Monday, August 31, 2020

Curtis H Sykes Memorial Grant Program funds African American history preservation projects

Image shows record from the Norwood
Family Cemetery project.
By DeAnn Thomas, public information officer

High school students traveled from Mississippi to present “Death by Design,” a theater production about the fire that killed 21 boys at the Negro Boys Industrial School in Wrightsville, Arkansas. The community in Greenwood, Arkansas, cleaned up an unmarked grave site, found the descendants of those interred and dedicated the site as the Norwood Family Cemetery. The Morrilton Depot Museum created a documentary with oral histories from Black railroad workers and their families.

These may sound like very different projects, but they share two important characteristics: They all helped preserve and share African American history and culture in Arkansas, and they all received funding from the Curtis H. Sykes Memorial Grant Program.

The Black History Commission of Arkansas administers the program, which offers grants of up to $3,500 to individuals or groups for programs or projects that support the commission’s mission.  The mission is to collect materials about Arkansas Black history and history makers for the Arkansas State Archives and to raise awareness of the contributions and impact Black Arkansans have had on the state’s history.

Since the grant program was established in 1997, it has funded more than 100 projects.

“Especially in the difficult financial times we are living in, these grants play a valuable role in promoting the preservation, study and appreciation of African American heritage,” African American History Coordinator for the Arkansas State Archives Tatyana Oyinloye said. “Understanding the past helps us identify who we are now and plan for where we are going.”

In its most recent meeting Thursday, Aug. 20, the Black History Commission of Arkansas approved a grant for the Washington County Community Remembrance project. The grant funding will support establishing a marker to memorialize three enslaved men – Anthony, Aaron and Randall – who were victims of interracial violence in Washington County in 1856. The funding also supports engaging the public in discussion about the tragedy through educational components, like a youth essay contest with scholarship opportunities.

The Washington County Community Remembrance project coalition, in partnership with the Equal Justice Institute, plans to install and dedicate the marker in November and debut the educational outreach the following spring. Project records, like the winning essays, will be given to the Black History Commission to be preserved in the Arkansas State Archives.

The Black History Commission approved the grant request for approximately $2,107. Additional grants are available year-round through the Curtis H. Sykes Memorial Grant program for other programs and projects.

Curtis Sykes was a highly respected educator
and historian.
Although the program offering Black history grants was first established in 1997, the Arkansas General Assembly renamed the program in honor of Curtis H. Sykes in 2009. After growing up in the Dark Hollow area of North Little Rock, Sykes became a respected educator and historian. He was one of the first Black principals in the Little Rock School District in the late 1960s before the district became fully desegregated.

Sykes was instrumental in establishing the Black History Commission of Arkansas in 1991, was one of its original members and served as chair from 1993 until his death in 2007. During his time as the commission chair, he pushed for legislation to have African American history taught in Arkansas schools, leading to the passage of Act 326 of 1997.

 “Mr. Sykes worked tirelessly for the African American community,” Oyinloye said. “The grant program encourages others to carry on his efforts.”

The first step in the grant process is a consultation with Oyinloye, who can be reached at (501) 682-6900. Additional information, guidelines and the grant application are available at

Thursday, August 6, 2020

New digital collection recounts criminal history of frontier Arkansas's Western District

A jury wrote this letter to "hanging judge"
Isaac Parker, Nov. 14, 1879. Courtesy of the
Arkansas State Archives.
By Abbie Deville, digital archivist

Over the last few months, you may have seen or heard references to the Cravens Collection, which will be a prominent and, we hope, popular element of our new digital collections platform.  The collection documents the work of the United States District Court for the Western District of Arkansas, a federal court established in 1851 to bring law and justice to more than 74,000 square miles in western Arkansas and the Indian Territory (now known as Oklahoma).

The Western District held jurisdiction over all crimes committed by or against U.S. citizens in Indian Territory and disputes between tribes. A succession of judges, including legendary “hanging judge” Isaac Parker, dispatched U.S. deputy marshals, such as Bill Tilghman and Bass Reeves, from Fort Smith into the vast Indian Territory to arrest and bring to trial individuals accused of crimes. In doing so, the court created a lot of paperwork; from this the Cravens Collection is drawn.

The Cravens Collection consists of 41 boxes of documents both large and small, most dating to the late 1800s. The documents are all two dimensional — no artifacts or irregular attachments — which makes it easier to process and scan them for online viewing. Currently, there are about five staff members working, full or part-time, on scanning documents and creating access copies which will be uploaded for public viewing on our website.

The process begins with scanning the documents. Archives staff have established a standard procedure for scanning these documents, so everything looks as uniform in terms of resolution, brightness, color and orientation as possible. The standardized procedure allows multiple archivists to work on the project with the resulting scans looking as though one individual had performed the work. As scans are completed, Abbie Deville, digital archivist, checks each one to see if re-scans or any edits need to be made. After this proofing and editing, Deville creates PDF copies of each item to be uploaded to the Arkansas Digital Collections website. These PDFs are what viewers will download from the site for further research. 

Creating the images is only part of the process of making the Cravens collection ready for researchers: Patrons must also be able to search within the collection, which is made possible by metadata - literally, “data about data.” The staff members create the metadata for each image, referring to the PDFs on individual computers, zooming in on the images to examine tiny or unclear writing. The metadata created for each item both allows the viewers to search the document and also makes it possible for the powerful digital collections platform to virtually arrange the larger collection, facilitating searches.  Metadata includes terms like “title,” “date original” or “geographic area.” Without such information entered accurately, it would be rather hard to find specific documents online without having to scroll through every submission on the site. 

In 1877, T.A. Teryman served as a U.S. Marshal,
 an officer of the court, but by 1878
he was being charged
with “bribery in the Indian Country.” 
Currently, seven boxes have been completed with scanning and metadata created for each item in the boxes. Going through the first seven boxes has been revealing and even intriguing, according to Deville.

“You start to feel like you know these people personally,” she said. “After seeing the same name repeatedly for different crimes, it starts to feel like a family member. You start saying to yourself, ‘O goodness, what did he do now?’”

Crimes referenced in these documents range from murder and rape to larceny and stealing from the U.S. Post Office. One of Deville’s favorite threads to follow in these boxes is the one of T.A. Teryman. In 1877, Teryman served as a U.S. Marshal, an officer of the court, but by 1878 he was being charged with “bribery in the Indian Country.” 

The collection also contains letters like the one written to Judge Isaac C. Parker on Nov. 14, 1879, by the members of the jury about the “uncomfortable conditions” of their accommodations while in Fort Smith; this makes one wonder about what those conditions were really like. 

SARA receives out-of-state donation that tells Hempstead County story

By Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager for the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

“Who would want these old papers?”  While cleaning out someone’s house after his or her death, many people ask this question - only to throw away items that are seemingly useless.  There is no telling how many pieces of historical puzzles are lost due to this line of thinking without an attempt to find an appropriate repository for them.  Fortunately, that was not the case with a small collection recently donated to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA).  Thanks to Jane Shoppell and her husband John Kelly seeing their possible value, documents that once belonged to a former Hempstead County family are now available for research.

Shoppell’s father, Eugene Shoppell, served as accountant and estate executor to Elizabeth G. Chaney, who died in Colorado in 1994.  She never married and had no immediate family so, although Eugene Shoppell was of no familial relation to Chaney, papers from her estate remained in his possession.  In turn, they passed to his daughter upon his death.  Interestingly, many of the documents pertained to Hempstead County (although some originated in Illinois and Pennsylvania).

Kelly offered to donate the papers to SARA since most originated in Hempstead County.  The out-of-state items seemed oddly out of place until Archival Manager Melissa Nesbitt researched the family history.  With the help of a pedigree chart included in the donation, she built a family tree starting with Elizabeth Chaney and began to piece together the journey the documents took from Arkansas to Colorado, then to Texas, and finally back to Arkansas.

Image courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional
The items donated include an appointment of Chaney’s great-grandfather, Joseph D. Gibson, as Sergeant of Company A, 1st Arkansas Infantry, U.S.A., in 1863, as well as a typed copy of a narrative written by his son David Edward Gibson, Chaney’s great-uncle. The account details how David and his father made the perilous journey across Confederate lines from Hempstead County to Fayetteville to join the Union Army. 

Though Joseph Gibson became a sergeant in the Union Army, there are included among the documents two bills of sale for slaves dated 1849.  One is for a man named Jack, and the other is for a woman named Charlotte.  Joseph Gibson is listed as the purchaser.  The 1850 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedule lists Joseph D. Gibson as the owner of a 29-year-old black female, 25-year-old black male and a 9-month-old black male.  The ages given for Jack and Charlotte on the bills of sale correspond approximately with the ages of the enslaved people listed on the slave schedule.  The infant was possibly a child of Jack and Charlotte.  By 1860, Gibson is not found on the slave schedule.  Further research would need to be done to ascertain what became of Jack, Charlotte and their possible child and whether Gibson freed them. 

According to Joseph’s military service record and his son David’s account, Joseph Gibson died of sickness June 14, 1865, in Fort Smith.  He is interred in the National Cemetery there.  David Gibson left Arkansas after the war ended and moved to Illinois.

For more information about this collection or other historical records at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, call 870-983-2633 or email More information about Arkansas history and genealogical research is available at the Arkansas State Archives at or by calling 501-682-6900.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Genealogists look forward to release of 1950s census data

By Jane Wilkerson, archival assistant

Image taken from the 1940s census records.
Lately, the question many genealogists have been asking is, “when will the 1950 census be released?” The answer is simple: April 1, 2022, since that is 72 years from the date on which the enumeration of the 1950 census began. It is believed that researchers will have access to the documents online for free, as was the case about eight years ago, when the 1940 census was rolled out. Some of you might ask, “Why the wait?” This is because the National Archives follows what is known as the “72-year rule” with the census, meaning records are released 72 years after they are taken.

So, how did this “72-year rule” come about? To understand it we need to take a brief look at the history of the census. The United States census was first taken in 1790, and from that time until 1870 there were two copies of the census schedules made. One would be sent to the Census Bureau, and the other would be kept at the county courthouses throughout the nation for the public to view. In 1880 this changed: Only one copy was created. When the U.S. Census Bureau transferred all census records to the National Archives in 1942, the bureau determined that the records up to 1870 would be open because they were already in courthouses, thus establishing an informal “72-year rule.” So, when the bureau transferred the 1950 census to the archives in 1952, they requested it fall under the de facto restriction.

The anticipation of the opening of the census has genealogists wondering what to expect. Is there an index? Does it include everyone? What types of information did the Census Bureau ask? The questions go on. So, let’s discuss what is known.

First, the roll out by the National Archives will probably be handled like the 1940 census, as discussed earlier. This means that there will not be a searchable database function. In time, it is likely that, and other genealogy sites will provide one, but until then researchers will have to rely on knowing the enumeration districts to narrow their search.

For those not familiar with the term, an enumeration district is is an area that is assigned to one single census worker to canvas. The system, first introduced in 1880, divides areas by address, and each area is assigned an individual number. So, unless your ancestor is in a rural area, where a line-by-line search is possible, you are going to need to determine where they were living at the date of the particular census. City directories, telephone books, World War II draft registrations, family letters, newspapers and other documents can help you identify their location. Once the address is known, you can check the enumeration district maps found at the beginning of the census schedules to determine the district in which your ancestor’s address was located. At this point, though, your work is not yet done: You have an entry point but now must look for the enumeration schedules for the street on which your ancestor lived!

Researchers will find that the 1950 form is much like the 1940 version. The Census Bureau continued to practice sampling: Instead of the entire population receiving the same questions, enumerators asked a small portion of the population for additional information. In 1940 this consisted of 5 percent of those counted, but it was increased to 20 percent in 1950. Those sampled answered questions like highest educational grade completed, current marriage status and number of marriages, number of live births (for female responders), prior residence, weeks worked during the previous year, respondents’ usual occupations and the incomes of both the individual respondent and others living in the household. Other information collected was like that of previous census years: name, gender, own or rent house, race, marital status, place of birth and whether or not the respondent was a U.S. Citizen. 

The 1950 census also continued the questions that first appeared in 1940: hours worked in the past week and most recent occupation. There were, however, a few unique things to the 1950 census. On previous census records college students were enumerated in their parents’ households, but in 1950, they were counted at their school address. Also, unlike in other years, transients did not appear on designated pages because the census instructions were vague on how to record them.

We have less than two years to go until the anticipated release. What mysteries will be answered and created? We will have to see, but for genealogists it will be fun discovering these and finding many other answers.

Letter from the director

By David Ware, director and state historian

Part of archival work consists of systematic collection of records, usually public ones: things that, it has been decided, must be preserved for documentary or evidentiary reasons. Another part consists of looking for materials and courting their owners to leave them to posterity.

And, sometimes, fortune smiles: Someone will find or recognize something that needs to be saved for the long view, for Arkansawyers yet to come - and will consign that thing or those things (books, papers, other documents, photographs) to the State Archives for care and preservation.

Several of the Arkansas State Archives’ core collections came to us in this way.  One is the L.C. Gulley collection, a key collection of territorial and early statehood documents, salvaged by a gifted amateur as he cleared scrap paper from the basement of the State HouseAnother such is the C.G. “Crip” Hall scrapbook collection: scrapbooks kept by the longtime Arkansas Secretary of State, intended for his daughter. These provide a vital chronicle of activities in and around the state Capitol from the mid-1930s through nearly the end of Hall’s long service in 1961. Hall’s daughter, Nancy Hall Bailey, presented the collection to the State Archives, hoping that it would be valuable to researchers and would help preserve the memory of her remarkable father; it has.

Dr. David Ware, ASA director and state historian, visits the
Hot Springs Army & Navy Hospital. 
Over the past few weeks, another windfall has come our way: Let me tell you a little about it.
The Hot Springs Army & Navy Hospital is complex of structures which began its existence as the nation’s first combined general hospital for both U.S. Army and Navy patients. The hospital opened in January 1887; the present central hospital was built in the early 1930s. The Hot Springs hospital was the military’s center for dealing with arthritis and became the nation’s largest treatment center for adults afflicted with polio. Between 1887 and World War II, the hospital treated more than 100,000 patients.

In 1960, the facility was turned over to the state of Arkansas. It provided both medical care and vocational training, but over time, the medical aspect was phased out. In 2009, the Rehab Center was renamed the Arkansas Career Training Institute, then the Arkansas Career Development Center; 10 years later, the center closed. The property would be handed back to the Federal government in July 2020. Before this, however, state property would be moved out, some going to other state agencies, others to the state surplus warehouse.

Site Director Lily Kersh contacted the Garland County Historical Society about saving documentation from the training institute and the programs that had occupied the site before it.  There was a catch, however: the materials were state property and could not be transferred to a non-government agency.  Liz Robbins, director of the GCHS, contacted the Arkansas State Archives, asking if we might be interested in a few plans and other documents.  We certainly were; contacts proceeded from that point.

Those few plans and other documents necessitated, ultimately, three trips by archives staff. An initial trip retrieved more than 1,700 sheets of plotter-drawn and digitally printed sheets, blueprints, bluelines, drawings and prints on acetate film, photostats and a number of original drawings, done in India ink on waxed linen.  Most of the sheets were held in a 20-drawer map case and an adjoining five-drawer case, with others being piled atop the cases.  Most of the drawings were of the existing structures, built by the Army Quartermaster’s Corps in the 1930s through the 1950s, but sharp-eyed ACDC staff spotted and set aside some rare treasures: sections of waxed linen drawings of details of the original 1884 hospital buildings.

Stephanie Carter, archivist, and Hunter Foster,
archival assistant, examine items collected.
A second trip allowed us to salvage the 20-drawer map case tower that had contained many of the drawings.  The case probably dated from the 1930s or 1940s and was of heavier construction than equivalents available today.  It broke down into four five-drawer sections and so was movable—just.  In spite of bruised knuckles, back pains and a dented truck box (caused by Yours Truly misjudging the clearance of an unmarked low overhang on the center’s grounds) the trip was worth it: Body work and sticky plasters allowed us to acquire high quality storage furniture that could cost over $10,000 new.

After the case-retrieval expedition, we thought that we might be through with the old Army & Navy hospital, but Kersh called again.  She had learned of another place where there might be some additional plans and wondered whether we would be interested. Of course we were, so our intrepid curator Julienne Crawford and I headed down Interstate 30 in a minivan and my old Jeep, not sure of what we would find.  What awaited us, through a room full of plumbing parts in bins and up a flight of stairs into a spacious attic replete with timbers, a nameplate router, a handful of friendly wasps and several new-in-box commodes and urinals, were three legal-size filing cabinets that yielded an additional 18 boxes “and change”–we haven’t made an item count yet--of folded plans, manuals signage and other documents, most in very good condition.

We will highlight selections from this massive collection in the future, as we ensure that they will be ready for consultation by whatever agency or group or individual decides to take on the challenge of redeveloping the one-time Army and Navy Hospital. 

For now, though, I simply want to give thanks: to my able and efficient colleagues at the ASA, who performed prodigies of efficiency and care in retrieving the Army & Navy Hospital collection; to Liz Robbins of the Garland County Historical Society, who was a superb “matchmaker,” and to Lily Kersh, assistant director of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, and her colleagues Chuck Champagne and John Sparks. Like L.C. Gulley and Nancy Hall Bailey before them, they recognized things that needed to be saved, for the long view and for Arkansawyers yet to come.

New collection provides researchers with first-hand accounts of 19th century life in Arkansas and surrounding states

By Fatme Myuhtar-May, archival manager for Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives

“The lights have all gone out. Like breaking hopes, they glimmed [sic] one by one and faded into darkness. Tis a queer time to commence any Journal for the year.” This is how Elizabeth “Betty” Bolling Dandridge began her diary on the night of Jan. 1, 1855, in her family home in Pontotoc, Mississippi. For the next year, almost daily, she recorded her thoughts about nature and the weather, the romantic quivers of her heart, her daily routine, visits (both paid and received), sickness and death in the  family and community and everything else that 21-year old Dandridge found worthy of including in her diary more than 165 years ago.

While the physical diary resides in the “Town Square Post Office and Museum” in Pontotoc, under the auspices of the Pontotoc County Historical Society, a scanned copy and transcription of it are an integral part of the Brown-Orne Family Papers at the Northeast Arkansas Regional Archives (NEARA), a branch of the Arkansas State Archives (ASA).

Letter from the Brown-Orne Family Papers, now
a part of the NEARA collection
The collection, comprising family letters, postcards, three family bibles and other materials, was donated to NEARA by Dandridge’s great-granddaughter, Zelia Orne Bell of Kansas City, Missouri. Betty’s Diary, as it came to be known, is an important precursor to the 475 letters that were exchanged between several generations of Orne-Brown family members, mostly women, from 1855 to 1954 and are now part of the collection.

Bell inherited the trove of letters and the diary from her mother, Mary Annie Brown Zulauf, and grandmother, Lizzie Cleveland Orne Brown, who was Dandridge’s daughter. Bell took exceptional care of preserving, chronologically organizing and transcribing everything.  

Bell grew up in Tipton, Missouri, a German-Swiss community, in an intergenerational family that included her parents, her mother’s two nephews and her maternal grandparents, the Browns, who came from Arkansas. On a farm in the same community lived the Zulaufs, her paternal side of the family, including grandparents – both Swiss immigrant to the United States – two aunts and an uncle.

In a book in which she transcribes the family letters and the diary, Bell shared that the documents survived because they were securely sequestered in “Grandmother Brown’s hat box, a canvas-covered wooden box measuring about 20-by-20-by-20 inches, which sat by grandmother’s chair and contained her personal treasures.”

“As grandmother’s possession,” Bell reminisced, “it was understood that no one would dare open the hat box and disturb the contents,” including Bell.

Postcard from the Brown-Orne
Family Papers, now a part
 of the NEARA collection
As Bell’s grandparents passed away and her parents became older, the household goods – including the content of the hat box – “were moved from place to place” between Mississippi, Tennessee, Arkansas and Missouri. At one point, as Bell recollects, “there appeared on my mother’s bookshelf a small book dated 1855, filled with hand-written pages in beautiful script. Naturally, I was going to inspect the contents.”

Upon reading the diary, she not only discovered the story of a young woman, but also recognized the names and places mentioned in it, which Bell had learned from her grandfather’s stories. “To my amazement, the diary was written by Elizabeth ‘Betty’ Bolling Dandridge, my great-grandmother, and I was able to establish the family’s early presence in Pontotoc, Mississippi.”  

There are missing pages in the diary, and Bell told us the story behind it, when she and her husband, Howard Bell, delivered the collection to NEARA one summer day in 2019. A local schoolteacher had a disagreement with the younger brother of Dandridge’s sweetheart in 1855. The sweetheart accosted the schoolteacher and beat him, resulting in the death of the teacher from either the beating or a heart attack. The sweetheart was then charged with murder, although he was not convicted of it. Thus, the pages documenting the event were removed from the diary and disappeared. Dandridge’s sweetheart later moved off and married someone else. These brief notes, taken by Lindsay Penn, a long-time NEARA associate, are preserved as part of the collection’s history.

As Bell learned about her family history, she also began to organize and transcribe the contents of “Grandma Brown’s” treasure box and other family documents into a book that she titled “My Dearest Child:” Voices from the Past. In it, she painstakingly transcribed the diary and more than 450 letters in a chronological order, inserting explanatory notes about the relationships between letter writers and recipients, as well as about persons and events mentioned in the documents. She donated a copy of this binder book to NEARA as well, and it is kept as part of the collection to aid researchers in making a fuller sense of the material and in appreciating the collection’s research value.

To date, the collection has been rehoused in archival boxes and folders, with some of the most fragile letters being enclosed in clear polyester sleeves for protection. That way, researchers can examine their contents without removing them from the protective sleeves. A finding aid for the collection is currently being finalized, and it will provide information about the content and chronological arrangement of the collection, alongside information about its provenance. The finding aid, a digital copy of Betty’s Diary and sample letters with transcription will be available for viewing on the website of the Arkansas State Archives in the near future. The collection will be valuable to historians, students of history and interested researchers who seek first-hand accounts of life – in the form of family letters, particularly through the eyes of women – in a region where four states border each other: Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee and Mississippi.