Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Just Old Papers? Really?

Yesterday, I did my once-a-month volunteering at the County Archives. Pretty impressive place, huh? The building was originally a house and it (along with the equally impressive house next door and the warehouse type structure built in the back) now houses all the historic records for the county.

What sort of records? You name it, it’s there. Marriage records, birth records, death records. Deeds, wills, court transcripts, engineering studies, etc., etc., etc. More than 100 years of records. Some of them are in gigantic books and written in old-fashioned looping script. Others are typed on yellowing index cards. There are maps, and microfilm. There are voter registration cards and naturalization records and watershed studies.

As a volunteer, I help out with the research requests that come in. Much of it is from people who are looking into family history. Yesterday, for instance, I helped locate the records from a 1900 divorce case. Maud wanted out because of what she said was “extreme cruelty,” but after further research in a few more dusty volumes, I found out that her claim was denied because, according to the record, Maud lied about the cruelty. Oh, the divorce was granted, but poor Maud got burned–no alimony.

And that’s when it struck me.

It’s not just these old, dusty, crumbling papers that attract me to the Archives, it’s the stories. And every piece of paper in the place contains a story.

In a couple free minutes yesterday, I found my grandparents’ voter registration cards, and thought about their stories, how they came to this country and what they endured to establish lives here. I thought about how proud they must have been to finally become citizens and vote.

As I copied the pages of that volume of court appearances, I thought about Maud, too. I wonder what happened to her after she divorced Charles. Back in 1900, it couldn’t have been easy to start over, especially with no money coming in from the ex to help. My imagination ran wild: was Maud lying? Was she some kind of crazy woman who was looking to make trouble for Charles? Or had Charles paid off some official to assure that he wouldn’t have to pay alimony? Interesting thoughts, and something tells me the truth is probably even far more fascinating.

That’s the thing with the Archives. I leave there exhausted from walking up and down (and up and down and up and down) the big, old staircase dozens of times. But my brain is always energized and ideas start to swirl.

Blame it on the stories.


Sandy Williams said...

Ah yes. Old papers. Love them! I volunteered at a presidential library when I was in college. Loved it! I got my masters in library science because I wanted to be an archivist. Still kind of do, but I was able to become a writer instead. This is definitely my dream job with archivist coming in second.

So nice of you to volunteer there. If I had more time I'd love to do that.


Casey said...

I'm with you, Sandy! I think it's my dream job, too!

Sharon Stogner said...

how cool and what a great idea for volunteering...