Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Wednesday’s Wonderful Collection - Centennial Missionary Baptist Church records, MG.00486

Centennial Missionary Baptist Church in Helena, Phillips County, Arkansas, was established on July 4, 1876. In August 1876, Reverend Robert Caver of Alabama was called to serve as the first pastor. Caver was followed by two other pastors who served brief periods. However, the church flourished under the administration and pastorate of Elias Camp Morris (1855-1922), who was called in June 1879. Morris later became a leading religious figure in the state and throughout the country. He was a founding member of the National Baptist Convention, and its president until his death in 1922. Morris served as pastor of Centennial for forty-three years.
Centennial Missionary Baptist Church with its Gothic Revival design was listed as a National Historic Landmark on July 31, 2003. The church, located at York and Columbia Streets, was built in 1905 by Henry James Price, an African American architect. Due to major deterioration of the structure, the congregation held its last worship service in 1999. The building still stands, however, and is owned by the E.C. Morris Foundation, comprised of former church members.
The documents in this collection were rescued by Phyllis Hammonds of the E.C. Morris Foundation, and her mother Thelma, who stored the records at the Delta Cultural Center, in Helena, Arkansas. The microfilming of the collection was part of a project made possible with a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and Black History Advisory Committee (now the Black History Commission of Arkansas).
The collection contains church programs, correspondence, minutes, financial reports, membership rosters, Women's Missionary Society, Sunday school, and Baptist Young People's Union records.
·         Administrative records
o    1. Correspondence, 1909-1947 (Reel MG00486)
o    2. Minutes, financial reports, etc., 1876-1983
o    3. Membership register, 1941-1955
o    4. Funeral programs, 1965-1991
o    5. Church anniversary celebrations, 1919-1991 (Reel MG00487)
o    6. Special program events, 1931-1997 (includes program of the eighty-second annual session, National Baptist Convention, Incorporated, 1962 September 4-9, Chicago, Illinois)
o    7. Harvest homecoming, 1954-1989
o    8. Reverend A.L. Woodson, personal papers (correspondence, receipts, and membership certificate to The Most Worshipful Sovereign Prince Hall Grand Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons, Jurisdiction of Arkansas, 1947)
·         Women's Missionary Society ledgers
o    1912-1939
·         Baptist Young People's Union, record and roll book
o    1900-1924
o    1924-1941 (Reel MG00488)
o    1940-1973 (Reel MG00489)
·         Sunday school reports, minutes and record books
o    1900-1919 (Reel MG00490)
o    1919-1932 (Reel MG00491)
o    1932-1942 (Reel MG00492)
o    1942-1953 (Reel MG00493)
o    1954-1970 (Reel MG00494)
o    Sunday School records, 1971-1984 (Reel MG00495)
o    Class books, 1917-1947

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Pen to Podium Event Highlights Arkansas Quirks

Joe David Rice, author and former tourism director, talks about
his book during the last Pen to Podium event of 2019.
About 50 people gathered on a cold, November evening to hear author Joe David Rice talk about the quirky characters and odd past of Arkansas during the last Pen to Podium event of 2019.

“These little stories just disappear,” said Lee Ann Matson, who attended the lecture with her husband Russell Matson. Small historical facts are important and must be preserved, Russell added. “They are the reason for the way things are,” he said.

Author and former tourism director Joe David Rice spoke about his two volume book set, “Arkansas Backstories: Quirks, Characters, and Curiosities of the Natural State,” at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12, at Arkansas Heritage at 1100 North St. in Little Rock. Rice’s book is chalked full of forgotten stories that helped shape the way Arkansas is today, attendees said.

Rice’s lecture was part of the 2019 quarterly “Pen to Podium: Arkansas Historical Writers’ Lecture” series, which was sponsored by the Arkansas State Archives and the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives. The event was free.

“The stories involving robber barons, scoundrels and wannabe politicians are fascinating,” Rice said about his book. “I think even non-history buffs will enjoy learning about some of the incidents and characters that have helped shape this state.”

Rice, a well-known writer, researcher and adventurer, has investigated Arkansas’s unique and lesser-known historical facts, places and people. His book delves into details like how the first sitting member of Congress was shot to death in Monroe County and how the CIA used secret contracts with an Arkansas organization to train animals for clandestine activities. He talked about how Arkansas had, then lost Watson State Park, which was the first state park exclusively for African Americans. He also talked about how diamond tycoons kept Arkansans from industrializing and profiting from what is now Crater of Diamonds State Park.

Rice first published “Arkansas Backstories” in 2018. A companion to his original book was published this past April. Both books, volumes 1 and 2, are available through stores online.

Ann Beck, who attended the lecture, said she learned a lot of interesting facts about Arkansas and is now interested in visiting places like Zack, Arkansas. The community in Searcy County is little-known and rural but has cabins and was once home to Elton Britt, a famous country and western artists who ran for U.S. president in 1960.

For more information on Arkansas history, contact the Arkansas State Archives at or 501-682-6900. Visit the Arkansas History Channel, by Gary Jones, for a summary video of Rice's lecture. Other Pen to Podium lectures are available on YouTube

A Conversation with Terra Titsworth

Terra Titsworth, archival manager for
imaging and preservation, photo
courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives
Terra Titsworth is the archival manager for imaging and preservation at the Arkansas State Archives. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock before joining the Archives in 2016. She previously worked for the Arkansas Commissioner of State Lands and the Arkansas State Auditor for a total of about 10 years. Titsworth manages the microfilm department, gives Archives tours focused on the microfilm process and has lectured as a professional chef including presenting food demonstrations at some of the ASA’s foodway symposiums. She recently took a few moments from her busy schedule to talk with us about her work at the Arkansas State Archives.

Q: What’s your job title, and how long have you worked at the Arkansas State Archives?
A: I am the archival manager for imaging and preservation and have been with the Arkansas State Archives for about four years. My job focuses on microfilming Arkansas newspapers, periodicals and historical records for preservation and research purposes.

Q: What do you do on a typical day at Archives?
A:  I manage a small staff of three. On a typical day, I work with historical societies and libraries regarding film orders and special filming projects. I spend a lot of time filming Arkansas publications, as well as, processing and duplicating film for our research room, regional archives and film orders. I am also responsible for the maintenance of our lab equipment and cameras, all of which are used in the microfilming process. I perform a multitude of tasks, so you may even see me ironing newspapers to prepare them for microfilming.

Q: How did you become interested in Arkansas history or working at the Arkansas State Archives?
A:  Since early childhood, I have been fascinated by all things old. When I decided to major in history in college, I originally planned to teach, but I decided preserving the past was what I really wanted to do.

Q: What’s the most important or interesting thing you’ve discovered while working at Archives? Why?
A:  I found my grandfather’s genealogical research in the microfilm vault, which was pretty amazing. A decade’s worth of his work, dating back to 1583, was neatly preserved on microfilm. It is a treasure.   

Q: Why do you think the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans?
A:  I believe the Arkansas State Archives is important for Arkansans because we provide access to the past. We are an educational repository with an enormous variety of material. In the microfilm department, we have more than 13,000 rolls of newspapers and currently film about 150 Arkansas publications.   

Q: What is the most rewarding part of your job?
A:  The most rewarding part of my job is knowing that I am preserving Arkansas’s story for many generations to come. The film I create today can be viewed in 500 years, if treated properly. It’s amazing to think something I worked on today will be ready and available for researchers hundreds of years from now.  

Q: How do you see archiving evolving in the future?
A: The drive for internet access to everything and the move to digital formatting will change a lot about what we do here. I still think microfilming is the best way to preserve documents, newspapers, etc.  It only requires light and magnification to view. The accessibility and authenticity of original documents are concerns I have with the move to digital archiving. For example, digital records can deteriorate more quickly than microfilm and can become difficult to retrieve as technology changes.

Q: What do you wish people knew about Archives?
A:  The Arkansas State Archives has been preserving the history of Arkansas since 1905, making it the third oldest archives in the nation. We are still actively archiving and preserving material, but the Archives can’t do it alone. We need donors and outlets like newspapers to provide print products we can use for microfilming. As more newspapers move away from print products, it’s possible we, as a society, could miss out on the preservation of our current history. I wish more people knew about our services and our efforts to grow participation.

Researching Birth Information

Little Rock Birth Records, September 1881, microfilm roll 4566,
Pulaski County, courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives

When researchers come to the Arkansas State Archives, they frequently ask: “Do you have birth certificates?” Birth certificates can help genealogists locate vital information that helps trace family lineage, but the records are kept by the Arkansas Department of Health Vital Records, not the Arkansas State Archives.
Birth certificates can be difficult to find for several reasons. The state of Arkansas did not start maintaining birth records until 1914, so many people never had an official certificate.  Plus, vital and medical records are not open to the public, which means researchers must use alternative methods to discover birth dates.

Luckily, the Arkansas State Archives houses records that can substitute for finding individual, historical birth certificates. Below are some research tips: 

·         Visit the Arkansas State Archives and look through our 15 published indexes that were put together by the Arkansas Genealogical Society. The indexes contain early births records filed between 1942 and 1967 for individuals born before 1914 and who needed proof of birth for Social Security. The Social Security Act was signed into law in 1935 and ongoing monthly benefits started in January 1940.

·         Researchers should look at county records too. County governments sometimes house delayed birth records or certificates, which are birth certificates not filed within one year of the date of birth. The records contain the birth date, parents’ names and approximate place of birth. Researchers may also find birth records at the city level, such as Little Rock and Fort Smith. These city documents contain reported births within the city limits starting in 1881. The city birth records give genealogists the date of birth and parents’ names.

·         Researchers often can find a birth date by looking at U.S. Census records, which contain ages of people. Families can request census records on individuals from the U.S. Census for the years from 1950 to 2010. Individual census records from 1790 to 1940 are maintained by the national Archives and Records Administration. More information is available online.

·         Another great source for information are school census records. School Census records range from 1891 to 1978. They were done every year and include the birth date of school age children. The Arkansas State Archives has school census records for some counties for certain years on microfilm, but does not have them for all the counties in Arkansas. If the ASA does not have the records you are interested in then check with the county courthouse, although they may not have them either.

·         Church records can be helpful for baptismal records, but can sometimes be difficult to find. The ASA has some church records, but one can also contact the church, the parent parish to the church, or the Dioceses for these records.

·         If you know a date or date-range for the person’s birthday, you might find information by looking through newspapers for a birth announcement. The Arkansas State Archives houses thousands of newspapers that are easy to navigate through microfilm. The newspapers range from 1819 to present day.

·         The ASA also provides free access to at each of its three branches. Various types of birth records from around the world are available through  New records for Arkansas and other locations are continually being added, so if you have not found someone in the past continue to look in the future for those names as the new records might provide additional information.

There are various other sources available at the State Archives that may help researchers find an ancestor’s birth date or other genealogical information. Next month, we will look at how to locate marriage and divorce records, which can be used for tracing family histories. Marriage records, for example, often reveal maiden names, parents’ names and birth information.

Our staff is 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.

 Baxter County School Census, Mountain Home, 1946, microfilm roll 6347,
courtesy of the Arkansas State Archives 

‘Yellow Jack’ Plagues Arkansas, Sparks Fears

Arkansas Democrat, 1878,
Arkansas State Archives
On Aug. 13, 1878, Kate Bionda died in her bed in Memphis, Tenn., and became one of the first deaths that year from Yellow Fever, a disease that quickly spread throughout Memphis, the Delta and the southeastern U.S.

Yellow Fever, also called “Yellow Jack,” eventually killed about 20,000 people in the fall of 1878 in states that included Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Symptoms included fever, pains, severe liver disease that yellowed the skin and vomit blackened by blood. Arkansas residents were mostly spared from the deadly outbreak, but towns, such as Helena, were hit by the disease.

The mechanism by which Yellow Fever spread remained mostly unknown as late as 1898. Medical consensus held the disease, like the common cold, was spread through air. H.R. Carter, a surgeon at the United States Marine Hospital, wrote in a pamphlet about the treatment of the disease and said it was known to spread by air 220 meters from the carrier.

However, Carter made an important observance: The disease happened to be most frequent in swamps or wetlands. Carter and his colleagues dismissed the idea that mosquitoes carried and spread the disease, even after Dr. Carlos Finlay published findings of such in 1881. Finlay’s theory was not recognized fully until 1900, after a U.S. commission investigated. 

During the 1878 outbreak, doctors and medical experts agreed the best way to protect people from Yellow Fever was to quarantine affected areas and refuse to allow people in or out. In areas unaffected by the disease, such as Little Rock, this quarantine plan received hearty approval from the public.

Often the demand for quarantine came from the general public. On Aug. 26, 1878, a citizens group met in Little Rock to demand the State Board of Health implement quarantines against Memphis and New Orleans. They demanded no boats use the rivers from Memphis or Louisiana. Further, they insisted no trains operate over the Little Rock-Memphis railroad. Sensing the State Board of Health might resist such harsh demands, the citizens resolved, “that any members of the Board of Health who are not in accord, fully and heartily, with these resolutions in their language and their spirit, are most cordially invited to resign.”

Over the course of 1878, there were only a handful of Yellow Fever cases reported in Arkansas. In those few instances, the town was immediately placed under quarantine. When a case was reported in Washington, Arkansas, in Hempstead County, police surrounded the city to prevent any coming and going.

As the death toll mounted in Memphis, panic spread in Arkansas. On Oct.  2, 1878, T.F. Freeman, a prominent grocer in Augusta in Woodruff County passed away after suffering symptoms similar to Yellow Fever. Rumor had it a box of dry goods slipped through the imposed Memphis quarantine and made its way into Augusta where, like a Pandora’s Box, its contents quickly spread Yellow Fever in the town. Once the rumors spread, the citizens of Augusta and all towns along the railroad’s route from Memphis packed their belongings to flee.

Alarmed, the State Board of Health convened an emergency meeting on Oct. 8, 1878, to formulate a plan to combat the spread of the disease. On the same day the State Board of Health met, another person passed away from what seemed to be Yellow Fever.

Doctors in Augusta rushed to the bedsides of the victims to assess whether the sickness was a result of Yellow Fever. Dr. James E. Lenow agreed: It was Yellow Fever. He said there were three deaths in Augusta from the disease.

Some doctors, however, disputed whether the deaths were from Yellow Fever. Many townspeople claimed Freeman, whose death set off the panic, was an alcoholic and succumbed to liver damage from years of alcohol abuse. Nevertheless, after much discussion, the doctors agreed Augusta should be quarantined and railroad traffic ceased through the town.

Despite the quarantine, many Augusta residents fled on foot. Those who avoided armed pickets set up on the roads to prevent them from escaping found themselves wandering the countryside looking for shelter. As these refugees began to forage for food, many farmers in the White River Valley established armed guards around their farms to prevent possibly infected people from coming onto their property. Some farmers went so far as to set fire to unoccupied buildings on their farms to prevent squatters from taking up residence. By Oct. 15, an estimated two-thirds of Augusta’s population had fled town.

Weeks later, the first hard freeze came, killing the mosquitoes that had been spreading the disease. The epidemic was the last major outbreak of Yellow Fever in the Mississippi River Valley.

Even after the discovery that Yellow Fever is spread by mosquitoes, Arkansas maintained its quarantine policy. During an outbreak in Louisiana in 1905, Gov. Jeff Davis ordered the Arkansas National Guard to block every major entry port and prevent anyone from entering from the south. There were no reported cases of Yellow Fever in Arkansas, and the quarantine was lifted in about three months.

Despite the critics of the quarantine policy, the disease did not spread in Arkansas like it had in Memphis. The outbreaks in Arkansas also led to an increase in sanitation laws in towns throughout the state, which kept the mosquito population down as a result. New state and federal laws and medical advancements also helped combat Yellow Fever outbreaks.

For more information about Arkansas history, visit the Arkansas State Archives at, email or call 501-682-6900. Visit the Arkansas State Archives' online catalog to find books about Yellow Fever in Arkansas.

New Accessions in November

"All about Arkansas" cards, undated,
Arkansas State Archives
Our new accessions in November included “All about Arkansas” parks and tourism cards, historical books, family records and more! Your Arkansas State Archives houses more than 21,000 books, over 10,000 artifacts and millions of historical documents and photographs. Visit us to find historical Arkansas!

Archival Collections

·         Sillin-Monroe-Sprague family records and Bible records, 1800s to 1959, donated by Russell Baker.
·         Friends of the Arkansas State Archives, board meeting minutes, July 27, 2019, donated by Russell Baker.
·         Bobbie Kennard-Shiloh Museum collection of “All about Arkansas” cards produced by the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, 14 cards, undated, transferred from the Shiloh Museum of Ozark History. Originally donated to the museum by Bobbie Kennard.
·         Scipio Africanus Jones Curtis H. Sykes Memorial Grant final report and three copies of the book “Africanus Jones: Both Intelligent and Wise,” written by Pat Kienzle, 2018-2019.

Published Material

·         “Powhatan Indian Place Names in Tidewater, Virginia,” by Martha W. McCarney and Helen C. Rountree, 2017, donated by Russell Baker.
·         “On the Edge of the Ozarks: Oral Histories from the Arkansas River Valley,” by Kristen Kloss Ulsperger, Jason S. Ulsperger and Kayla Osborne, 2013, donated by Russell Baker.
·         “The Gems of Pike Co.,” including vol. 30, no 2; Vol. 29, no. 4; and vol. 30, no 3, donated by Russell Baker.
·         “Album of Yesteryears,” catalogue for the Bicentennial of the Revolutionary War in Arkansas, donated by Russell Baker.
·         “Arkansas Colonials, 1686-1804: A collection of French and Spanish recordings listed early Europeans in the Arkansas,” by Morris S. Arnold, 1986, donated by Russell Baker.
·         “Images of Stories from England, Arkansas,” author and date unknown, donated by Russell Baker.
·         Arkansas Genealogical Society Fall Seminar catalogue, 2019, donated by Russell Baker.
·         “Mayflower Families through Five Generations,” Vol. 4, second edition, by Bruce M. Campbell, date unknown, donated by Doris Compton.
·         Index to the “Doodlebug” newsletter and journal, prepared in October 2019 by Bill Sayger, Central Delta Depot and Museum, and donated by Bill Sayger.
·         “Brickwall Gazette,” Vol. 23, no. 11, Genealogy Society of Craighead County, Arkansas,  November 2019, donated by the GSCC.
·        The History Newsletter, date unknown, the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, donated by Russell Baker.

NEARA Collaboration Reveals Intimate, Historical Stories

Linday Penn and Taylor Harbin at work at NEARA
Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives staff is researching and writing articles to submit to the Lawrence County Historical Quarterly for publication. The quarterly magazine is published by the Lawrence County Historical Society and covers the history of the county.

“Lindsay Penn, our intern and a Ph.D. student in the heritage studies program at Arkansas State University, and Taylor Harbin, our archival assistant, have uncovered some fascinating stories that spotlight daily life in Lawrence County and surrounding communities,” said Fatme Myuhtar-May, NEARA’s archival manager. “They both share a passion for research, genealogy and history, and they use our own archival resources for inspiration.”

Penn said she is proud to contribute research that will benefit the magazine and NEARA.
“As a Lawrence County native, I have always enjoyed listening to stories about local history and reading the quarterly journals,” Penn said. “I’m proud to contribute to the research of local historians — past and present — who have diligently worked to preserve the history and heritage of Lawrence County. Uncovering interesting stories at NEARA is an essential part of that preservation effort.”

In the process of indexing court records, Penn and Harbin uncovered details about local people and events that run the gamut from sad and tragic to salacious and absurd. Among them is the case of Margaret Kendricks and Serena Pace, two women who were charged with murdering their newborns in the winter of 1886 to 1887. The mystery deepened when Penn discovered Margaret, 19, and Serena, 21, were stepsisters. She also discovered a male relative mysteriously left Arkansas at about the same time the babies died.

Ultimately, the jury convicted Kendricks of involuntary manslaughter and recommended “six-month and one day at labor in the penitentiary,” but Pace’s final verdict remains unknown. Both women denied intentionally killing their newborns. Kendrick said her child was stillborn, and Pace, who pleaded guilty, claimed “if she killed the child, she did not know it.”

Penn and Harbin are researching two other cases. In the first, a doctor from Lauratown sued another doctor for slander in 1910. In the second, a man named Tom Scott was murdered in 1924. The jury convicted and sentenced Seymour Christie to 10 years in prison for Scott’s death, but in a dramatic turn of events, Harbin found a newspaper article that said Christie’s son-in-law, Tom Adkins, confessed to Scott’s murder.

“It’s easy to forget history happens at every level of society,” Harbin said. “We spend so much time focusing on presidents, generals, celebrities and entrepreneurs that we forget about the ordinary people. There’s plenty of treasure in your own backyard, if you know where to look.”

The research Penn and Harbin are doing is significant because the information is gleaned from archival documents at NEARA. The research highlights the branch’s extensive collections and the research value of those collections, Myuhtar-May said.

“The research forges an even closer bond between NEARA and the Lawrence County Historical Society and promotes the importance of local historical research and publications,” Myuhtar-May said. “Ultimately, research of this kind needs to be encouraged because it highlights the value of preserving archival documents, not just as material relics of the past, but as a living, breathing source of history.”