Something to Ponder

I am currently reviewing the Board Minutes for the Historical Society in order to develop a better understanding of the 143-year history of the Society’s library. While reading, I came across an interesting passage.

BACKGROUND: April 12, 1870.  The corresponding secretary Henry M. Keim read a letter during the board meeting from a Mr. W. C. Reikel of Bethlehem making “inquiries in reference to the Leinbach Family in Oley Township, Berks County, and asking assistance in his effort to investigate its early history.”  In an effort to assist Mr. Reikel, the Board moved to form a committee consisting of Mr. Daniel Ermentrout (Member of the Finance Committee) and Society Vice-President Jesse G. Hawley (better known for owning the Reading Eagle at the time) to gather the information and send it to Mr. Reikel.  Neither of them actually sat on the Library Committee mind you, and I do not believe they had a librarian at the time.

SIDE NOTE: This request today would still be complicated.  With the amount of history stored in the library on the Leinbach family alone, a researcher would need to be more specific in this request.  In all actuality, if this request came through email, I would immediately reply sending information regarding our Genealogical Services and request that they be more specific.  What family member are you looking for?  Do you roughly know the dates of your ancestors?  What are you trying to prove or disprove?  We at the HJL deal in primary resources and we cannot “perform” original research.  In 1870, this request was made more complicated by the fact that the library was still in its infancy.  The “Oley/Leinbach” Committee (a term I dubbed) did not have access to the wealth of information at our fingertips.  I believe this is why the committee was formed.  If we had to have, a committee formed every time a research request comes in, researchers would never get their information in a timely manner.

Back to the matter on hand.  While I am sure Mr. Reikel received a very thorough report from the Oley/Leinbach Committee, it is what is written in the Minutes that struck me as odd.  “The committee appointed at last meeting to obtain information concerning early settlements in Oley Township in this county, through Daniel Ermentrout made a partial report, stating that the committee together with several members of the society had visited Oley Township and had been received very pleasantly by the inhabitants there of, especially by Mrs. Dr. P. G. Bertolet who gave into the hands of the committee some very valuable documents to be returned to her after inspection by the society….”  The Minutes go on to explain that the committee will present a full report, once their investigation is finished.

At a glance, this paragraph, matter of fact points out that after a trip to Oley, the committee gathered some information and that after their research had concluded would present their results to the board and Mr. Reikel.  However, when I really looked at it and then showed it to my Assistant Archivist Lisa, we thought it funny and strange.  First, we were surprised that twice they mentioned that Oley was part of Berks County, as if that might have been questioned.  Second, we pictured this small group of Reading Businessmen, dressed in white suits with white safari hats, trekking through the wilderness of Berks County with their sabers and muskets, being led by a guide, not knowing what to expect.  We imagined them getting to the Oley Township line and actually being greeted by the “inhabitants” and welcomed into the township and fed tea and cookies. Then we started wondering if this small committee had a previously bad experience, such as say maybe in Bern Township, where the inhabitants could have met our brave group of explorers at the township line with pitchforks and torches?  In all seriousness, I wonder how long it took them to get there.  They did not have cars and I imagine the Oley Turnpike was not paved and really rough in spots.  I wonder if any of them had been to Oley before.  Better yet, did they get lost on the way?

Ok, I have a very active imagination; especially on days spent reading mundane works like Board Minutes.  Regardless, of their trip, the Oley/Leinbach Committee set the stage for research and soon after other Township Histories were being generated and presented at the Board Meetings.  Eventually these works were gathered together and became the Transactions of the Historical Society, which eventually led to the Historical Review of Berks County, our quarterly journal.  Pretty neat when you think about it?!?


I am going to attempt to keep a blog of the behind the scenes at the Henry Janssen Library, in addition to other things I find interesting.  The Henry Janssen Library, the research library for the Historical Society of Berks County, is on Facebook, which I do not update as often as I would like.  You can also learn more about our services at  I am still getting my feet wet, so to speak, so please bear with me.

First and foremost…yes, I am an outsider.  I am not from Berks County; was not born or raised here.  I am actually from Lockport, NY, known as having the most locks on the Erie Canal, among other things, located around Buffalo and Niagara Falls.  For the first year and a half I lived here, I thought I was on another planet.  It takes a while to adjust to moving, which I did to take the Archivists position at the HSBC.  Each new place has a different rhythm and pace.  Reading reminds me of a city, plopped down in the middle of a field, which gives it a unique character that is actually peaceful.  No major city traffic, no city noise and if you travel 10 minutes down the road, you are in the country.  Berks County is the heart of Pennsylvania Dutch Country (Lancaster, PA just has better publicists) and that heritage is old, strong and interesting.  One does not have to grow up in a location to appreciate the history of where they are living.  In fact, one of my favorite pre-wedding gifts from my soon-to-be hubby is his grandmother’s handwritten PA Dutch Cookbook; of, course, I have to preserve it first.

As stated in the About Me section, I am the HSBC’s first officially trained archivist.  What exactly does that mean?  Answer: A LOT OF WORK.  Since October of 2008, we have started inventorying the entire collection, mostly because we really do not know what we have.  Hidden, literally, in this facility is a wealth of information, which has been buried in boxes and hidden from the light of day.  The library was run for years by retired librarians, who did what they could based on what they knew and to make it easier on them to find things.  There is no consistency in how they cataloged a book, let alone a document, or why some donations received more care than others did.  The bigger the collection, the better the chances there is no finding guide, nor did that collection receive the proper care.  Archives are all about arrangement and access; and unfortunately, sometimes the best way to start organizing is to start from scratch.  In the two and a half years since starting the inventory, we have located and identified manuscripts, deeds, maps and other documents that no one knew we had; and it is only the beginning.

I will try my best to inform and educate not just on preservation, arrangement and access, but on the history as well.  I am not an expert on Berks County History, nor will I ever be, but my main job is to educate and inform.  Archives and history are not boring and static and if you have ever visited us, you know we like to have fun and learn.  I hope you will come to appreciate this history as I have and find this interesting and informative.  Please feel free to comment or add your own information.  History does not exist in a vacuum everyone has knowledge to contribute.