen to retain documents that span many generations in their private homes.  He may even give you their phone numbers.

- Warren will not be able to look through all of the boxes for your personal family records.  Not that he is unwilling, but there are thousands of records.  Warren is not a genealogist.  His dream is to establish a world-class museum for the White Mountain School of Art Paintings within the edifice of our Historical Society.  To find your ancestors in these records, you may want to make a personal visit or hire a local professional genealogist to perform a search for you. 

- If the Historical Society or Historian were to help you, be sure to offer a donation or become a member of their society.  Without public donations and memberships many of these societies would cease to exist. 

- Will these records be available on-line someday?  Perhaps.  It takes volunteers.  There are numerous volunteer opportunities in Mount Washington Valley, so many that the volunteers are stretched thin.  Warren mentioned that he had tried to organize such a project, but his volunteers lost interest after a few weeks….

- My family is not from Jackson.  We vacationed here as children.  If I were to die tomorrow, besides making sure that all 8 of my g-grandparents down to my siblings are named in my obituary (including middle and maiden names), my husband has been instructed to donate all of my records.  My husband is not a genealogist.  He would in all probability donate my collection to the Jackson Historical Society.  My ancestors were primarily from Massachusetts, New York, Canada, Rhode Island, France, Wales and Lithuania.

What future researcher would ever think to look in the Jackson, New Hampshire Historical Society for these records?  I never had children of my own, so in all probability, no one. Just another reminder that you never can tell where records mentioning your family might be found.  Yet another reason to spend time searching for those collateral relatives.

OTHER HISTORICAL SOCIETIES

My husband’s childhood was spent in Pelham, NH.  This Historical Society has an extensive online collection: tax records, graveyard inscriptions, church records and vital records, just to name a few.  

Their site: http://www.pelhamnhhistory.org/ 

Click on the link that reads “HAYES-GENOTER HISTORY AND GENEALOGY ON-LINE LIBRARY” (http://www.pelhamnhhistory.org/library/onlinelibrary.html)

Then select “Aunt Molly’s Scrapbook” http://www.pelhamnhhistory.org/library/onlinelibrary_scrapbook.html  Aunt Molly was the town librarian beginning in 1892 at the age of 18.  For 65 years she collected newspaper articles related to Pelham families and events and pasted them in a scrapbook for the library patrons to view.  The earliest scrapbook pages pre-date 1892.

Amazing stuff.

The state of Maine has the “Maine Memory Network”.  This allows smaller historical societies to upload their collections eliminating the expense of building and maintaining a web presence  http://www.mainememory.net/ (list of contributing societies: http://www.mainememory.net/user/search_CP.shtml).

Have you visited your local historical society in the town where you are currently living?  If not, stop by…  Ask to see their collection.   Before you visit, find a family tree on the internet naming a family who resided in your town in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s.  See what you can find.  Surprise the tree owner with your findings. 

Use Google to search online for historical societies in cities & towns of your ancestors’ homes.  What do they have online?  Call them, visit and share your stories!

Happy Hunting!!

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2 responses to this post.

  1. What a nice tribute to Warren. Both the town and researchers are lucky, although I bet he thinks he is the lucky one. Too bad I didn’t know about the event last week. This time, more so for the town and to see all the art work, after all it is Jackson. But, Pelham would have been easier, since it is a few miles away! Nice piece.

    Reply

  2. Posted by Douglas Hall on December 15, 2010 at 4:26 PM

    I have been looking up my ancestry (what a surprise) From Lowell Hall it goes to George Hall. From Lowell down it goes into Quebec, Canada. Anybody else looking along these lines?

    Reply

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