by Amita Kiley, LHC Collections Manager & Research Coordinator
Between our summer writing program, planning for our 2016 Urban Renewal symposium and working with volunteers and interns to archive Lawrence’s history, the Lawrence History Center is a very busy place. For many people, summer is a time to slow down and relax. Not at LHC! In fact, our research requests seem to be coming in at record speed. The questions come to us in many ways – e-mails, phone calls, walk-ins and even good old regular mail. They come from all over – Northumberland, United Kingdom; Zurich, Switzerland; Cologne, Germany, San Fransisco, CA and of course right here at home in Lawrence.
We are thrilled when requests come in because it proves that people care about Lawrence’s history. It demonstrates that people know they can contact LHC and we’ll do our best to help and if we don’t have the records they need we’ll direct them to institutions that do. Part of our mission is to share Lawrence’s history and answering research requests help us do just that. They also underscore the importance of preserving this material in the first place. On a daily basis we see firsthand how our collection helps researchers learn about Lawrence. How proud we are when a newspaper article carefully clipped decades ago can help a present day researcher!
LHC has a newspaper clippings collection consisting of thousands of articles on all different topics dating as far back as the 1920s. We have several complete newspapers and bound volumes, but our clippings collection has consistently provided the information our researchers need. We recently worked with former students of Catholic Inter-Parochial School (CIP) who were planning a class reunion. CIP was only open for a few years in the 1970s and we didn’t have much information about the school in our archives. In fact, all we had was one newspaper clipping about the school, but it was a great one featuring a photo of many of their former classmates. Just think, if one of our volunteers hadn’t clipped that article long ago, these researchers would have gone away empty handed. This illustrates how important it is to save pieces of history – no matter how small!
Many researchers have explored our photograph collection consisting of nearly 20,000 images depicting all aspects of Lawrence life from the creation of the dam right up to the Semana Hispana and St. Patrick’s Day parades of 2015. We recently worked with a researcher from FL and discovered that we had an image of her grandfather - his senior class portrait from Lawrence High School class of 1911, complete with his signature. Further research revealed that her grandmother was in that same class (high school sweethearts, perhaps?) so we were able to provide the researcher with her grandmother’s senior class portrait as well! This collection of portraits was donated in 1985. How cool that 30 years later they would provide a researcher with her grandparents’ high school portraits!
Some of our researchers are hoping to find out about ancestors who were among the city’s first residents. Naturally this type of research provides more of a challenge as, often times, the older the records the more difficult they are to find. We were contacted by a researcher who was looking for information about a relative who was arrested for breaking into a store on Essex St. in 1893. We do have arrest records, but they are not quite searchable yet and our newspaper clippings do not date that far back. Would we be able to help this researcher or would we have to refer him elsewhere?
After some creative thinking it turned out that we did have the records to help him! LHC has a fascinating book, The Lawrence Gazetteer, published in 1894. It contains a record of the important events in Lawrence and vicinity from 1845 to 1894, also, a history of the corporations, industrial establishments, churches, societies, clubs, and other organizations; national, state and municipal statistics, and a variety of useful information. A search of the book lead us to the Important Events in Lawrence section and sure enough his relative’s burglary attempt was listed! We are lucky to have a few original copies of The Gazetteer in our collection, but the book is available online as well: https://archive.org/details/lawrencegazettee00merr. The Gazetteer helped another researcher who wanted to know the name of the first druggist/drug store in Lawrence and when they opened. The answer was on page 46: Nathaniel Wilson on June 24, 1846.
We love helping researchers at LHC because it increases our own understanding of Lawrence and our collection. Researching allows us to explore different ways in which our collection can help someone. It’s amazing to see requests pour in from all over the world and so satisfying that we are able to answer them using the items that were generously donated to our archives over the last 37 years. We'd love to help you with your questions! Just e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and you'll be one step closer to learning more about Lawrence, the city whose dynamic history is studied and celebrated by those all over the world.