News From Terre Haute, Indiana

May 20, 2012

GENEALOGY: Library archives contain tons of information

Tamie Dehler
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — Inside the archives room of the Vigo County Public Library, row after row of fragile documents, rare out-of-print books, and historic photographs are kept on shelves in a humidity and temperature-controlled room. This is a part of the library that many patrons are not familiar with because the archives are located in the basement in a “staff only” area. The information in this room can be valuable for genealogists, however, and it is available to the public at certain times.

The community archives contain items of historical significance to the Wabash Valley. They are donated by individuals or groups and then become a part of the permanent record of the community. Some of the collections are records from various area clubs and organizations. They contain such items as a group’s membership lists, minutes, financial records, newsletters, newspaper clippings about the group, their scrapbooks, histories and photographs.

There are several types of community groups represented in the collections: labor organizations, such as the American Federation of Musicians Local 25; fraternal groups, such as Alpha Kappa Alpha and the Knights of Pythias; professional groups, such as the Florence Nightingale Club; special issues groups, such as the League of Women Voters and Housewives Efforts for Local Progress (HELP); social clubs, such as the Newcomers’ Club; shared interest groups, such as the Terre Haute Horticultural Club and the Pen and Brush Club, and churches, which will be discussed below.

In order to be successful in researching the archives, you must keep several things in mind. First, not every group that has ever existed in Terre Haute will have a collection in the archives. Only groups (past or present) that have donated their files to the archives will be represented in the collection. Second, the time periods represented in the collection vary considerably. There are records of groups from as far back as the 1860s and up to the present. Different groups came and went in the Wabash Valley as time passed and not all are represented in the archives. Finally, though they may be of historical importance, not all of the collections are valuable to genealogists. The staff will help you to decide whether a particular collection will be helpful to your family research.

Research in the archives is not for everybody, and these are not browsing collections. But if you know or suspect that a relative was a member of a particular community group, you need to first ask a staff member to see the inventory of the community archives collections. This lists the holdings the library has on each group, the years covered, and the items in each collection. If a particular collection looks promising to you, you need to make an appointment with the archivist in order to see it. These materials are to be viewed under the supervision of library staff.

One of the most useful items in the archives for my own research has been the records of the Union Baptist Church, one of Vigo County’s pioneer churches. Located in Pierson Township in the south part of the county, the church was established in 1822. The records have lists of congregation members and the dates associated with their membership — when admitted to the congregation and how, by religious “experience” or by “letter” (a reference from another church); and how they ended their church membership — by death, “dismissal” by letter (moved away and went to another church, carrying a letter of reference from the former church), or by “exclusion” (when a member engaged in behavior such as drinking alcohol, and was then ostracized by the church members).

Yes, there is much information in the VCPL archives for genealogists who just start looking.