Mining our history
I met a couple of elves this week. These elves are not the type that work overnight with hammers and disappear at first light. Oh, no. They are morning laborers with copiers and computers who work in their free time with the same kind of enthusiasm that you imagine in those elfish workrooms. They appear at the Fred Griffin Genealogical Center and dig, dig and dig some more into boxes of ‘chits’ that have been tossed haphazardly into unsorted collections for almost the last 200 years. They are rummaging and sorting while laughing and crying over all our common history. What a trip they are taking!
Sharon Uhl and Lynne Keasling are figuring out our past for us. They enthusiastically described their work ‘ some would say their hobby ‘ while we all had lunch. A ‘chit’ to them is a little scrap of handwritten paper that spells out a transaction of some sort that passed through the annals of the auditor’s office or the county commissioners. There are boxes and boxes of these little scraps of soft and decaying paper that have found their way to the library and to these two interested history buffs.
Keasling, who has lived in Wisconsin and California before moving to this area, and Uhl, a retired upper-elementary school principal at North Harrison, are members of the local Hoosier Elm chapter of the DAR. The compilations of all their research have been made into books and also placed on CD’s that are sold to support their DAR chapter.
Keasling says, ‘You start to read some of these receipts. You begin to wonder about these people so you read some more and off you go. You’re hooked.’
Averaging eight hours a week at one of the desks in the old Carnegie Library, they never know what they will pluck out of these little green and worn old-fashioned filing boxes.
‘We are lucky in Harrison County,’ Uhl says. ‘We’ve never lost any records to fire or flood.’
Reading the faded but generally gorgeous handwriting of all these wispy pieces of paper takes time and takes patience. Uhl recalls reading about one man who was on the public dole repeatedly for years.
‘Then I read his death notice and thought we’d seen the last of him,’ she said. ‘Nope. There was a later request for payment from the county for his casket. I got a kick out of that.’
The books and CD’s that Uhl and Keasling, particularly, have assembled are wonderful reading and very affordable for anyone who wants to give a funny, poignant and loving Christmas gift. As read-a-louds, they are history lessons about economics, social mores and family/community continuity. Ask about the books at the Fred Griffin Genealogical Library.
I have a feeling that this column will enlist the help of these intrepid history explorers in the near future and more than once. Thank you, Sharon Uhl and Lynne Keasling, for taking the time and interest to map where we have been and what we have been doing in the last two centuries.
Leah Porter is at the Harrison County Public Library in Corydon on the first and third Saturdays of the month from 1 to 3 p.m.