Please Welcome Guest Blogger…Joshua Blay

I receive many emails and letters of inquiry from individuals and institutions looking for museum objects to study or loan for exhibit. One of our more popular inquiries regard the USS Reading, the only ship of the United States Navy to be named after Reading, PA.  One of eight identical ships, she was christened and launched on August 28, 1943 in Sturgeon Bay, WI, by Mrs. John C. Butterweck.  Her son Russell M. was among the first killed at the Battle of Guadalcanal, a decisive and successful campaign in the Pacific theater of World War II.  The ship reported for fast convoy escort duty between the United States and European and North 818African ports.  A silver service, consisting of a coffee urn, a teapot, a creamer, a sugar bowl, a tray, and a waste bowl was presented to the officers and crew of the ship at the Abraham Lincoln Hotel on January 25, 1945 on behalf of the city’s business and civic leaders.  She made only two round trips across the Atlantic before the end of the war.  In May 1945 she was converted into a weather ship.  Six months later, the Reading was decommissioned and was later sold to Argentina and renamed Heronia.  Deemed obsolete, she was scrapped in 1966.

We have many artifacts in t5521110bhe museum collection directly related to this ship.  These include the original champagne christening bottle, donated by Mrs. Butterweck in 1983.  The silver service was returned to the area in December 1947.  All the items except for the tray and christening bottle are currently on exhibit.  In the archives of the library are many pieces of original paperwork including newspaper articles and the original programs from the presentation made in January 1945. Incidentally, the silver service remains the property of the United States Navy and the records between the HSBC and the Navy are in the process of being updated.  For more on her history please see Vol. 50, Issue 3 of The Historical Review of Berks County.

In the midst of my research on the USS Reading, I happened to stumble a54515cross a record for object #54-5-15.  What is this object you might ask?  Well, it happens to be a ship’s badge from another naval vessel called Reading, the HMS Reading.   Formerly the naval destroyer USS Bailey, it was one of fifty obsolete destroyers, inactive since the conclusion of World War I, which was transferred to the English Royal Navy through the lend-lease program of World War II.  The USS Bailey had been named after Rear Admiral Theodorus Bailey, a naval officer during the Civil War, who was instrumental in developing thruster systems that many ships use today.  Upon delivery to England, all fifty ships were renamed after both British and United S
tates towns, and because of this, they came to be known as the Town class.

Commissioned on November 26, 1940 the HMS Reading was assigned to escort duty for two years.  From 1942 until the end of the war in 1945, this ship was used for target practice.  Sold for scrap in July 1945, the ship’s badge and a book on the Town class destroyers passed from The Lord Commissioners of the Admiralty to the citizens of Reading, England, to Reading, PA, and finally to the HSBC.  According to the Royal Naval Museum, there was never an official directive as to where on a ship its badge should be mounted. The most common location would be somewhere on the centerline of the bridge, though some classes of ship had the badge mounted on the funnel. A copy of the badge would also be mounted on the ship’s “honors board” (a plaque listing the battles in which the vessel had served), which would have been displayed next to the gangway when the ship was in harbor.  The book may easily be found in the library and archive collection.  The badge is currently mounted above the entrance to the director’s office on the first floor of our main building at 940 Centre Avenue.

Joshua K. Blay is an Associate Director and Museum Curator for the Berks History Center.  Volunteering in museums since he was thirteen, Joshua is most interested in industrial and transportation history.

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Golden Rules of Genealogy

If you are familiar with the world of Social Media, then you know there are various avenues in which to share ideas with the world.  One of these venues is Pintrest.  Simply speaking, it is a virtual bulletin board that you can pin recipes, ideas, quotes, and pictures to for a later date.  While perusing my account the other night, I came across this “Pin”, which was posted by a friend of mine.  It is from a website called: gotgenealogy.com, based out of Oakland, California.  My additions are italicized.  Just a little rules to remember.

Golden Rules of Genealogy

In no particular order

1.  Spelling Doesn’t Count – Back in the day folks couldn’t spell and many could barely write, so how a name sounds is more important than how it’s spelled.  Use wild card or Soundex Searches to help find variant spellings of names.  Remember…when researching in Berks County there is the added variant of multiple spellings of an ancestor’s name in German and how English speakers heard and spelled those German names.

 2.  Assume Nothing – Check all your facts, don’t assume that any particular document is right or wrong, and always try to find other independent sources to corroborate your facts as much as possible.  Verify, verify, verify.  For instance don’t assume that:

  1. your ancestors were married
  2. census information is accurate
  3. vital (or other) records were correct
  4. your ancestor’s life events were recorded
  5. ancestors had the same name as their enslaver
  6. that official documents (i.e. birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates) have always been in existence
  7. that our ancestors recorded the same kind of information we do today
  8. that life events and customs we celebrate today, were as important to our ancestors

3.  Use Discretion – NEVER LIE in your genealogy reports, but use discretion when reporting family information, especially when it involves living relatives.

4.  Always Document Your Sources, No Matter How Much They Contradict One Another – Over time, you will compile more data and those once seemingly contradictory pieces of evidence may prove to be just the pieces of the puzzle you need to prove or disprove your theory.  Be consistent as you cite your sources.  There are standard citation formats, but even if you just make up your own format for listing your sources, be consistent with it.  You want your descendants to be able to retrace your steps, so you always cite your sources.

5.  Most Dates Are Approximate – It’s okay to state that someone was born “abt. 1845,” or died “May 1915” if you don’t have an exact date or where various documents have different dates.  Which date is correct?”  They all are.

6.  If Unsure, Say So – Future researchers will thank you for being honest if you simply say that you cannot prove a specific fact, yet you “suspect” such and such is true.  Don’t fudge the facts.  EVER.

7.  You CANNOT Do it All Online – Yes, we love doing research online and there’s nothing better than using the computer to find new sources, view digital images of original documents and even connect with relatives.  For genealogists, the internet will never replace the wonderful work of libraries, county courthouses, archives, and historical societies.  Do as much as you can online, then turn off your computer and hit the bricks!  And, if you think it is so cool seeing that digital image of an original document, imagine what it would be like to hold it in your hands!

8.  Just Because It’s Online Doesn’t Mean It’s True – The internet is a wonderful thing but it’s filled with oodles of bad information.  Don’t make the mistake of believing anything you find online at face value.  Verify against other sources, even if you paid for the information you found online.  Consult the original source whenever possible.  This includes Ancestry.com.  They are an excellent place to start, but there is a lot of bad information floating around.  Never trust a source that doesn’t provide their citations.  If you can’t go back to the original, don’t believe the information.

9.  Pass Along Your Research – No matter how many decades you spend researching your family, your research will never be done.  Plan on passing along your research to the next generation of researchers.  Leave excellent notes, cite all your sources, explain your shorthand…in essence, leave your research the way you’d have liked to have found it.  Try not to abbreviate.  If you do abbreviate, write down the code and leave it where it can be found by researchers.  Abbreviations used today, did not mean the same today as they did in the past and vice versa; and they will not mean the same in 50 years.  Taking the time to write something completely, than abbreviating, will save future generations time in trying to decipher your work.

10.  Don’t Die With Your Stories Still In You – Diving credit to Dr. Wayne Dyer for his “Don’t die with your music still in you,” we want to remind you to tell the stories as completely and as accurately as possible.  Genealogy isn’t about just doing research.  Genealogy is about telling the stories and ensuring that your ancestor’s legacies live on for generations to come.  Without the stories, the research won’t do anyone much good.  The legacy of your ancestors rests in your capable hands.  Doing the research is fine, but always remember that you have been chosen to tell their stories.

11.  DNA Is Not A Trump Card – DNA is just one of many possible sources of information you can use to verify of deny a relationship.  Human error occurs when the results are transcribed, thereby providing false information.  DNA results should always be used in concert with other sources.

12.  Anything You Post Online Will Be “Borrowed” – You need to accept the fact that any family information you post online will be “borrowed” or outright stolen, and you will probably not get credit for all your hard work.  This is the nature of the beast…the internet.  Get over it.

13.  Don’t Assume Research is Free – Research takes time and money.  It is an investment, just like any hobby.  When contacting research institutions, don’t assume they will provide you with all the information you want for free.  These institutions have research fees.  These fees are used to keep the collections safe, the lights on and the doors open.  If you don’t want to pay the fees, visit the institution.  Most institutions have websites and research fees will be posted.  DO NOT mail in a request, without appropriate fees.

14.  Be As Specific As Possible – Know what you are searching for before calling or visiting a research institution.  Libraries, courthouses, archives and historical societies are keepers of original documents.  They provide these documents to assist with your research.  If your questions are too vague, information cannot be found or will be overlooked.  Also, remember to provide the research institution with the variation of spellings your ancestors used to help locate all appropriate information.

Calling All Researchers…..

The Historical Review of Berks County is accepting articles for the following issues, with preference given to that Issue’s chosen category:

Summer 2014 Issue, articles due by March 14, 2014:

  • Civil Rights
  • Recollections on Berks County Parks

Fall 2014 Issue, articles due by June 13, 2014:

  • 50th Anniversary of the start of World War I
  • Thanksgiving Holiday Celebrations

Winter 2014/2015 Issue, articles due by September 12, 2014:

  • 200th Anniversary of the War of 1812
  • River Transportation, Schuylkill Navigation System, Union Canal, Schuylkill River

In addition to these themes, we are looking for researched articles or personal recollections on a variety of topics on Berks County history, and Berks County connections to U.S. History Events.  While any period will be accepted, we are especially looking for history events for the following years: 1714, 1764, 1814, 1864, 1914 and 1964.

All Articles should be between 1,000-2,000 max (exceptions could be made for an article over 2,000).  We also welcome graphics, which include (but are not limited to) pie charts, graphs, tables and photographs.  Any images found in the Henry Janssen Library are free for use for any article in the Review.  Authors must visit the library and choose their own images for publication.

When possible, articles should be properly cited with footnotes (or endnotes) and a bibliography.  For more information regarding citations, please visit: http://www.press.uchicago.edu/books/turabian/turabian_citationguide.html, or contact Kim Brown at krichards@berkshistory.org.

Please Note:  The Editorial Board reserves the rights to edit or condense articles before publication in the Review.

Review
Fall 2013 Historical Review of Berks County

Book Review: Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch

Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch: A Traditional Medical Practice in the Modern World, by David W. Kriebel; published 2007 by The Pennsylvania State University Press; ISBN 978-0-271-03213-9; 6.25 inches x 9.25 inches hardbound; 295 pages, black and white images.  $30.00 in the Museum Store at the Historical Society of Berks County.

Being new to the world of the Pennsylvania Dutch, I am always eager to read something that will help me understand the history of this area.  My volunteers love throwing “new” words at me with a little smile however, the one word they have not successfully explained was the Pennsylvania term Powwow.  Even my parents assumed, as did I, that it had something to do with the Native American Tradition in Pennsylvania.  David Kriebel’s book, Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch: A Traditional Medical Practice in the Modern World is an historic look at this early form of medicine.  Kriebel not only provides descriptions of actual powwow doctors, but also provides an in depth look at the rituals used through successful cases.  Kriebel relies on past histories, oral tradition and personal experience to bring understanding to the practice of Powwow.  The reoccurring theme is that this practice is not medical based, but faith based and if one truly believes, it will be successful.  In an age where we are turning to a holistic model of medicine, and look for natural remedies for our ailments, the Pennsylvania Dutch Powwow is ahead of the curve.  While many tout this practice as old or uneducated, Kriebel makes a case for the relevance of Powwow in today’s society.

Powwowing Among the Pennsylvania Dutch is an interesting analysis on a practice that was once believed to be dead in today’s society.  Anyone interested in learning more about this practice should definitely read this book.

Catch Up

I admit it, I have been a bit neglectful of my blog lately.  So let’s catch up.

We have seen an undocumented number of researchers visiting the HJL this spring.  We have had triple digit numbers in February, March and April and are currently on track for triple digits in May.  In fact, with the two Archival workshops we hosted in February and March, we saw almost 200 people…both months!

We instituted an Archival Workshop series.  January, believe it or not, was snowed out.  It was pretty much the only snow we had this year.  In February, we hosted a Photograph Preservation Workshop.  The 59 attendees learned some basic photograph preservation techniques for their personal collections.  In March, yours truly hosted “Why Archives Matter”.  This was a look at the history of archival institutions and a look at the history of the Historical Society leading to a discussion on why we are focused on preserving our history.  Following that discussion, was an introduction into researching at the HJL, how to locate and request material and the resources we have available.  We are currently planning out next year’s series, which will hopefully be run every year between January and April (with snow dates).  Possible topics of discussion: Funeral Homes, Pennsylvania Governor John Frederick Hartranft (who served over the trial and execution of the Lincoln Conspirators) given by a descendant and possibly a “Tracing Your Roots” a look at some aspect on Genealogical research.

In April, we hosted members of the Berks County Heritage Council and individuals responsible for their organization’s archives.  The workshop was a basic introduction to archives and how to go about organizing, arranging and describing your collections.  We also looked at Collections Management, Disaster Preparedness and How to Create Databases.  We are looking into the possibility of hosting this workshop again in the fall.

In between assisting researchers and running workshops, we have been busily processing collections and have shortened our backlog significantly.  Currently, almost all of the 2011 donations have been processed.  Now, I stress almost, due to budget cuts and time constraints, we have left the bigger multi-cubic feet collections until such time as we have the resources to process them.  Regardless, when we started 2012 we were still processing 2010 donations.  Through a stroke of luck, everything clicked and we are shelving new material as we speak and updating our online databases to reflect these new additions.  I will, at some point, release the donation lists on our website and Facebook page for all to see what has come in since the last update.  While our bigger collections are not processed, they still are available for research.

For some exciting upcoming news…the HSBC and the Kutztown Folk Festival will be hosting the Pennsylvania Civil War Road Show.  This is a multidimensional traveling exhibition in a 53 foot tractor trailer that is traveling the state.  The interactive exhibits help to draw and engage the audience into the Pennsylvania experience during the war.  You are even asked to participate through an online scrapbook and by leaving your story through their video oral history booth.  We ask everyone to tell us your “historic” connection to the Civil War and leave your mark on history.  To learn more about the Road Show please visit www.PACivilWar150.com.  We here at the HSBC are excited to be hosting this exhibit at the Kutztown Folk Festival, where on average 140,000 people come and visit Berks County over the course of two weeks.  In addition to the Road Show, we will be opening our new Civil War Exhibit and hosting a walking tour of Charles Evans Cemetery.

So, while I have missed talking to you all, and I hope you’ve missed me in return, we have been busily working preparing for the summer months ahead.  We here at the HJL hope to see all of you at some point during the summer, while you are in researching.  Don’t forget to stop by and check out our new exhibit and who can resist the Folk Festival?

First Impressions

From the Collection of the Henry Janssen Library, Historical Society of Berks County

 

When I first started at the Historical Society, the curator was working on the World War I & World War II exhibit.  Even though the archives was not asked to participate, curiosity got the best of me and I went in search of images that could have been used for the exhibit.  The one above has been and still remains today to be one of my favorite images in our collection.

The Henry Janssen Library has over 20,000 images in its collection (probably more) and we have started the monumental task of digitizing all of the images for preservation and accessibility.  This project, like most of our inventorying projects, will take years to do because we can only work on the photographs when time, volunteers and money for supplies permit it.  There are other rare gems in our collection and I cannot wait to see them.

Regardless, choosing this picture is not why I am blogging about it.  In a few weeks, the library will be hosting a Senior Seminar from Albright College.  During their time here, I have to teach Seniors in the History Department the difference between primary and secondary resources.  When I first hosted this professor and she explained the premiss of the visit, I asked myself…”Shouldn’t they already know the difference?”  Apparently not.  Instead of concentrating on the differences, I focus on their uses.  It’s the Who, What, Where, When, Why and How of History.  How would you use a letter, map, deed, a newspaper or a photograph to interpret or enhance your history?  Better yet…what is the story these items tell you?

Every time I look at this image, which up until six months ago was hanging on my door, I keep getting different answers.  I originally hung the copy up to try and scare people off from constantly parading through my office.  During World War I, this image probably did illicit fear, fear of poison gas, death in the trenches, or about war in general.  It mostly gave people a chuckle as the entered or left my office.  Today, looking at this image, I imagine what those men were thinking.  “This is the only photograph I’ve ever had and no one is going to see my face.”  “You want us to do what, pose with our gear on?  Why?”  “UGH!  This is so hot when will this be done?”  I like the soldier on the far left, who seems to be slouched like “maybe if I make myself smaller, no one will notice?”

Photographs tell stories as well as document a moment in time.  Looking back through your photographs, what do those images tell you?  What stories can you see, envision, or relate?  Most importantly, how does that image tell your history?

Note: The US National Archives Facebook pages host a weekly caption contest.  They post a unique image from their collection and ask their “friends” to come up with the best caption to describe that image.  My personal favorite was a group on men kneeling by beavers, that were on leashes.  Look for it, they might have it archived on their site.  It is a fun and interesting way to look at the photographs.  If you had to pick a caption for the above image, what would it be?

Water, Water Everywhere

It is no joke.  Berks County is flooded.  Rivers, streams and creeks exist where none existed in years.  As I was trying to zigzag my way home last night, trying to locate a road that was not closed, I started thinking about Disaster Recovery.  Not because I would have to undergo a recovery, but mostly because I kept thinking that, NO ONE ever thinks about Disaster Recovery until you are trying to scrap your family photo albums up off the basement floor into a garbage bag.  Being prepared and taking a few steps can help save your history.

First and foremost, important legal documents like your birth certificate, marriage certificate, family death certificates, passports, insurance policies, deeds, wills and probably a few other documents that are escaping me, should be stored in a Fireproof and Waterproof safe.  Many of these items, while some are replaceable and expensive to do so, are important enough to need following a crisis.  Keep them in a safe (no pun intended) location that is easily accessible.

If you have a basement, no matter how hard you try, items end up being stored down there.  If it floods, it is recommended that items be stored away from the walls in the middle of the room and raised up.  It is probably best to think of the last time your basement flooded, how far the water entered the room and how high up and start from there.  If items need to be stored on the floor, invest in Rubbermaid boxes with sealable lids.  Cardboards boxes are no match for water, but plastic will keep items dry and safe, and possibly float, which could be a bonus.  If your family photographs, life boxes or anything important is stored in the basement, plastic is the way to go.

Now, while the intricacies of a Recovery are to difficult to explain here, there are certain actions you can take to save items that were damaged:

MOST IMPORTANT: if your basement is now a swimming pool, keep in mind that there are electrical conduits around and probably breaker boxes.  If you cannot get your electricity shut off, DO NOT enter the water.  You will have to wait until the water recedes.

Documents, books, and photographs, are, believe it or not, in a semi-stable environment until the water starts drying.  For some items, there is nothing you will be able to do to recover them completely.  However, for the most part, these items sometime acclimate to their surroundings, until they change again.  The BIGGEST threat to all these items is not the water, but the mold that will ensue if you cannot cool and dehumidify your basement quickly and completely.  All the statistics on mold indicates that is forms and spreads within 24 hours.  I have seen it start forming and spread in less than 12.  Mold is the biggest destroyer of all items.  Combating that is a top priority because it is also a serious health issue!  Keep the air circulating for constant motion and drying purposes.

Documents and photographs can be recovered through air-drying.  Photographs need to be separated; the emulsion used in their manufacturing process, will turn sticky and once these items dry together, you will not be able to get them apart.  Once separated you can clothes pin them onto a line to air dry.  Documents, depending on weight of the paper when wet, can also be air-dried, or laid out on the floor.  Typically, in the library setting, we use blotting paper to assist in the “wicking” processes.  Paper towels should work.

However, Kitchen Paper Towels will not work.  This is important.  Manufacturers have designed them to lock moisture in and hold it in.  Paper towels, like the brown ones, that dry easily and do not have moisture lock are preferred and do work best.

Books tend to be a bit more difficult in the recovery process.  Improper handling of books can cause their spines to break and fall apart.  Books, like George M. Meiser IX, and Gloria Jean Meiser’s The Passing Scene, which are glossy coated, need to be treated carefully.  The pages of glossy covered books, needed to be interleafed with wax paper BEFORE the drying process starts, or the pages will stick together, and you will not get them apart.  For non-glossy format books, interleaving paper towels and standing them, wet side down will help gravity pull the water from the book.  Leave a portion of the paper towel around the edge of the book so when the water is wicked to the end, it can air dry and pull more moisture out.  When the bulk of the water is out, you might need to weight it down to finish the drying process, or you can end up with a book double its original size.

Wet items in frames need to be carefully removed from the frame so the item does not stick to the glass, rip apart and dries thoroughly.

These are just a few tips.  If you require more professional assistance, you can contact:

Berks Fire and Water Restorations, Inc. – http://bfwrestorations.com/

For professional archival assistance:

The Conservation Center for Art and Historic Artifacts – http://www.ccaha.org/

and I like to give a shout out and mention the following organizations who assisted me in a library recovery 4 years or so ago:

The Northeast Document Conservation Center – http://www.nedcc.org/home.php

Document Reprocessors – http://documentreprocessors.com/

If at any point you have questions, please call the Historical Society, I will do my best to help point you in the right direction.  Stay Safe and Dry Berks County!