Friday, October 15, 2010

October is Archives Month - By the Sea, By The Sea, By the Beautiful Sea

The Phillips Library - Salem, Massachusetts
Yesterday I noted that October is “Archives Month” as well as a number of other commemorative things.  So, recognizing that October is also Family History Month, it seems fitting to discuss some other recent developments in the archives world that will also be of interest to family historians. After all, family historians are now recognized as a very important subset of archives users. 

This is a significant development from several generations ago, when the term most often applied to family historians in archives was “pests”.

Archivists and special collections librarians often plan on October as “target” month for significant announcements about new developments affecting their collections.  October is often the month we learn about new finding aids, new acquisitions, new digitization projects and other similar advances.

For example, yesterday Tamara Gaydos, the manuscript archivist at the Phillips Library, announced that about 2500 manuscript records in the Library had been added to the online library catalog known as Philcat. This is Big News, and will make researchers' lives a whole lot more productive.

Why? Because the manuscripts at the Phillips Library are among the most important in New England.

For researchers interested in Essex County, Massachusetts and in New England’s early maritime history, the Phillips Library in Salem has long been the “go-to” place.  The library is part of what is now known as the Peabody Essex Museum (Granddaughter – not yet three – calls it the “PeeBee Six Museum”).

Aside from their great collections of art and artifacts, P-E-M and the Phillips Library in particular are caretakers of some tremendously important manuscript & microform material, such as the records of the Essex County Quarterly Court, General Sessions of the Pleas, and Court of Common Pleas.  Interested in the Salem Witch trials?  The Library holds the records of the special 1692 Court of Oyer and Terminer which conducted the trials. In addition, researchers will find ship’s logbooks, shipbuilder’s records as well as the complete records of the Newburyport Federal customhouse from 1789 to 1910. And much, much more.

This of course, just scratches the surface.  The Phillips Library collections are both wide and deep, covering areas of interest to genealogists on many levels.

You can explore the Library’s holdings via Philcat here.

Hint: If you enter a search term in the Philcat search box, you'll get returns that include both printed and manuscript material. If you want to limit your search to the manuscript holdings only, be sure to select that choice on the search page. 

Note also that the search engine can find only the terms/names actually used in the finding aid; it is not a complete index to all the names in any specific manuscript collection.

So, while the finding aid describing a particular set of maritime records will most often record the name of a ship’s owner and the ship’s captain in a specific ship’s logbook, the ship’s crew, passengers and people encountered along the voyage are rarely mentioned.  You’ll have to go the Library and investigate the actual contents of the manuscript logbook for yourself.

Of course, that’s why we call it “research”, not “data retrieval”. Happy hunting!

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