Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Historic Papers Bring Life to History

Bobette Manees put on white gloves and turned over a delicate, 200-year-old court record from Hempstead County.

“You can see how people really lived, the value of things and how complicated court documents can be,” Manees said.

Manees is a member of Friends of the Arkansas State Archives, which has sent volunteers to pore over records and collect names. So far, Arkansas State Archives (ASA) staff and its volunteers have collected at least 10,000 names.

On a recent Tuesday morning, Manees and about six other volunteers met at the Collections Management Facility to sort through more records with Dr. Wendy Richter, state historian and director.

“This is a great set of papers,” Richter said.

Getting Hempstead County records is important because the county eventually was carved into five counties. These records go back as far as 1815 — Arkansas Territory days — and up through the 1930s.

And there are a lot of them. So far, ASA staff has brought in at least 10 cubic feet of records, said Blake Gilliam, archival assistant. Volunteers have met weekly since July, but more volunteers are needed, Richter said.

Volunteers and staff have pulled lists of slave names, found divorce proceedings that reveal what life was like for women and found paperwork on the roads people used. The documents will be stored permanently at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives.

The end goal of the project is to make genealogy research easier, Richter said, and possibly expand the project to other counties interested in preserving their historic documents. Eventually the records will be digitized and available online, she said.

Meanwhile, volunteers say they participate for the joy of handling moments of history. The papers make history seem alive and reveal a bigger picture of what life was like, they said.

“To me, it’s just a whole lot of fun,” Manees said.