Monday, January 6, 2020

A Conversation with Stephanie Carter

Stephanie Carter, archivist at the Arkansas State Archives
Stephanie Carter, an archivist at the Arkansas State Archives, processes, describes and documents our archival collections on a daily basis while also helping Arkansans research their histories. Carter records the chain of custody, donor information and storage locations of historical materials brought to the Arkansas State Archives. She is instrumental in making sure our collections are well-preserved, inventoried and accessible to the public. Before joining the staff in March 2018, Carter earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2006 and a master’s degree in library and information science in 2014. Her other experience includes work for the Arkansas State Library and New Mexico State University. Carter took a moment from her busy work schedule to answer a few questions.

Q: What do you do on a typical day at Archives?
A: I wear many hats, so my duties for any given day vary. Some days, I work with donors to accept new donations to our Archives. I make a record that includes the donation information and get the historical material ready for processing.

Other days, I visit state agencies to discuss a transfer of records or pick up a collection of records that have been transferred. We also meet with county officials to provide recommendations about the preservation of county records. We continue to microfilm county records, which will create a record that can last over 500 years.

Also, I work in the research room and help our patrons find resources for research projects, such as researching their family histories or finding certain maps or newspaper articles. I spend the rest of my time processing archival collections, which includes organizing records and creating finding aids to help researchers navigate and access materials in our holdings. I also research records and write historical information about the collection.

Q: How did you become interested in Arkansas history or working at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: I have had an interest in Arkansas history for as long as I can remember. I visited museums at a young age and watched my grandmother collect and research our family history. Ever since I learned about the Arkansas State Archives, I have thought it would be an interesting place to work. After college, I worked at a library and eventually returned to school for a master’s degree in library and information science. While I was getting my second degree, my interest in archives grew because I learned more about what archivists do and spoke with people who work in the archiving field. It’s an amazing honor to be part of a team that celebrates and preserves Arkansas history the way the Arkansas State Archives does.

Q: What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve discovered while working at Archives? Why?
A: I come across so much unique material every day that it’s hard to pick one thing that is the most interesting or important. Arkansas has a long and culturally significant history that is unique and fascinating. Before working at the Arkansas State Archives, I didn’t know what an enormous collection of historical materials the State Archives holds. I also didn’t realize what a wide-array of topics the State Archives covers. We hold more records on Arkansas history than anywhere else in the world. Our collections are phenomenal and range from the Arkansas Territory to modern times. I am constantly learning something new.

Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans?
A: I think the Arkansas State Archives is important because it records the state’s history, particularly by preserving unique, primary sources. These historical materials offer a view of Arkansas history that is more than can be read about in a book. Our materials tell the stories of the lives of individual Arkansans in their own words and as they experienced it. We have diaries, letters and photographs that provide a glimpse into what life was like for these individuals.

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: There are many parts of my job that are rewarding, but I think the most rewarding part is being able to make our resources available to the people of Arkansas. Whether I’m in the research room helping patrons find information, or I’m preserving and processing collections, it’s important to me to be able to help provide access points to our collections. It’s very rewarding to know a collection is available for use and will be preserved for future generations because of the work I do.

Q: How do you see archiving evolving in the future?
A: One of the biggest factors affecting archives right now is digitization, and we eventually will have more collections available for viewing on our website. This is a very time-consuming task, and I think a large part of our work in the future will be making the difficult decisions of what to digitize first. Digitization has also begun to affect us in other ways. We are receiving more collections in “born-digital” format and in formats that are becoming obsolete, such as floppy disks and VHS tapes. Some of these materials, including VHS tapes, deteriorate quickly, too. We will have to continue to find ways to preserve the materials and transfer them to usable formats. I think the technological ways people access information will continue to evolve, so archivists must adapt to those changes.

Q: What do you wish people knew about Archives?
A: Many people I’ve met don’t know where we are located or what we do. I wish they knew what a large collection of resources we hold and that we are here to help them. We can help with a variety of research needs, including finding genealogy resources, governors’ papers, state records, court records, photographs and more.

For more information about the Arkansas State Archives or research services, visit archives.arkansas.gov, email state.archives@arkansas.gov or call 501-682-6900.

Arkansas Prophet Demands Execution, Wants to Rise Again

The Los Angeles Times, June 17, 1908

Arkansas has had its share of eccentrics, including Elijah Skaggs, a preacher who asked the state to execute him so he could rise again from the grave and save the world.

Skaggs grew up in Logan County, Arkansas, near Paris. After a rather unremarkable childhood, he moved to Dallas, Texas, around 1893. While there, he began preaching and gathered a loyal following. Using Dallas as his base, he started making trips back to Arkansas around 1905. Skaggs held tent revivals in Crawford County, Arkansas, where he expanded his following. His message was simple: Skaggs was a prophet and the savior of the world. His followers referred to him as “King of the Gentiles,” and he declared he would be sacrificed for the salvation of mankind. His martyrdom was to take place in Fort Smith, Skaggs said.

Skaggs and his followers arrived in Fort Smith in 1908 and had dinner at their hotel. Afterward, follower Margaret Irene Taylor wanted to go to the city park outside of town with Skaggs. On the way back to Fort Smith, after the park visit, Taylor and Skaggs did not sit together on the streetcar. Once they arrived in the city, Taylor ran to city hall and demanded to see the mayor. She told the mayor she had been raped by Skaggs. The mayor told her he had no power to arrest Skaggs and sent her to the justice of the peace, who then arrested Skaggs.

During his arraignment, Skaggs pleaded guilty to rape and declared he was also guilty of murder. Astonished, the judge asked him how he could be guilty of murder when no murder was reported. Skaggs responded he was guilty of murder because he had “taken that woman’s honor,” and pointed at Irene Taylor. A grand jury indicted Skaggs for rape.

Skaggs asked the prosecutor to seek the death penalty, but the prosecutor declined. Skaggs seemed disappointed.

Meanwhile, Taylor began visiting Skaggs in jail. The visits lasted hours.

When Skaggs’ trial began the next month, the prosecutor called Taylor to the stand. Taylor’s answer to the prosecutor’s first question threw the court into turmoil. “Do you know Skaggs?” asked the prosecutor. Taylor sat back in her chair on the witness stand and declared, “I don’t know Skaggs, but I know the King,” and then looked lovingly at Skaggs. Asked if Skaggs had raped her, Taylor said he had not. Why did she claim he raped her during the grand jury investigation? Taylor answered Skaggs had committed a “spiritual rape,” not a physical one. The prosecutor asked Taylor why she had staged the scene of a physical attack, but she refused to answer. The judge ordered Taylor to answer, but she leaped from her seat and declared, “Put me in jail and keep me there as long as you want to, you mutt!” Seeing little progress could be made with Taylor, the prosecutor charged her with perjury of her grand jury testimony and ordered her to jail.

What caused her sudden change of testimony? Observers claimed Skaggs had a hypnotic control over his followers, and Taylor had fallen under his sway. When brought back into the courtroom to finish her testimony, Taylor claimed it was all a part of a divine plan Skaggs was using to save humanity. According to Taylor, Skaggs had ordered her to claim rape against him so he would be arrested, tried and sentenced to death. Rape was a capital offense punishable by death in 1908.

On the third day of his death, Skaggs said he would rise again triumphantly. When the prosecutor chose not to seek the death penalty, it sent Skaggs’ plan into disarray. Skaggs then ordered Taylor to change her testimony to keep himself out of prison.

However, the jury was not convinced of Taylor’s sudden change of story. On the morning of Saturday, June 13, 1908, the jury announced it had reached a verdict. Deputies brought Skaggs into the courtroom. As he waited for the verdict, Skaggs nervously mopped the sweat off of his face. The jury found him guilty of assault with intent to rape and sentenced him to 21 years in the penitentiary. As he was being led away, several of his supporters, including a farmer who offered the note on his farm, attempted to bribe law enforcement to hang him on the spot, so he could demonstrate his divinity.

After being taken to the penitentiary, Skaggs convinced his fellow prisoners to hang him. They bound him to a chair and placed it at the top of a cage. They fixed a noose around his neck and pushed him off, but the rope snapped in two. Skaggs plummeted to the ground, breaking his jaw in the process. His plan had failed again.

Because law enforcement refused to execute him and his fellow prisoners were not effective executioners, Skaggs appealed his sentence. His followers paid his bond so he could remain a free man while the case was on appeal.

In September 1908, Skaggs moved to Warren, Arkansas, where he hoped to gain more followers. That plan also failed, after Tom Baker, a nearby farmer, refused to have anything to do with the prophet. Almost immediately, Baker received anonymous letters that threatened to harm him if “he would not bow to their king.” Outraged, Warren townspeople gathered to find Skaggs. On the evening of Wednesday, Oct. 7, a mob took Skaggs into the woods, where they whipped him with straps taken from the harness of a buggy. The mob then put him on a train and demanded he never return to Warren.

At the end of October, Skaggs returned to court in Fort Smith to learn his fate. The court ruled against Skaggs’ appeal, and he went to the penitentiary to begin his sentence. While there, Skaggs failed to convert any of the other prisoners into followers. His fellow prisoners referred to him as “Skaggsy.”
Gov. X.O. Pindall pardoned Skaggs at the end of 1908. Skaggs’ followers were able to convince the governor Skaggs was “feeble minded” and should be released. After leaving prison, Skaggs left Arkansas and declared the world would end in 1912.

In the meantime, he traveled to Buffalo, New York and Los Angeles, California. Skaggs disappeared from the historical record after his 1912 prediction failed to come true. Today, Skaggs’ story is nearly forgotten, captured only in old newspaper articles, but for a time, he and his followers made quite a mark on Arkansas history.

For more information about Arkansas history, visit the Arkansas State Archives at archives.arkansas.gov, email state.archives@arkansas.gov or call 501-682-6900.

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New Employees Join ASA


New employees Kimberly Sanders, left, and
Abbie Deville, courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives
Arkansas State Archives recently welcomed new employees Kimberly Sanders and Abbie Deville! Two other positions will be filled shortly.

“We are thrilled to welcome Kim and Abbie,” said Julienne Crawford, interim director. “Their talent, skill and experience stand out and will be instrumental in our ongoing effort to preserve historical material and increase access to our collections.”

Kimberly Sanders was hired as an archival assistant for the Microfilm Department on Oct. 21. She had held a contract for work at the Arkansas State Archives for the past six weeks before taking the full-time position. Sanders has a bachelor’s degree in art history from the University of Central Arkansas and a master’s degree in art history from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. 

She previously served as the assistant curator of exhibitions at the Historic Arkansas Museum and as a confinement site interpreter at the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, where she developed exhibits and published a book on their collections related to Japanese internment camps. She presented lectures on “The American Dream Deferred: Japanese American Incarceration in World War II Arkansas” in 2017, 2018 and 2019. Her publications include: “The Art of Living: Japanese American Incarceration Artwork in the Collections of the CALS Butler Center for Arkansas Studies,” 2019, with the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies, and “Coalescence in Confinement: Cultural Synthesis and Identity in Michi Tanaka’s Community Life,” 2013.

Abbie Deville started Oct. 28 as a digital archivist. She has a bachelor’s degree in history and a master’s degree in public history from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Deville focused her studies on digital archival collection management and worked in collections at Mosaic Templar Cultural Center and the Central Arkansas Library System, Dee Brown Branch. She also worked with archives, museums, and the National Park Service in Louisiana prior to moving to Arkansas. Deville is working on expanding the digital collections and preservation of electronic records at the Arkansas State Archives.

Also, applications for another archivist and assistant archivist are under review and will be filled shortly. The two temporary positions are funded by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities and are full-time positions that end in August 2021. The positions are related to the Arkansas Digital Newspaper Project, which aims to digitize 100,000 pages of Arkansas newspaper pages for the Chronicling America website.

The website is open-source and is a joint effort by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Library of Congress. The project for the Arkansas State Archives was originally funded for a two-year cycle in 2017, which was renewed last year. In May 2019, about 40 Arkansas newspaper titles, or about 100,000 pages were sent to the Library of Congress to go online. More are expected to be sent off this year.

The National Digital Newspaper Program started in 2005 and is a nationwide effort that includes 48 states and two territories. Thanks to the project, about 15 million newspaper pages available online for historical research.

New Accessions in December

New accessions for December 2019
Our new accessions include donations of three ledgers and one abstract of title to add to the J.E. Little Plantation records, historical postcards and indexes to death records! We hold hundreds of thousands of records, microfilms, ledgers and books to help you trace your family’s story! Visit us and find your Arkansas roots.
Archival Materials

·         Grace Jones Hays postcard and photograph collection, 10 postcards and 21 photographs of various locations around Arkansas, taken by the donor’s mother and grandmother, Grace Jones Hays, during vacations to Arkansas around the 1950s. Donated by Tammy Vanveckhoven, 0.05 cubic feet
·         J.E. Little Plantation records (accretion to existing collection), donated by Lucy Sogandares. Three ledgers and one abstract of title, 0.25 cubic feet. This collection contains materials pertaining to John Elijah Little, his family, their farm in Faulkner County, and their property and house in Conway, Arkansas.
·         Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission records (accretion to existing collection), transferred by Patricia Goff, Arkansas Pollution Control and Ecology Commission, 10 boxes of cassette tape recordings of meetings, one box of meeting minutes and one box of maps, 6 cubic feet
·               Neva Boatright Arkansas State Parks collection. Artifacts and archival material related to Arkansas State Parks collected by Neva Boatright during her time working at Petit Jean State Park, Cane Creek State Park and the Lower White River Museum in Des Arc.
·               Joseph D. Bryan postcard collection. A collection of 34 postcards of various locations around Arkansas collected by Joseph D. Bryan, father of the donor, Sue Fourke. Bryan was in the CCC, Army and the Air Force. 

Printed Materials

Donated by Robert Franks:
·         Spartanburg County, South Carolina, will abstracts 1787-1840, compiled by Brent H. Holcomb, C.A.L.S., 1983
·         “Gone to Georgia: Jackson and Gwinnett Counties and Their Neighbors in the Western Migration,” compiled and with an introduction by William C. Stewart, 1979
·         “Pioneers and Residents of West Central Alabama Prior to the Civil War,” by Madge Pettit, 1988
·         “Old Sussex County Families,” by Charles Edgar Stickney, 1988
Donated by Friends of the ASA:
·         Death Records from the Mena Star, Volume 14, 1935-1940
·         1987 Obituaries, Polk County, Arkansas
·         Obituaries from the Mena Star, 1988-1989
·         Death Records from the Mena Star, Volume 11, microfilm roll no. 11, June 2, 1927-February 13, 1930
·         Death Records from the Mena Star, Volume 12, microfilm roll no. 12, Feb. 20, 1931-Dec. 1, 1932
·         Death Records from the Mena Star, Volume 13, microfilm roll no. 13, Dec. 8, 1932-Nov. 14, 1935
·         Death Records from the Mena Star, Volume 5, microfilm roll no. 5, May 13, 1909-May 23, 1912
·         Death Records from the Mena Star, Volume 6, microfilm roll no. 6, May 20, 1912-April 13, 1916
·         Death Records from the Mena Star, Volume 10, microfilm roll no. 10, Feb. 5, 1925-May 26, 1927

‘African American Soldiers in Wartime’ Symposium Set for Feb. 1




LITTLE ROCK –  The Black History Commission of Arkansas is pleased to present “African American Soldiers in Wartime,” a free, one-day symposium about the history of African Americans serving in U.S. wars. The symposium is co-sponsored by the Arkansas State Archives.

The symposium starts at 10 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center at 501 W. Ninth St. in Little Rock. Check-in begins at 9:15 a.m. Tickets are free and available at http://archives.arkansas.gov or via Facebook

Speakers Dr. Cherisse Jones-Branch, a Persian Gulf War veteran, will present "A Debutante, a Soldier and a War Veteran," and Brig. Gen. Gracus K. Dunn, who retired from the U.S. Army, will present "African-American Services in America's Wars." The symposium will focus on the contributions of African American soldiers in American wars.

Wilbur D. Mills University Studies High School students in the U.S. Army Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps (JROTC) will post the colors.

Dr. Cherrise Jones-Branch
Jones-Branch is a military veteran and a professor of history at Arkansas State University. Her research interests include the history of Arkansas and issues related to race and gender, civil rights, rural history, women and African Americans. Jones-Branch, who is also a member of the Black History Commission of Arkansas, has accrued multiple honors and awards for her research, studies, mentoring and teaching. She is a fascinating public speaker who has published multiple books, including “Crossing the Line: Women’s Interracial Activism in South Carolina during and after World War II.” She is researching a project about the activism of rural black women in Arkansas between 1913 and 1965.

Brig. Gen. Gracus K. Dunn,
U.S. Army retired
Dunn is a Little Rock native and graduate of Arkansas Tech University. He was commissioned as a transportation officer in the U.S. Army in 1982. His military education includes a Masters of Art in strategic studies from the Army War College.

Dunn has served in a variety of military assignments and operations, including two tours at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C.  He has served internationally and commanded soldiers from Company to General officer level during his career. Dunn, who retired in 2014, is a decorated veteran whose awards include the Army's Distinguished Service, Defense Superior Service and the Legion of Merit awards. He is a renowned public speaker and an expert on the history of African Americans in the military.

Teachers can earn up to three professional development credits by attending the symposium. The event is free but reservations must be made by Jan. 27. Refreshments will be provided.

This event is presented by the Black History Commission of Arkansas, which is an advisory board of the Arkansas State Archives.

Donated Family Bible Spotlights Two Families, African American History

The Nance Family Bible, donated to SARA by George Wishart

A family Bible recently donated to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, a branch of the Arkansas State Archives, contains vital genealogical information about enslaved African Americans and two families who migrated to Arkansas from Virginia, Alabama and Georgia.

“This Bible is a significant, historical record that will help families discover and trace their family roots in Arkansas,” said Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager. “We are honored to be able to preserve, protect and make available to the public this remarkable resource.”

The Nance Family Bible contains names and birth, marriage and death dates related to the Nance and Clark Families. The families migrated from the southeast and settled in northeastern Texas before moving to southwestern Arkansas.

The Bible was donated to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives by George Wishart of Plano, Texas.

The Bible lists African American names and birth dates, which is helpful for genealogical research for African Americans. Researchers often run into obstacles when tracing African American families before the U.S. Civil War. African American families often were not recorded with birth or death records. After the Civil War, families also sometimes changed their surnames.

Some research services and records about African Americans in Arkansas are available at SARA and at the Arkansas State Archives. For example, the State Archives houses records from Hempstead County that list the names of enslaved people as “property” in historical circuit court records dating back to the Arkansas Territory.

The Bible was published by the American Bible Society in 1841, which is during the time when Francis Scott Key, writer of the “Star Spangled Banner,” was vice president of the society. However, the family records listed in the Bible date back prior to the publishing date. Likely, the information was recorded in the Bible after it was published. One page in the Bible reads: “a true copy from the old family Bible.”

For more information about the Bible or other historical records at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, call 870-983-2633 or email melissa.nesbitt@arkansas.gov. More information about Arkansas history and genealogical research is available at the Arkansas State Archives at archives.arkansas.gov or by calling 501-682-6900.

Research Tips: Marriage and Divorce Records

Marriage license for Taylor Kirkpatric and
Sarah Bishop in Hempstead County, 1869,
Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives
Researchers frequently ask: “How can we find marriage and divorce records – especially divorce records?” These documents give researchers vital clues about their ancestors’ lives, but finding out where they are located can be tricky.

Arkansas marriage records are filed in county courthouses and recorded in each county’s own designated book. Arkansas has 75 counties, but some counties have more than one courthouse or county seat. The task may seem daunting, but there are a few indexes that will help.

The Arkansas State Archives has printed marriage indexes available for many counties. The Archives also hold marriage records from all 75 counties on microfilm. Arkansas vital records also produced a marriage index on microfiche, but it only covers 1933 to 1939.

In Arkansas, county marriage records do not include parents’ names or dates of birth for the individuals getting married. Some states, like Ohio, do include this information. Arkansas’s records, however, will give you the residences of the individuals getting married and their ages. If one of the people getting married is underage, researchers can sometimes find a note attached from the parents or guardians that gives the couple permission to wed.

Marriage records can provide the foundation to interesting backstories. For example, if you find a note “do not publish” written on the license, it means the couple didn’t want the marriage announced in the newspaper. Sometimes couples even went to different counties to avoid people knowing they were getting married. Finding those records can reveal aspects about your relatives’ lives you never knew.

If you can’t find a marriage record in the county you think your ancestors married in, you might look in newspapers. Many local newspapers published names of people who took out marriage licenses in the county. The Arkansas State Archives holds thousands of rolls of microfilm from newspapers across Arkansas, and the odds are good you can find one for the area you’re researching.

Some newspapers ran articles on recent engagements and marriages. You might find a blurb about your ancestors getting married, the dress she wore or other information. That information can lead you to find out where they wed and if a license was applied for in a different county.

Lastly, you might check church records for a mention in the minutes or register. The Arkansas State Archives keeps hundreds of church minutes, registers, rolls and more in its archives. These records can be found in a resource guide on our website at http://ahc.digital-ar.org/cdm/singleitem/collection/p16790coll13/id/297.

Divorce records can be a little trickier to find. Divorce records are also filed at a county level. Generally, divorce records are filed in chancery or civil courts unless, like in Pulaski County, they have designated a specific book for divorces. Divorce records are county records, but on occasion, you may have to look at circuit court records to find them.

Early divorce cases are somewhat rare, but they did happen. In Arkansas, women could not file for divorce. On some records, you will find the words: “on her account or her friend,” which means a male filed for her. Later, in the late 1800s, women could and did file on their own account.

After finding when the couple divorced, the next step is to look at the loose court records, if they exist. These records will have all the trial transcripts filed to justify the dissolution of the marriage. Many of the early county records are available on microfilm at the Arkansas State Archives. For more modern divorce records you may need to contact the county courthouse or search through online databases such as the Administrative Office of the Courts CourtConnect website at https://caseinfo.arcourts.gov/cconnect/PROD/public/ck_public_qry_main.cp_main_idx

For many researchers trying to narrow down when a divorce happened can be a challenge. Many of these records have indexes at the beginning of the county records, but if you can’t find information there, you can again turn to newspapers. In the same section where the marriages are published, newspapers often listed divorces. You can eliminate counties by browsing through the areas you suspect the divorce took place. However, there is a small chance the divorce wasn’t published.

Next month, we will look at wills and probate records and how to use them in your research.

Researchers who need help can contact our staff. We are here to provide some research services and to help individuals start their genealogical research. Find more information about our services by contacting the Arkansas State Archives at 501-682-6900 or start researching by visiting our website. Researchers may also find records online through our online catalog.