Library job took six months. Historical documents now sorted, indexed
By JOHN SPEARS
NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE —The key to nearly two centuries of Niagara history lies tucked away in a filing cabinet in the old town hall library.
They look like just a collection of blue filing cards, but each one can lead a historian or genealogist straight to the documents he is looking for.
The blue cards are an index of historical documents owned by the town, the Niagara Historical Society, the Niagara-on-the-Lake library, and three local churches — St. Andrew's, St. Mark's and St. Vincent de Paul. Documents and papers collected by Jean Huggins of Queenston are also listed on the cards.
The index in the library is the culmination of six months of work by a five-member team funded by a LIP grant who located, restored and organized documents of historical interest owned by the various institutions, although the documents remain in the possession of the owners.
Unfortunately, the LIP grant ran out in the middle of June before the group had a chance to complete the index in the library but one of the group members, Lynne Teather, was hired by the library under the provincial government's Experience 76 program to make up the index.
The LIP groups leader Peter White was also able to help out when he was hired by the historical society as its museum curator.
Researchers can look up official documents under headings such as the level of government that issued them or the name of a church or institution. Private letters and diaries are indexed under family names, and there are records of land patents and deeds, scrap-books and pamphlets.
Chief librarian Gerda Molson explained that someone wanting genealogical information will be able to look up the family name under various headings, such as letters and diaries, land patents, or official documents if an ancestor held public office. A record of all the documents pertaining to the family will be in the one file in the library instead of scattered throughout the town.
"This is a service we've never offered before," Mrs. Molson explained. "Before, people have come here and to the historical society to research a family and they've just been stymied."
The library will be open this Tuesday from 7 to 9 p.m. so that interested persons can have the index explained to them, Mrs. Molson said. After that, the way is clear for anyone to use the index to research whatever subject they please. A group writing a history of the standardbred horse in Canada made use of the index earlier this week, for example.
According to Mrs. Molson, most of the request for information the library has received up to now have been for genealogical information. But some of the newly-catalogued documents will be used for a
Brock University history course and the hope is that the existence of the index will encourage further study of local history.
Mrs. Molson hopes to convert one section of the library to historical research use, largely with the aid of anticipated Wintario grants for microfilming and a microfilm reader-printer.
Most of the historical society's records are already microfilmed, as are records belonging to the town and St. Mark's and St. Andrew's churches.
The Ontario archives in Toronto has a good many records of land grants in the Niagara area on microfilm, and the chances are good that these will be made available, or at least indexed, in the Niagara-on-the-Lake library as well.
The LIP group did some inadvertent research of their own while sorting through and repairing documents. They turned up 21 years' worth of missing town records from 1855 to 1875 while helping to clean up the mess made by the flooding of the town records in the Virgil municipal offices last spring.
The old town's records for the year 1876 are still unaccountably missing, however.
Another discovery was a mass of Niagara Women's Institute papers discovered in the historical society museum when the group was installing proper storage facilities for the museum's document collection.
Among the group's other accomplishments was the rescue of some of the old town's more venerable records from a stack of cardboard boxes in an old town hall broom closet and their installation in proper files in the building's old bank vault.
Although much has been accomplished, Peter White hopes that it has only been a beginning. The historical society is considering making an application to Wintario for a grant to help improve the storage and security facilities for the society's documents. He would also like to start an index of historical photographs similar to the index of documents now in the library.
With some of the basic tools for historical research already provided by the work of the archivists, however, the onus is now on historians to take advantage of their efforts and explore some of the undiscovered reaches of Niagara's history.