This blog grew out of my work on family papers, preserved and handed down by my ancestors from the 1700s until almost 2000. At that point, my mother, Jean (Staples) Showalter, and her cousin, William Watts, gave the family archives to the Historical Society of Western Virginia. My second cousins, William Watts’s daughters, took the initiative to raise funds to put the Society’s collections online. I have been reading the family documents, transcribing them, and transferring key information to a form, to assist a team of volunteers who enter the data into the Society’s virtual collections database. I hope to do two things in this blog:
1 Call attention to some of the interesting material, on subjects like daily life in the country, education, courtship, business and commerce, signs of progress, attitudes toward death, politics, the coming of the Civil War, and many others.
2 Discuss some of the questions that arise in reading these old documents, like the value of knowing the past, the ethics of reading private correspondences, the contrasts between perspectives then and now, the reasons for people’s interest in their ancestry, and many others..
As the documents are scanned and entered into the database, they become accessible by way of the internet. To find them, go to http://www.history-museum.org/. At the top of the home page, you will see: Visit HMWV's Virtual Collection! with the link Click here beneath it. If you click, you will be taken to a search page, on which you can enter keywords. The documents are indexed not only by proper names, but also by subjects. You could therefore search for “Edward Watts”, my ancestor; “Oaklands”, his plantation; “Big Lick”, the old name for Roanoke; or for a subject, like “crops”, “diseases”, “religion”, “slavery”, or “weather”.
Because I am preparing the documents for entry into the database, I may refer to documents not yet online. They are housed at the History Museum and Historical Society of Western Virginia, in Roanoke, Virginia. Contact information is provided on the website, and it may be possible to consult the documents on site or to obtain photocopies.
Besides my musings on topics that catch my fancy, I also plan to post some finding lists and tables of contents, to give a fuller account of what is in these collections and to enable people, especially genealogists and historians, to locate items of interest without waiting for me to stumble on them.