African American News and Genealogy

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Monday, October 24, 2005

Kentucky Historical Society putting its collection online

By Joe BieskAssociated Press FRANKFORT, Ky. -- As a teenager working at a Louisville five-and-dime, former state Sen. Georgia Powers quit her job rather than tell black customers they couldn't eat their hot dogs at the counter. "I thought, 'I'm not going to tell anybody they can't stand there because if they paid for it, they can eat anywhere they want to,' " Powers said. "Well, I knew I was not going to last very long on that job." Powers' interview, in which she talks about similar issues, is preserved as part of Kentucky's oral history at the Kentucky Historical Society. But until recently, accessing the agency's collection -- from historical tackle boxes to precious maps and photos -- usually required a special trip. Now, some of it can be studied from any computer with Internet access on the society's Web site, "Everything on this site is something in the KHS collections," said Mary Winter, director of collections and reference services at the agency. "And that's what this is, new access to our collections." About 1 percent of the society's collection went online for the first time this month, Winter said. Still, that represents thousands of artifacts -- from original notices of some of Kentucky's earliest public sales to random photographs. The online collection also includes historic maps, recorded and transcribed oral histories, documents and biographies of Kentucky's governors. Some of the oral histories available include other interviews related to the civil-rights movement and the Bataan Death March. There also are transcribed interviews with Holocaust survivors. And more are on the way every day, Winter said. Eventually, the entire collection should be available electronically, she said. "We started out trying to give people a little taste of everything," Winter said. Electronic archivists are working to scan additional items into the system and catalog them so they can be cross-referenced with other pieces. What might be one of the agency's oldest items belongs to the society's William Calk exhibit, which Winter described as a "showcase collection." Among the Calk artifacts is a receipt from 1744 in which the pioneer traded 100 pounds of tobacco for the release of his father's debt "from the beginning of the world to this day." Calk, who came to Boonesborough shortly after Daniel Boone, also wrote a journal of his travels starting in 1775. It's part of the collection. In his journal, Calk talks about his group's encounters with American Indians and describes what they cooked along the way, Winter said. With the new technology, researchers now can view the items on their computers and perform electronic searches more rapidly. They also can study the original handwriting. There also are various maps, including one from 1839 that shows the routes and schedules of Kentucky's earliest stagecoaches and steamboats, Winter said. With 120 counties in Kentucky, organizers thought it was necessary to show items that represent "geographic diversity," Winter said. "The sort of thing that people are looking for mostly is Kentucky history and local history," she said. "So those are the things that we're going to push forth first." Users may browse and bookmark specific items. Or they can search for specific items or categories. Previously, viewing some of the artifacts in the collection was labor-intensive because researchers would have to do custom searches for every request. Having the materials online allows people to do their own searching. It also protects some of the pieces from excessive wear. The less certain items are handled, the better they will fare in the end, she said. "Nobody is more excited that these things are up than we are," Winter said. "And we're in an era now where people expect to find things online -- we can finally do that for them."


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