I Feel Like a Kid at Christmas: More Adventures in Organizing Church Records

Another week, another tub unpacked.  This week was quite exciting (well, at least as exciting as it can get when you uncover a treasure trove of materials).  The process of arranging the documents continued, but I also got sidetracked when working with the one tub.

The tub in question is approximately two feet high, two feet wide, and three feet long—and it was packed with all sorts of materials, ranging from treasurer’s reports to church bulletins (oh, boy, more church bulletins!) to newspaper clippings and “ephemera.”  It’s also the tub that includes information that I might use for the next research project involving the church records.

Side view of tub

When I opened the tub, lying on top was a brown file folder labeled “Important Information.”  Included in this folder were several items that indeed were important—at least back in the 1920s and 1930s when they were collected.  One of the items was a newspaper clipping from 1928 announcing that Zion’s was changing from the Philadelphia Classis (its regional organization in the German Synod of the East) to the Reading Classis in the Reformed Church of the United States.  This change meant that Zion’s was moving from a congregation with German-language services—one of the requirements of the German Synod—to one that solely worshipped in English.  This discovery led me to one of the “rabbit holes,” as I decided to try to find more newspaper articles about Zion’s.  More clippings were in the tub—okay, a lot of clippings, although combined it might be about 20 articles out of 40-50 clippings (which means there are a lot of duplicates).  But it turns out that Google newspapers also includes the Reading Eagle, so I’ve been able to find more articles than the clippings to use in my research (and can find the required citation information, as many of the clippings don’t indicate the date).  And, of course, sometimes the rabbit hole led to an amusing find, such as an article about a minstrel show hosted by Zion’s that included my maternal grandmother as a member of the chorus.  For most people, this would be an exciting find:  “How wonderful!  My grandmother was mentioned in the newspaper!”  But considering that my grandmother did not have a good singing voice (the general consensus is that small children fell asleep out of self-defense when she sang to them), it was quite funny that she was part of a chorus for anything.

The second item in “Important Information” reminded me of the New Deal and how the federal government helped put people to work during the Great Depression, including people who supposedly had no marketable job skills.  During the late 1930s, historians employed by the Works Progress Administration (WPA, or “we piddle around”) were involved in compiling inventories of assorted records, among which are records held by religious organizations.  The last four pages in the folder (carbon copies of the original) were the last four pages in the WPA files for Zion’s Evangelical and Reformed Church in Reading.  The entire file is available online through Ancestry.com (Pennsylvania, WPA Church Archives, 1937-1940), and it’s searchable by county and community (but not by individual churches).  The compiler apparently wasn’t too familiar with the congregation, because he misspelled the names of the founding minister and the current minister, along with a few minor errors about the church building, but it was nice to find out which records existed during the 1930s; hopefully I will find them when arranging the archives.

First page of the last portion of the WPA inventory. Note the damage from the rusted paper clip at the top.

And now, some more treasures discovered:

      1) Carbon paper.  Back in the old days (i.e., the 20th century), people would place a sheet of carbon paper between two sheets of white paper so that a carbon or identical copy would be kept.  This, of course, has been replaced by Xerox machines and saving word documents to hard drives, USB drives, etc.  Sometimes, if the typist was careless, the carbon paper would face the wrong direction…and the second page would be blank.

Fortunately, I found the carbon copy of this report–or I’d have to transcribe it from the carbon paper

      2) Guest registers.  Obviously, banks aren’t the only places that need to chain pens so they don’t get lost.

3) A 1957 Series B One Dollar Silver Certificate.  Current value:  $1.00 (they printed a lot of them in 1957).  This will be returned to Rev. Dr. Aregood, who will add it to collections for the Reading Classis.  No, I don’t get to keep it…I’m already getting paid by the university during my sabbatical leave.

      4) Sermons.  When I was a graduate student at the University of Connecticut, one semester I took a course on New England Puritanism (blech, but my advisor told me I had to take it) in which we spent the semester reading and interpreting sermons.  I loved it so much that when I decided on a dissertation topic, I wrote about a Quaker meeting—Quakers didn’t have sermons.  It turns out that some of the church bulletins in the tub included the handwritten sermons…some of which are quite fascinating, such as the one that attacked the Old Testament prophets for not being Christ-like in their behavior.

Finally, I have discovered that sometimes I need tools to do this job.  Part of the process of arranging the records involves removing them from unstable or damaging folders, binders, etc. and placing them in new file folders to preserve them.  Sometimes, the binders have rusted closed, leading to the necessity of using pliers to open them.

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About Karen

History Professor. Baseball fan. Author of two books, one of which I force my students to buy and read. You want me on your Trivial Pursuit team.
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2 Responses to I Feel Like a Kid at Christmas: More Adventures in Organizing Church Records

  1. Sharon Hallett says:

    Sounds so interesting Karen. So many different treasures!5

  2. Rev.Dr.Robert Aregood says:

    We love, love, love the humor – can’t wait for the book!
    Barb

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