Why Archives Matter

For the past seven years, I have had the honor and privilege of being the keeper and protector of Berks County’s history.  I’ve held 200 year old documents and catalogued and interpreted thousands of archival material for use by researchers.  I have grown to love and appreciate this community’s long, rich history.  I did not need to be born in Berks County to understand the Berks County way of life.

While we all claim to love history, how many of you really, truly know your own history?  I’ve met my fair share of “history buffs”; a term that usually refers to someone who occasionally watches the History Channel or reads a book.  I’ve also met my fair share of historians, researchers who have spent years digging up documents, trying to absorb as much as they can about a person, event or building and who want to share and engage people in conversation.  History is more than genealogy, the collection of names and dates.  It is the study of how people lived and interacted with each other, their surroundings and events.  Granted, I have an advantage over our community.  I get to come to work in a building full of stories waiting to be uncovered and told.  But as an “outsider” (because I am a New Yorker), I know more about Berks County, than my native husband, and probably some of you.

Why do Archives Matter?

Genealogy is a huge commodity.  According to a recent article in the Colonial Williamsburg Spring 2015 Magazine, Ancestry.com cleared $540.4 million in 2013.  I can’t even fathom that much money.  There are over 100 different genealogical websites for use by researchers, not to mention the websites that will tell you which top 10 or 25 are the best to use.  I ask myself, why when more and more people are joining ancestry and doing genealogy, why are we seeing less and less people at library’s such as the Henry Janssen Library?  The Colonial Williamsburg article goes on to try and entice people to visit their archival holdings, because not all of it is online.

I’m not going to criticize online resources, such as Ancestry.com.  They are a great tool in helping to track ancestors and making government documents, such as pension records and census records, available to the public.  However, it is still just a tool, a database, and many of the records (and family trees) are incomplete, inaccurate, and in many instances wrong.  As an undergrad and graduate student in history, we are taught to seek out sources, leave no stone unturned.  Your best resource is the bibliography, or works cited, pages in the back of secondary resources.  They provide ideas on where to turn next.  They list primary resources and where to find them.  Unfortunately, the new generation of researchers, don’t know how to use indexes in the back of books to find information on a specific page.  Because they only seek out to collect information, and only specific information, they cannot create the story, nor do they see the whole picture.  These researchers tackle their research with the understanding that, if it is not online, it does not exist.

At the Henry Janssen Library, and other research archives across the country, we have a wealth of knowledge that goes beyond names and dates.  The documents kept in our walls tell the stories of the county and the people who forged through the wilderness to make a home.  These same people, helped to alter State and National events.  History does not exist in a bubble.  What happens elsewhere ripples across time and space and influences the course of events.  These resources are not online, not because archival institutions are being mean, or preventing researchers from accessing the information.  This information is in countless boxes and folders and need to be used as a whole.  These collections provide insight into the stories that make history.  Holding a 200 year old document has more impact on learning, then just reading the words on the page.  It reminds us that living, breathing, human beings existed, created, lived and left their legacy for the future to find.  This experience happens when you visit the Henry Janssen Library

Interest in our history is waning, which is surprising when there are always Berks County connections to State and National events.  Our collections are waiting for someone to come and uncover their secrets.   And yes, there will be secrets…good and bad.  Write an article for the Historical Review.  Come in and volunteer.  Record your history, not just names and dates.  History is the story of us; without us, the story stops.

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Colonial Records – cannot the man see!

At a Councill held at Philadelphia ye 7th of ye 7th Mo. 1683.

The Petition of Hugh March and Other Persons against James Kilner, Mr. of the Levee of Leverpoole, was read, and ye Council proceeded to Examine into ye Business.

Hugh March Compts Saith yt Mr. James Kilner Trode upon him on board the Ship, whereupon, he said Dam it, cannot the man see! for which ye Mr. beat him and made his mouth bleed.

James Kilner Confesses he being in a Storme, trode on him by change, and ye Other Daming of him and calling him foole, Caused him to Cuff him.

John Fox complaineth against James Kilner, and Saith he bid him cleane the Deck, he answered it was cleane already, whereupon ye Master beat him.

James Kilner answered that one night he Spake to Jno. fox to cleane ye Deck, who said he would not, and also gave him ye Lie, whereupon ye Mr. Struck him.

Edward Jones said he drew some Water and afterwards The Mr. seeing ye hhd of water open, feel upon ye sd Jones, and beat him with a staff and made his nose bleed, and afterwards drew him by ye harid of the head to the Mainmast, kickt him on the side, and run his fingers up his nose.

James Kilner answereth yt he asked ye said Jones why he lett ye water run at wast, who said he did not let it run at wast and gave him ye like and other ill words, whereupon ye Mr. struck him.

Nich. Newtin declareth between both, that there was a Caske weh wanted a pegg, That was almost out, and ye Master spake to Edwd Jones to put a pegg into it, which he did, but still it runn out, whereupon the Mr. struck him several blows.

Adjourned till ye 8th 7th Mo. 83.

Colonial Records – Witch

At Councill held at Philadelphia ye 27th of the 12th month, 1683.

Margarit Matson’s Indictmt was read, and she pleads not Guilty, and will be tryed by the Countrey.

Lasse Cock attested Interpriter between the Propor and the Prisoner at the Barr.

The Petty Jury Impanneld; their names are as followed:  Jno. Hasting, foreman; Albertus Hendrickson; Robt Piles; Robt Wade; Nath. Evans; Edwd Darter; Wm. Hewes; Jer. Collet; Jno. Kinsman; Jno. Gibbons; Walter Martin; Edw Bezac.

Henry Drystreet attested, Saith he was tould 20 years agoe, that the prisoner at the Barr was a Witch, & that severall Cows were bewitcht by her; also, that James Saunderling’s mother tould him that she bewitcht her cow, but afterwards said it was a mistake, and that her Cow should doe well againe, for it was not her Cow but an Other Person’s that should dye.

Charles Ashcom attested, saith that Anthony’s Wife being asked why she sould her Cattle; was because her mother had Bewitcht them, having taken the Witchcraft of Hendrick’s Cattle, and put it on their Oxon; She myght Keep but noe Other Cattle, and also that one night the Daughter of ye Prisoner called him up hastely, and when he came she sayd there was a great Light but Just before, and an Old woman with a Knife in her hand at ye Bedd’s feet, and therefore shee cryed out and desired Jno. Symcock to take away his Calves, or Else she would send them to Hell.

James Claypoole attested Interpritor betwixt the Propor and the Prisoner.

The affidavid of Jno Vanculin read, Charles Ashcom being Witness to it.

Annakey Coolin attested, saith her husband tooke the Heart of a Calfe that Dyed, as they thought by Witchcraft, and Boyled it, whereupon the Prisoner at ye Barr came in and asked them what they were doing; they said boyling of flesh; she said they had better they had Boyled the Bones, with severall other unseemly Expressions.

Margaret Mattson saith that she Vallues not Drystreet’s Evidence; but if Sanderlin’s mother had come, she would have answered her; slao denyeth Charles Ashcom’s Attestation at her Soul, and Saith were is my Daughter; let her come and say so.

Annakey Cooling’s attestation concerning the Gees, she denyeth, saying she was never out of her Conoo, and also that he never said any such things Concerning the Calve’s heart.

Jno. Cock attested, sayth he Knows nothing of the matter.

Tho: Balding’s attestation was read, and Tho: Bracy attested, saith it is a True coppy.

The Prisoner denyeth all things, and saith that ye Witnesses speake only by hear say.

After wch ye Govr gave the jury their Charge concerning ye Prisoner at ye Barr.

The jury went forth, and upon their Returne Brought her in Guilty of haveing the Comon fame of a witch, but not guilty in manner and forme as Shee stands Indicted.

Neels Mattson and Antho. Neelson Enters into a Recognizance of fifty pounds apiece, for the good behavior of Margaret Matson for six months.

Jacob Hendrickson Enters into the Recognizance of fifty pounds for the good behavior of Getro Hendrickson for six months.

Adjourned till ye 20th day of ye first Mo., 1684.

Colonial Records – Scooling

At  a Council held at Philadelphia, ye 26th of ye 10th month, 1683.

Present:

Wm. PENN, Propor & Govr.

Tho. Holmes,    Wm. Haigue,    Lasse Cock.

Wm. Clayton,

The Govr and Provll Councill having taken into their Serious Consideration the great Necessity there is of a Scool Master for ye Instruction & Sober Education of Youth in the towne of Philadelphia, Sent for Enock flower, an Inhabitant of the said Towne, who for twenty Year past hath been exercised in the care and Imploymt in England, to whom haveing Comunicated their Minds, he Embraced it upon these following Termes: to Learne to read English 4s by the Quarter, to Learne to read and write 6s by ye Quarter, to learne to read, Write and Cast accot 8s by ye Quarter; for Boarding a Scholler, that is to say, dyet, Washing, Lodging, & Scooling, Tenn pounds for one whole year.

Antho: Pryer’s Petition read; referred to ye Law.

Adjourned till ye 27th 10th Mo., 83.

Colonial Records – Response to Penn’s Letter

10th Febry, 1697-8.

Att a Councill Held at philad die Jovis, 10th February, 1697-8.  WM. MARKHAM, Esqr., Governor et ysdem ut antea.

Joseph Growdon, Chairman on the Comittee appointed further to peruse the sd Letter & strictlie to inquire into ye Complaints yrin mentioned, & to report the same to the Gor & Council by way of ansr to the said Letter, this day Exhibited to the Gor & Council their report in writing, viz: The Comittee having perused & thoroughly Considered the proprietor’s Letter, Charging the Governor & Council to suppress forbidden trade & piracie; & also the growth of vice & Loossness, & within this governmt, doe Humblie make this Report unto the Governor and Council.

First.  As to the Scotch & dutch trade, wee are not privie yrto nor any of us Concerned therein, but if any such trade has been & escap’t unpuneshet, It may rather be attributed to the Connivance or neglect of those officers appointed by Edward Randolph to inspect those things, or others particularly appointed in that behalf; for wee can say, that the magistrats & Courts of Justice have been ready & diligent upon all occasions to punish, suppress, & Discourage all illegal trade that came to their knowledge.

Second.  As to Imbracing of pirats, &c. Wee know of none that has been entertained here, unless Chinton & Lassell, with some others of Avery’s Crew, that happened for a smal time to sojourn in this place, as they did in some of the neighbouring governments; but as soon as the magistrats in Philadelphia had received but a Copie of the Lords Justice’s proclamation, gott all that were here apprehended, & would have taken the Care & Charge of securing ym, untill a Legall Court had been erected for their trial, or an opportunity had presented to send ym to England; but before that Could be effected, they broke goale & made their escape to New york, where Hues & Crys wer sent after ym,  And as to pirats’ shipps wee know of none Harboured or ever came in here, much Less encouraged by the Gor or people, who as it is well known, are generally sober & industrious, & never advanced yr estates by forbidden trade, piracie, or other ill ways, notwtstanding what is suggested by or enemies to the contrary.

As to the growth of vice, Wee cannot but owne as this place hath growne more populous, & the people increased, Loossnes & vice Hath also Creept in, which wee lament, altho’ endeavours have been used to suppress it by the care & industry of the magistrats from time to time, offenders Having received deserved & exemplary punishments, according to Law.

As to Ordinaries, Wee are of opinion that there are too many in this governmt, especiallie in philadelphia, wch is one great cause of the growth of vice, & makes the same more difficult to be supprest & keept under.

On the whole, Wee being at all times Heartily inclined to show or Loyalty to the King, & readie ovedience unto His Laws, do think it necessarie, & do yrfore make or request to the Gor & Council, that an Ordinance be made, & a proclamaon do forthwith Issue from the Governor & Council, strictly to suppress forbidden trade & pirats, if any shall Happen; and also the growth of vice & Loossnes within this governmt, until some wholsome & severer Laws be made for more effectuall remedy, and the ordinaries or Houses of entertainment be reduced to a Less number, & and that all such as have not alreadie given good securitie for keeping good orders, and discharging the plave according to Law, be speedilie required so to do or otherwise to be suppressed, & for the future that the Justices in the Quarter Sessions in each Countie may have the approbaon, if not the Licensing Ordinarie keepers throughout the government.

The which report being read in Councill, It was put to the vote by the Gor, Whether they approved yrof, & whether they esteemed it to be a proper ansr to the sd Lettr.  It was Caried in the affirmative, N. C.

Then the Gor did Resolve the whole members of Council Into a grand Comittee, to draw up a proclamaon to suppress forbidden trade & unlawll piracie, the growth of vice & Loossnes; & to regulate & reduce the ordinaries, untill severer Laws can be made agt such enormities, & to bring in their report & a draught of a proclamaon to the Gor & Council the 12th instant.

Adjourned to the 12th February, 1698

Colonial Records – William Penn’s Letter on Vice

While we at the HJL focus on Berks County starting roughly around 1720s.  It is just one piece of a huge history that was taking place in Pennsylvania.  English history in Pennsylvania begins with the signing of the Charter in 1682.  Following the charter an entire system of government is established and people begin populating the area around Philadelphia.  This history is not totally lost to us.  Buried in our stack room, is a series of books titled the Colonial Records. The Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission (PHMC) references the Colonial Records as such: “A total of sixteen volumes containing the minutes of the Provincial Council, 1683-1775, in Volumes I-X; those of the Council of Safety (and of the Committee of Safety), 1775-1777, in X and XI; and those of the Supreme Executive Council, 1777-1790, in XI-XVI. These were printed directly from the manuscript books with no editing apparent Issued 1838-1853.

These records, which precede the Pennsylvania Archives Series, are full of history tidbits on the founding and running of our province.  Buried in the minutes are Sheriff Appointments, Road Petitions, Accusations of Witchcraft, and the Crafting of Laws.  And yes, while reading government minute books often fall on the “boring side” (have you ever read the Congressional Record?  There are 2 pages of debate on whether to give the congressional janitor a raise, before the debate on the Repeal of the Fugitive Slave Law of 1793. snore), you never know what gems you may find, when turning the pages.

The Colonial Records are the story of Us.  It is the Us before we became a county and a state.  It tells the story of trying to carve out a civilization in a new world and away from those that govern you.  It tells individual stories and some of those stories are really interesting.

While Luke continues to bring more of Scholla to life, I will try and highlight some of the interesting “goings on” occurring almost 4 centuries ago.  As always, if you would like to learn more about any document or collection we have in the HJL, please visit us!

Att a Council Held att Philadelphia Die Mercury, 9th Febry, 1697-8

The Governor exhibited to the Council a Lettr from the proprietor, directed for him, to be opened only and read in a full Council; Which being through to be as full a Council as could be got in such a season of ye year, It was yrfor Resolved that the sd Lettr should be opened and read which was done.  The contents grof wer as follows, verbatim, viz: “London 5th 7m., 1697.  Friends, The accusaons of one sort, & the reports of another that are come for England agt yor governmnt, not only tent to or ruin, but disgrace.  That you wink at Scotch trade and a Dutch one too, Receiving European goos from the latter, as well as suffering yors, agt the Law & English interest, to goe to the other; Also, that you doe not onlie wink att but Imbrace pirats, Shipps and men.  These are yor accusaons, and one Fra. Jones of philadelphia has Complained of them to Gor Nicholson, becaus it wa not redrest in the governmt.  The Reports are, and a nameless Lettr is come to me besides from Philadelphia, to ye same purpose, that there is no place more overrun with wickednes, Sins so very Scandalous, openly Comitted in defiance of Law and Virtue: facts so foul, I am forbid by Comon modesty to relate ym.  I do yrfore desire and charge you, the Gor & Council for the time being, to issue forth some act or acts of state forthwith to suppress forbidden trade and piracy, and also the growth of vice and Loosness, till some severer Laws be made agt them: And I do hereby charge that no Licence be granted to any to keep publick houses, that do not give great securitie to keep Civil houses, and are not known to be of a sober Conversaon, and that the Courts of Justice in each County have approbaon, if not Licensing of ym, In order to prevent such acts of the Lewdness and Idleness as are too often seen in such places; And that you take Care that Justice be Impartially done upon trangressors, that the wrath and vengeance of God fall not upon you to blast your so very flourishing beginning.  I hasten to you as fast as ye Complaints here agt you will give me leave, that make my presence now but too necessary.  Let neither base gain nor a byast affection mak you partial in these Cases, but for my sake, yor own sakes, and above all for God’s sake, Let not the poor province Longer suffer under such grievous and offensive Imputations; and will oblige him that loves you, prays for you, and prays to be with you, and is with true Love your real friend & affectionate proprietary.                             WM. PENN.”

The Contents whereof, & the Complaints yrin mentioned being strictlie inquired into, The Gor did appoint Samll Carpenter, Joseph Growdon & Wm. Clarke a Committee of Council further to peruse the sd Letter, & to inquire into the sd Complaints, & to make report yrof to the Gor & council next day, by way of ansr to ye sd Letter.

Adjourned to 10th instant.

Humidity And Your Documents

The most frequent question I get is: How can I preserve and save my family documents.  I will often ask questions to try and figure out the current condition to make recommendations.  My basic recommendations are:  1. Unfold the documents and store flat.  Documents tear along fold lines.  Unfolding these documents, will take the stress off of the fold.  2. Do not store archival material in direct sunlight.  The UV light will cause the documents and photographs to fade.  3.  Do not store artwork, documents or photographs on outside walls.  Outside walls have the most contact with outdoor temperature fluctuations and will expand and contract depending on the weather conditions, causing your material to expand and contract.   4.  Do not store your documents in attics or basements, because of the lack of control over temperature and humidity and risk of flooding.  Too much humidity can cause mold growth and too little humidity can make archival material brittle.  Both accelerate the deterioration of archival material.   5.  If your documents are rolled and maintain their tube-like shape, do not unroll them.  Unrolling them will cause them to break at stress points along the roll.  The documents will need to be humidified and once relaxed, can then be viewed.

Rolled Document
This is a rolled document before humidification.  You can see where the document has started to tear along the roll.  You can also see where the donor, at one point, tried to tape the tears to keep the document from breaking.  Please do not tape your documents.  The adhesive will add to the deterioration of the document.
Broken Photograph
This photograph has broken apart along the fold and is now in multiple pieces.  Curiosity got the best of the donor of this image.  When the first section broke off, he continued to unroll the image to see it in its entirety.  As a result, the image is in multiple pieces and cannot be put back together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I started working here, I made the recommendation that documents could be humidified in a steamy bathroom.  After a couple of long hot showers, the documents would begin to relax and then could be better handled.  I made that recommendation, because I had tested it in my bathroom when I was living in New York.  It worked great; until this past winter.  The Henry Janssen Library is climate controlled, up to a certain point.  During the winter the boiler is turned on and, in theory, I should be able to build up humidity in our humidifier.  We use the double garbage can method, with distilled water.  However, this past winter, nothing I did could get enough humidity into the chamber to humidify some tightly rolled documents.  As a last resort, I took them home to use my trusty bathroom method.  The bathroom humidification chamber didn’t work and I ended up bring the HJL’s humidification system home and finished the project.

I learned that the effectiveness of building up enough humidity in a bathroom, in order to hydrate documents is determined by the size of the bathroom.  My bathroom in Gibraltar is twice the size of my old one in New York and has a window.  Since the room is larger, it takes more steam to fill and less time for that steam to dissipate than in a smaller more compact space.   The documents were not getting enough time to soak in the moisture.   I forgot history preservation is also about physics.

In an ideal setting, including the Henry Janssen Library, all archival material would be stored in an area lower than 68 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity between 30-50% with very little fluctuation.  Unfortunately, the recommended storage conditions are not the ideal living (or researching) conditions.  Fortunately for the “Do-It-Yourselfers” following the recommendations above will set you on the track toward preservation.

For more information on how you can humidify your documents, please check out this article “Practical Considerations for Humidifying and Flattening Paper” by Stephanie Watkins, found at: http://cool.conservation-us.org/coolaic/sg/bpg/annual/v21/bp21-15.pdf, or other resources through Google.

The Northeast Document Conservation Center states that temperature and humidity control is vital to the preservation of archival material because unacceptable levels cause the deterioration of the material.… Heat accelerates deterioration: the rate of most chemical reactions, including deterioration, is approximately doubled with each increase in temperature of 18°F (10°C). High relative humidity provides the moisture necessary to promote harmful chemical reactions in materials and, in combination with high temperature, encourages mold growth and insect activity. Extremely low relative humidity, which can occur in winter in centrally heated buildings, may lead to desiccation and embrittlement of some materials.  …Fluctuations in temperature and relative humidity are also damaging [because] …they respond to diurnal and seasonal changes…by expanding and contracting. Dimensional changes accelerate deterioration and lead to such visible damage as cockling paper, flaking ink, warped covers on books, and cracked emulsion on photographs. – www.nedcc.org/free-resources/preservation-leaflets/2.-the-environment/2.1-temperature,-relative-humidity,-light,-and-air-quality-basic-guidelines-for-preservation