In and Around the Museum

By the time you read this, the sorting and cataloging of the books in the museum vault will be close to completion. Austin Pierce jump-started this process in the summer of 2013, when he volunteered as a museum intern for a month or so. Jan Slack and I continued the process over the next three years, many times working three days a week. During that time, we learned to translate German, even learning to recognize certain words written in old German script. We learned to decipher certain Wendish words to determine the content of the books. Information and a scanned photo of each book was entered into the museum collection management system, PastPerfect, and then wrapped in acid free paper and tied with string for extra protection from light and dust.

Most of the books in our archives are in German or Wendish, and occasionally in both languages. We have been told that we may have the largest collection of Wendish language books outside of Germany. The Wendish books mainly consist of Bibles, hymnals, catechisms, and a few other religious subjects. We think most of our ancestors brought with them Bibles, hymnals and devotional books when they emigrated, and now families have given those books to our museum. The collection began with donations received in 1984 when the museum was first being put together. The hope was that families had recorded names and dates on Family History pages in those Bibles, but that did not turn out to be the case. At most, lists of names were recorded with no indication of how the people were related.

What we do consider significant to the collection are a number of books donated by Kilian family descendants that had originally been in the libraries of John Kilian and Herman Kilian, and include some of the oldest books in our collection. In addition, Annie Tschatschula donated a number of books in the late 1980s that had been in her family, including guides to home medical remedies and other medical-related books because Annie’s mother was a midwife in the Northrup and Serbin areas. The most worn books, of course, are the German cookbooks with their torn pages and handwritten notes scribbled in the margins.

If a visitor wants to view or read a book in our archives, we have the following process: If you are looking for a book donated by a certain person and have an idea of when it was donated, you begin by studying the Master Accession Record notebook to locate the correct entry. The information in this notebook is filed by year of donation. Once the record is found, you will see the “accession number” that was assigned to that book. The books in the vault are stored in accession number order. The next step would be to look in one of the (currently) seven Inventory notebooks to find the inventory page for that accession number. The inventory page provides a description of the book including physical description, title, author, publisher, date it was published, content/subject matter of the book, donor name and date donated, and any known history (such as who owned the book).

We do not at this time keep an alphabetical list of the books in the vault, because such a list would not be helpful since the PastPerfect management system/database will mix German, Wendish, and English titles. Since publication dates for our collection range in age from the mid-1500s to the early 1900s, a list of publication dates, authors or translators would not be complete, as often this information is not indicated in a book.

The simplest way to learn about a book in our collection is to refer to the Inventory notebooks and study the descriptions of each book. If a book is in the Wendish language, a copy of the title page is also included with it’s inventory page. Using the Inventory notebooks also protects the actual book collection from handling, as well as from exposure to light and dust. But if a person wants to see the actual book after locating the corresponding Inventory page, our Executive Director could then pull the book from the vault and unwrap it for viewing. Of course, white cotton gloves are required for handling any book in our archives.

The few English books we have in our archive are out of print and considered rare, so they are also stored in the vault. At some point in the future these books will be noted by place cards on the library shelves so researchers will know to request them for viewing.

Books that were considered not applicable to our collection are being offered for sale in our gift shop, and include German novels, old math and grammar textbooks, and multiple copies of German devotional books. Remember, though, if a book is in the Wendish language or has a personal inscription in it, we kept it.

Once this project is complete, we will take a break before beginning the task of sorting and cataloging in the Library. Let us know if you would like to help with that effort.

Vivian Dube, Librarian