A Visit to the Archives Room

From the March 1998 Newsletter

by Donna B. Ryan

                        On Friday afternoons you will find an "OPEN" sign on the Hagadorn House door, with activity in the Teddy Roosevelt Room at the top of the stairs.  (Teddy isn't there, but story goes that as a young man he slept there one night.)  However, this room now is the Archives Room, and this is the day that Archivist Doris Montgomery and her co-workers Audrey Pettibone and Barbara Bernstein do the "behind the scenes" work for the Society with which most people are unfamiliar.

Audrey's grandfather, Vern Allen, lived in McHenry Valley.  "My mother and I got involved in the Historical Society in 1980, because we were interested in the history of Almond and knew it was something we could do together," Audrey remembers.  She has since become Almond Historian, and as such, attending meetings and workshops involving other historical societies.  "I am very impressed by the number of projects that have already been done here," she said.

Barbara is a specialist in genealogical work, having pursued this hobby since 1955. A retired Alfred Almond Central School English teacher, the Nunda native belongs to six genealogical societies and seven historical societies, including the New York State Historical Society in Cooperstown.  Currently, she is writing about 1930's and 1940's life in Nunda in poetry form, having also written some Alfred area history and family genealogy in verse.  Her extensive research enabled her to provide information to the Western New York Genealogical Society.  This has been published in their magazine, with credits given to the Hagadorn House Museum collection.  She has spent Friday afternoons at the Hagadorn House for the past eight years, because, she says, "I am interested in history, and I want to make sure it is KEPT!"

Her current Friday afternoon project consists of reading, deciphering, and copying names and dates from marriage, baptismal and wedding certificates which have been donated to the Society.  Many of these are in beautiful frames and are found on the walls throughout the Hagadorn House.

Visiting there recently, this writer was impressed by the scope of operations.  Audrey told me that their goal is to have a file folder for every family who has lived in the Town of Almond, as well as families of Almond Historical Society members.  These five four drawer files line one side of the room and hold gems of data in the form of newspaper clippings, obituaries, photos and other historical documents.

How do these documents end up in the family files at the Hagadorn House?

She explained that members Gladys Farley and Joan Lindeman assist in clipping current information about Almond residents and families from newspaper and periodicals.  Sometimes people donate documents and clippings when they are cleaning house or simply getting rid of old things.  That day, Doris had received a large envelope from Barbara Harman Jones of Edgewater, MD, filled with newspaper clippings from her mother and aunt.

Audrey explained that many "treasures" were received by the Historical Society in its early days when word was received that the old birth, death, and burial records from the Town of Almond were on their way to the dump.  "One of our members 'rescued' these documents, and we were able to save and preserve those irreplaceable records," she said.  Then came the arduous task of photocopying them on acid-free paper and filing them for future reference.

What purpose do these files serve?

Doris went on to tell us that she gets many inquiries from people all over the country that are looking for family and ancestor information.  Just this past year, she spent time with Rosalie VanMeter of Independence, MO, who stayed at the Coachlight Motel while she looked for information on the Curtis and Hills families who lived in Almond in the mid-1800's.  "We get a great deal of satisfaction helping people who are attempting to put the puzzle pieces together on their ancestors," she said.  "Their excitement and joy makes the task worthwhile."

Current requests include one family who is looking for information on a specific family reunion.  Another is looking for an ancestor married by the late Rev. Matt Coleman of Almond. (Searching records revealed that the information was part of the Almond Union of Churches' historical documents which are now stored at Colgate Rochester Divinity School.)  A man from Little Genesee has written for information on the Old Almond Turnpike, and still another has sent an inquiry about the Sanford family.  All of these inquiries, while interesting to pursue, take time.

Doris began as a helper several years ago when Marilyn Lockwood was archivist, copying documents and filing items in the proper folders.  "I was working in the 'C' folders one day, and opened the Cline family folder.  I came upon a newspaper clipping from 1903 for a Mrs. John Cline who was born in Almond in 1820," she began to relate.  Her interest was piqued because there were Clines in her family line.  Her family was not from Almond, so she had no idea about whom she was reading.  As she began to scan the article written in flowery prose, she was astonished to realize that this was her great-great-great grandmother!  The story this clipping told in great detail provided information about Rachael and ancestors that her descendants had not been able to confirm.  "Her family, the Woodcocks, were enroute from Swansea, NH, to settle in the Wellsville area, and stopped long enough for the birth of Rachael (in the former Mae Whitford house, the family believes).  Someone had donated a box of newspaper clippings... and someone else had filed that clipping in the family folder.  "After a discovery like this, you get hooked," Doris remarked.

The extent of resources the Society possess is exciting.  The late John Reynolds, local historian and author, together with Wayne Kellogg visited every cemetery in the township and copied down the inscriptions of all tombstones - a daunting task!  People also donate "goodies" they find, such as old photographs, scrapbooks, genealogies, directories, letters, baptismal and wedding certificates, school records, souvenir programs, maps and atlases, tax lists and abstracts, and books pertaining to local history.

On one wall are three shelves of resource books, indexed on four sheets affixed to the end of the shelves.  This was the work of Barbara, who also inventoried and indexed the extensive contents of the Hagadorn secretary located in the front bedroom.  One could spend ours reading such books as "Records of School District No. 3 in Almond - 1857" or Minard's "History of Allegany County - 1896".  Also found are Civil and Revolutionary War records, Iroquois Indian information, books on the pioneer history of Phelps and Gorham purchase, election poll records, area college directories, and land sales and tax arrears lists.

Local authors' works are also located on the shelves, including three treasured copies of the now out of print "Almond Story" written by Mr. Reynolds.  Four novels based on local history by our own Helene Phelan sit next to New York State historical author Arch Merrill's 19 books.  The nearly 200 item collection also contains many books and stories written by area residents about their families and neighborhoods.

How did the Archives project get started?

Doris quickly gave much credit and praise to Helene Phelan, who with her husband, Linn, were charter members of the Historical Society and initiators of its formation.  A retired English teacher and longtime Almond resident, Helene, started the archives project and coordinated and maintained the archives room for many years.

"We see Helene's tracks everywhere," Doris said appreciatively.  "She was a bright woman with a good outlook on life.  She was cheerful and always positive about things, looking for good things to happen."  She then went on to describe reams of notes from Helene's extensive interviews with the late Elizabeth (Lizzie) Greene, who was born in 1880, was a lifelong resident, and who died in 1984 at the age of 104.

Doesn't it get overwhelming - all the work that is involved in the archives project?  Doris quickly says, "YES! But we are looking for more people to help, which will make it easier for everyone.  Even if someone could just do filing," she said.  Since old documents are copied on special acid free paper, there is a need for a person to assist with photocopying.  Someone with secretarial skills would be invaluable, as there is correspondence and clerical work that an be done.  A strong genealogical commitment is helpful, but she noted that comes after being exposed for awhile to the work.  Clipping current news articles might seem unimportant now, but twenty or thirty years down the road, it may be meaningful information for someone.  "It is important to share information so that it will not be lost," Barbara said.  "I wish I had asked more questions back in 1955 when I got started."

All three credit Helene and Marilyn for the "tons of archives work they have done here."  They also recognized Marilyn's husband, Chub, for the years he has assisted in so many ways:  moving furniture and files, carrying things in and out, painting rooms, plowing snow so that they could get in to work, and cutting grass to keep the house attractive.  "They both took a keen interest in the Hagadorn House," they said.


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