One Day in the Life of the Fenton History Center Research Center and Museum

And who thinks that working at a local history museum and research center is not exciting?  Those of us at the Fenton History Center Museum and Research Center, either as staff members or as volunteers never know what may “walk through the door” or what question may be asked on the phone, in person, or by email and social media.

Recently at the Hall House, in one day, we: received a donation of dolls and locally made doll furniture; answered questions about the Cardiff Giant being in Jamestown; wondered about a caller’s question about a whale being on exhibit at Celoron Park in 1896; accepted donations of Civil War discharges and commissions and a scrapbook about the local 112th New York Volunteer Regiment in the Civil War; worked on research of local families; had instruction on using one of the genealogical databases available here; checked on some of the Italian genealogies collected at the Pizza Challenge; helped a researcher; taught second graders about immigration; installed needed software on some computers; organized items to be stored; worked on exhibit preparation; researched a Civil War soldier; created a flow chart of what happens with donations in the museum processing; accepted a donation of various books and photographs for the collection; numbered photographs before added them to the photo collection files. That happened at the Research Center in the Hall House.

The dolls were over 100 years old and show signs of having been played with The carriage, chair, and sleigh are in various degrees of deterioration, but fine examples from the time. The Cardiff Giant is a hoax dating back to 1869 which created quite a stir at the time and many references to, and copies of, are known to have appeared over the years. The hoax was exhibited in Jamestown in January 1870.

The question about the whale raised an eyebrow or two but a search on produced stories about just such an occurrence at Celoron in 1896. The person who called was from San Diego and worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A one line reference in a 1904 publication was what spurred the call. NOAA thinks that this may refer to a subspecies that is relatively unknown. He called back after a few minutes and was thrilled to have found the stories in the Jamestown newspaper on the website. (Always nice to hear that we have been able to help someone in their research.)

  Regiment of New York Volunteers in the Civil War was mostly composed of men from Chautauqua County so anything about them is of interest to us. A number of researchers from the area and from the rest of the country, and even a few from other countries, visit to research earlier residents of the area. Since we are here to help visitors, either in person or by long distance, we have to be able to use some of the tools available at the research center. Some staff are familiar with these tools and we each share our knowledge with the volunteers and other staff so that all are able to help researchers when they are here.

Meanwhile at the mansion the administrative and education activities were addressed along with the routine of turning on lights and such to open the museum for visitors, answering phone calls, greeting visitors and introducing them to the Fenton family and Jamestown plus the usual administrative work of writing reports, looking for funding sources, running the museum shop, and processing memberships plus someone has to sweep the floors and clean the toilets in both places. Not everyone did everything but we all have our specialties and certain jobs to do and help out where needed since we are a small staff with great volunteers.

The mission of the Fenton History Center is to collect, conserve and share our local history As you have read above, we are collecting and conserving every day.Sharing our history happens through the exhibits in the museum, through the volumes, manuscripts, databases and special collections at the Hall House Research Center Another way we share is through community events. The Pizza Challenge is one such eventThe Pizza Challenge provided a place for the Italian community to share some of the family trees and information about the immigrant generation. The information collected is being added to our files about Jamestown families. Our education department has developed classroom instruction units that meet standards required to be taught in the different grades using local history and documents. Second grade students study immigration. Our museum teachers provide documents and instruction about some of the local residents and their immigration stories.

Software and computers are all part of the equipment we use to advance our daily activities and these have to be kept up-to-date.  Then there are standard and accepted practices to follow to accomplish the work that must be done in the museum field. We don’t just accept “stuff” from donors and “stick” it on a shelf. We need to be able to keep track of who has donated what, and to store it under proper conditions, and be able to retrieve it for study or for use in an exhibit. Any added information from the donor is recorded in the records. This information can be stories about the people who used/owned the item or more about the manufacturing and use of the item. Each artifact is given a number so that the item can be tracked, stored, and retrieved. The number has to be added to the item in a prescribed way. The storage location is recorded for each item and then it can be retrieved along with the information about it.

And the normal operating of the museum and research center continues from day to day along with the surprises that “walk through the door” and the questions that get asked. We seldom have an uneventful and quiet day!

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