Tuesday, November 26, 2019

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.”