I’ve been fascinated by this photo ever since it was uploaded. Are we looking at the 19th century equivalent of Photoshopping? The Brown, Cooley, Noble and Strong families pose very sedately in front of a raging river with a train crossing a suspension bridge in the distance. The subjects are definitely sitting on chairs on a rocky ground. It’s that raging river that does not seem to belong.
Here is where the wonderful enlarging function on Digital Commonwealth comes in handy. Click on the link in the caption to go to Digital Commonwealth. Now you can enlarge it. What a closer look will show you is that there’s an aura or halo around any figure positioned directly in front of the river. The figures in the center do not have it. Maybe these families were posed outdoors, but I suspect the river was not raging when they were. Surely if the river was threatening to breach its banks, someone in that happy little group would be looking apprehensively to their left.
When I talked to Dick Rowley, Granville Public Library volunteer, he was more suspicious of the little train on the suspension bridge. He’s right. The trees, sky, bridge and train seem to be from a different photo taken at a different time of day. How many deceptions are there to uncover here?
We haven’t talked about the people in this photo. Dick points out that the earliest death date for any of them is 1888, so this photo was taken no later than that. They are all prominent members of Granville society, well-dressed, respectable, stern even. Except for the woman seated in the foreground. Dressed all in black, she seems to be smirking. She knows what’s going on, but she’s not telling.
Too many people think history is as dry as dust. All dates and wars and people in funny clothes with funnier hats. Show them their street 100 years ago or a 50-year-old yearbook for their high school and you have their attention. Ask them if they can identify a house on their street or its former owner and you have a Watson and the game’s afoot.
With the Granville Public Library’s collection digitized, Dick Rowley took advantage of other services offered by Digital Commonwealth. He took an Omeka workshop on creating online exhibits. The Granville Historic Image Library is the result. The images are the main attraction, but there’s also an ongoing project to upload the Catalog of Historic Document Collections and Books from the Granville Public Library’s Historical Room with links to already-digitized versions of the Historical Room collection on websites like Internet Archive.
Dick also started posting Mystery Monday and Flashback Friday photos to the Granville Forum on Facebook. He encouraged Forum members to contribute information and photos. He got both. Posters identified one old house as the original Baptist church that was moved across the street, so the new church could be built. Even better, this wonderful wedding photo shows multiple generations of Granville residents at the wedding of Helen Alvina Hansen and Charles Louis Drolett, Jr. Dick reports the photo owner had no idea who the people in the photo were. By posting it, Granville’s “village elders” were consulted and able to identify everyone. Amongst the “elders”? One of the little girls in the photo.
Find A Grave is one of the most popular websites for genealogists and local history buffs. Dick has used the website to spread the wealth of resources in the Granville collection. A distant relation will be thrilled to find a photo of Nathan Fenn on his Find A Grave page. Although, my favorite has to be the Weekly Report on the Conduct of… Melissa Phelps. What a delight for any descendant of Melissa Phelps Gaines to discover this gem.
Some of the stories are more poignant. In trying to locate the oldest house in Granville, Dick was sent a photo of a 1934 copy of the Granville Center News. The News is a story in itself. It was published by Newton kids who summered in Granville. They report on a resident of the purported oldest building, Chapin Brown, who was “slightly crazy”. A little research uncovered the man had served in the Civil War. Post-traumatic stress disorder? Perhaps. We don’t always get the full story, but a lot more of Chapin Brown’s has been restored because someone asked about the oldest house in town.
A more inspirational story comes as a result of Dick’s collaboration with the Woodlands Cemetery Association (WCA). This is my favorite. The Granville Historic Image Library, Historical Room, Granville Public Library provides the images and the WCA provides the profiles of the interred in their newsletter. Susan A. Phelon Barber was born and raised in Granville. She was educated in Westfield and became a teacher. She moved to Maine to study nursing and joined the U.S. Army nursing corps during World War I. She served in Europe until 1919. She then moved to Los Angeles to serve as a private nurse. Eventually, she returned to live in Granville and work as a nurse in Westfield. She married a high school classmate in 1930 at the age of 45.
These remarkable people lived in a small town, but hardly had small lives. If they were lost for a while, they have now been restored. You can do the same for your small Massachusetts town and Digital Commonwealth can help. Give us a call. Let’s restore some more stories.
A year ago, I got the listing of new collections added to the Digital Commonwealth. I expect the Boston Public Library and UMass/Amherst to have extraordinary collections on Digital Commonwealth. I am much more impressed when a small institution, like the Granville Public Library (GPL), uploads a collection that is impressive in its depth and breadth. So naturally, I asked how this happened.
Mary Short, director of GPL, directed me to Dick Rowley, dedicated volunteer and raconteur. It has been a fun and educational year of discovering where Granville started and where they’ve gone. Dick has done all he could on his own, through crowd sourcing and with partners to restore the story of Granville’s history. My apologies to all concerned for my tardiness in posting this report.
Dick and his cousin, Thom Gilbert, were researching family history independently. They decided to meet up halfway between Dick in Connecticut and Tom in eastern Massachusetts in Granville, the family’s old hometown. They had discovered that the family had a connection to the Noble and Cooley Drum Company in Granville. (See payroll book, right.) This led them to the Noble and Cooley archives. That is, if you define archives as boxes and boxes of materials in no particular order.
Luckily, Dick and Thom “stumbled” onto the Massachusetts State Historic Records Advisory Board Roving Archivist program. If you are starting from scratch in organizing your historic collections, Dick says this is the program for you. Rachel Onuf was extremely helpful in getting the Noble and Cooley Center for Historic Preservation (NCCHP) on the right track. (Rachel has moved on and Sara Jane Poindexter is the current roving archivist.) Dick’s first experience with Digital Commonwealth (DC) was with the digitization of the NCCHP collection. They started with the company’s catalogs, which were a big hit with collectors, including Jay Leno. They went on to add correspondence, employee records, etc. And were they able to confirm the family connection with Noble and Cooley? Long lost payroll records dating back to 1890 were discovered showing that many ancestors had worked at the drum shop at one time or another, some from the age of 15.
Like any good genealogist, Dick and Thom became interested in the local history that went along with the family and corporate history they had already discovered. They realized for Granville history they should ask at the Granville Public Library. And there they came across a treasure trove of photos – of Granville people, places and things cared for by Rose Miller, long-time curator of the library’s Historical Room.
Dick recommended GPL contact Digital Commonwealth to digitize the collection. He was able to vouch for the helpful and patient staff. Dick had nothing but compliments for Nichole, Jake and Eben. All of whom he said went over and above the standard service. Still, GPL was hesitant to ship its original documents. The DC staff drove out to pick up and return the collection it, so GPL could relax.
GPL was even more reluctant to part with its photos. Dick offered and came through with a system whereby he digitized the photos using his personal camera, a home-made stand and extra lighting for the best TIF format images possible. Then he sent a USB drive to Digital Commonwealth. Although they were working with photos of photos, Dick thinks the images DC harvested were pretty close to the “gold standard” for digital images.
Not being trained archivists, Dick and Thom didn’t know much about metadata. However, they got a crash course from DC staff as well as attending New England Document Conservation Center (NEDCC) training events. They were then able to send spreadsheets with basic metadata and DC “did the rest.” In the end, the collaboration was a great success on all fronts.
Dick believes that restoring the story of Granville has two parts. Part I, as we have discussed here, was the organization and preservation of the historical source materials. Part II is documenting the stories of these materials, but that’s a story for another post.