Check out the new blog post for the Campus Archaeology Program at MSU. As the archival researcher for The Program, I can’t speak enough to the benefits of digging into your local archives and historical society repositories. Many offices are run by professional archivists but are often assisted by avocational historians, too. These folks are experts in research and often have personal knowledge of the community that can be invaluable to your investigations.
A Short Story of Luck Among the Dust Bunnies…
Several years ago, I was visiting the San Luis Obispo Historical Society as part of my research on an abandoned cemetery in central California. I was doing the usual collecting of maps and historical photographs. As I was milling around while the archivist retrieved the requested materials, I happened to notice a box of cassette tapes. I started flipping through them and was startled to see a familiar name on one of the labeled tapes. The name was similar to one of the children whose parents were likely to have been buried in the cemetery I was researching. Since there were few records of the cemetery’s existence and almost no information on the specific people from the community with which the cemetery was associated, I was excited by the potential lead. When the archivist returned, I asked him about the box of tapes. He told me they were interviews with “old timers” from the community. Could it be? I asked myself. As it turned out, the tape I was interested in contained the reminiscences of a very elderly Miguel Cordova, one of the last residents of Dove, a small stage stop community that disappeared during the 19th century. I was researching the small cemetery associated with that forgotten town and now not only did I have first-hand accounts of life in Dove but I had a voice to go with it.
Visit your archives. You never know when you’re going to hit the mother lode!