Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Arkansas State Archives Celebrates Volunteers

About a dozen volunteers gathered July 9 for an appreciation reception and a group tour of the Arkansas State Archives.

“You have been instrumental in helping us make these historical records readily available to the public,” said Dr. Wendy Richter, director and state historian. “The index work you do will lead people to the content. We appreciate you. We appreciate you.”

For the past year, the volunteers have met every Tuesday to unfold, index and organize historical records – some from as far back as before Arkansas became a territory. The index work has helped the State Archives build a timeline that will aid researchers, said Nadia Lalla, a volunteer.

Curator Julienne Crawford shows volunteers historical maps.
The end goal of the project is to make genealogy research easier, Dr. Richter said. Eventually the records will be digitized and available online, she said. Volunteers already have recorded more than 20,000 names and combed through more than 10 cubic feet of records. They have handled thousands of pages of records from Hempstead County, one of the state’s original and oldest counties, since July of 2018. Those records include divorces, lawsuits, lists of properties and even street plans.

“This is a way to get in and look at information,” Lalla said about volunteering “It’s nice to touch the older stuff and to look at the handwriting.”

During the reception, volunteers said they loved helping because the work is fun. They said handling the documents gave them a glimpse into what life was like between 1815 and the 1930s.

“It’s witnessing, kind of second hand or third hand, the complexity of record keeping and how the law enters so much into the past,” said volunteer David McCullough. “People’s personal lives really are reflected in the old documents and court records.”

Volunteers laughed as they told stories about learning to index records. The beautiful script on historical records can be difficult to read and can lead to momentary mistakes, like thinking “O’Clock” is a name.

The group will continue to meet every Tuesday, but documents will likely be from a different county, Dr. Richter said. The group has nearly completed the documents from Hempstead County, she said.

Susan Boyle, a volunteer and treasurer of the Friends of the Arkansas State Archives, organized the reception and is the force behind getting volunteers to join in for the indexing project. She said she plans to continue to volunteer and support the State Archives and hopes more volunteers will join the weekly indexing sessions this year.

For more information or to volunteer, contact the Arkansas State Archives at state.archives@arkansas.gov or call 501-682-6900. See more volunteer opportunities or register online at http://archives.arkansas.gov/outreach/become-a-volunteer.aspx.

Volunteers and staff laugh while posing for photos during a reception recognizing
volunteers for a year's worth of hard work helping the Arkansas State Archives.