It’s no secret that I adore my home state of Arkansas. In addition to the wonderful people, there is so much great history! As a 7th generation Arkansan on both my mother and father’s sides, I am particularly proud of my deep roots in the state and try to research there every chance I get. This is why I am very excited to highlight the Butler Center for Arkansas Studies!
Rhonda Stewart, Genealogy & Local History Specialist, was gracious enough to answer several questions for me about the Center.
Q1: The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies was created in 1997 through an endowment by Richard C. Butler, Sr., with the goal of promoting a greater understanding an appreciation of Arkansas history, literature and culture. How does the Center carry out this mission?
A1: The Butler Center for Arkansas Studies has monthly events promoting the history, literature and culture of Arkansas. Legacies in Lunch is a monthly event highlighting a specific historic event. The June program featured Dr. Laverne Bell-Toliver’s book “The First Twenty-Five,” examining the experience of the students who integrated Little Rock Junior High Schools. The 2nd Friday Art Night shows Arkansas Artists, exhibitions of art work, including Education in the Japanese Internment Camps and features local musicians. Finding Family Facts is a monthly introductory class for anyone interested in genealogy. Teacher training in the use of historical documents is offered periodically over the year. Butler Center books publishes Arkansas history. Certified archivists process collections for public use.
Q2: What makes the Butler Center unique compared to other archives in Arkansas?
A2: The Butler Center is unique because of it’s relationship to the public library. The trust of the public is earned as the general public is introduced to the experience of researching and preserving historical information. The genealogy databases also allow patrons to understand the connection between history and family history. The knowledge of family allows the public to understand the ancestor that lived during the time of any historic period, connecting them personally to a specific time and place.
Q3: Tell us about some of the collections at the Center that those researching their family history, especially as it relates to Arkansas, might find particularly helpful.
A3: Arkansas Small Manuscripts contain items unique to specific areas of the state. Family collections include Utsey, Irvine, Thompson, Ledbetter, McRae, Miller-Rottaken, Cozart-Garner, with some dating to the territory of Arkansas
Q4: What collections are under researched or would the public be surprised to learn about?
A4: Newspaper clippings files contain evidence of communities no longer in existence, and biographical information of individuals who were community leaders. The Mountain Meadows Mass acre of 1857 includes families from Arkansas who died in Utah. The Elaine Race Riots offers insight into an Arkansas event that mirrored other events highlighting domestic violence during the time period of World War I. The Terrence Roberts papers are from an individual who integrated Central High School in 1957 and is one ninth of the Little Rock Nine.
Q5: What are some of the more popular collections utilized?
A5: Any collection with Civil War materials are used significantly. Personal letters by soldiers and their families are flashes of personalities for many researchers. Collections by the Daughters of American Revolution (DAR) and Daughters of American Confederacy(DAC) include details about communities. The Arkansas Genealogical Society has provided a fifteen volume set of books showing births in Arkansas prior to 1914. These include the child’s name, date and county of birth, and the mother’s maiden name.
Q6: Are there any indexes that aren’t digitized that researchers should be aware of?
A6: As with many organizations, digitizing is expensive, so the priority of digitized efforts may not be as inclusive as staff and patrons would like.
Q7: The Butler Center has a large oral history collection. How can researchers benefit from researching oral histories in addition to traditional written records?
A7: Oral histories allow researchers to have primary source documentation of events and descriptions of life events. It provides a tone allowing the listener to connect emotionally through the speaker’s voice. A word “spoken” dances differently on the ear than a word written.
Q8: If someone researching their Arkansas family history visited the Butler Center, what are the first three things you would advise them to do to ensure a productive visit?
A8: Know the name, location (county or town) of an ancestor. Understand the spelling of your surname may not appear as it does today, so knowing the family group (siblings, children, parents) will help verify you are tracking the right family.
Q9: How do you go about acquiring your collections? If someone had family papers or books that they wanted to donate, what is the process?
A9: Our collections are gifted by individuals, organizations and businesses. Contacting the Butler Center’s general public number (501) 320-5700 is where you will be directed the staff member best suited to handle your questions.
Q10: What educational opportunities do you offer for genealogists?
A10: Genealogists are encouraged to attend national and local genealogical events to stay abreast of new developments in the field. The Central Arkansas Library System also offers scholarships for advanced educational training.
Q11: How may family researchers support the Butler Center?
A11: Family researchers support the Butler Center by regular hours of research, assisting newcomers, donation of materials discovered and volunteering to work various events. A number would be fluid depending on the time of year.
Thanks again to Rhonda Stewart for her willingness to answer my many questions!
Please drop me a line if you visit the Butler Center and let me know about your experience!
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