Ideally, with a moment’s thought or a few pokes at the computer, we should be able to tell you anything or everything that is in our museum and our collections. We are not able to do quite that well. If anyone reading this can achieve that level of efficiency, we are hiring. As it is, from time to time, it is smart to do an inventory. That is considered good practice for any museum, just as it is for any business. Things get set aside, neglected, forgotten, covered over, lost. Volunteer, John Collins, and I have been doing inventories of mainly archival items stashed in odd locations around the Hall House. Hidden from view, in a successor’s office, we found a tasteful brass and walnut plaque stating: THIS READING ROOM IS DEDICATED IN MEMORY OF EDNA INGHAM, FIRST FENTON HISTORICAL SOCIETY GENEALOGIST. The plaque is not a document in the conventional sense. Nor is it an artifact we would normally accession. Ironically, I have not even found Mrs. Ingham’s death date, although I did find the year she retired, 1976.
The reading room in the Fenton Mansion that is mentioned on the plaque was opened in 1980 (after Mrs. Ingham’s retirement) and was closed in January, 2013 when the library was moved to the Hall House. That room is now the gift shop. The original library was in room 116 of the mansion, which currently serves as a meeting and event room. It was opened July 25, 1967, the first public room opened in the new Fenton History Center (not yet so called). Following the 2013 move there didn’t seem to be any appropriate place for the plaque. It was moved over with the library books and was set aside.
Given our small staff, both now and in the past, library, archives, and research have always worked together and sometimes overlapped. I remember Edna and will refer to her by first name from here on. She was a tremendous force in getting Fenton going, especially in those three fields: library, archives, and research. Edna was DAR, Daughters of the American Revolution, as DAR as you can get. She had served and promoted that organization for many years before Fenton formed. It was in that capacity as early as the 1940’s that she was out in the weeds in obscure locations locating and transcribing the stones in forgotten and neglected cemeteries. Fortunately, her efforts in that direction were distilled into a series of articles in the Post-Journal now compiled in a binder on a library shelf here as well as transcribed on-line at Chautauqua Genweb.
A November 6, 1976 Post-Journal clipping by Molly Judge, in our files, gives some background on Edna.
“Mrs. Ingham became interested in genealogy as a young girl. “My grandfather gave me a list of my ancestors and told me to write a book about our family. I did. I finished it 25 years later in the 1940’s. … In 1920, Mrs. Ingham joined the Penn Elk Chapter of the DAR in Ridgeway, Pa. She became a member of the Jamestown chapter in 1926.”
Edna retired before computers, let alone the internet, became a factor here at Fenton or for genealogy in general. She operated by old school methods, visiting libraries, local government and church offices, and writing letters that went via U. S. Mail. That plus getting out and finding those old cemeteries.
We can never adequately repay the memory of such pioneers of our institution, the people who provided the strong platform on which we build our own research and conduct our own efforts.
I could not write an article such as this without mentioning the other legendary local genealogist of that generation: Helen Traver Anderson. We still rely strongly on the accomplishments of these two women. Helen was an unforgettable character with a wrinkled skin and raspy voice from heavy cigarette smoking – which in those days was done in libraries and museums as well as just about every place else. Helen never aspired to nor achieved a Miss Congeniality award, but she was honest, generous, and helpful to me and many others starting on a path of genealogy and history in those days.