by Janet Curley
During the last 6 months, I have focused my energy on exploring areas in my life that, while working, I did not have time to pursue. The primary venture has been my interest in genealogy. This blog, a suggestion from my career coach, has been one manifestation of this effort and one which I have thoroughly enjoyed as it brings in my love of writing as well. Another activity has been volunteering at the Holyoke Public Library’s Holyoke History Room. The public library itself is going through major renovations downtown (due to be finished this fall and promises to be quite a positive venture for the city), so the greater part of the library’s collection has been moved to the Holyoke City Hall. But the History Room has been living at the Holyoke Community College Library and that is where I have been volunteering two days a week since March.
If you love genealogy and have the time, I recommend getting involved in your local library, especially if it is in the city or town where your family settled. Even if it isn’t, the benefits of learning about history from the point of view of the patrons is invaluable. I have posted before that I had little involvement with my hometown. I feel I have some catching up to do as a Holyoker. It has been really interesting researching questions from patrons in areas that I never would have explored. The research fills out my understanding of the city’s history. Not only that, but the History Room has wonderful archival collections from the city. There are amazing 19th century photographs, scrapbooks, donated items from family collections, and local histories written by native Holyokers. The History Room’s archivist who is not from Holyoke, knows more about the city than I do and is teaching me a great deal.
While there, as a volunteer, I help to preserve old books by placing them in archival boxing. As I take each book, I marvel at the information inside each one. Sometimes I slow my pace to carefully peruse the contents. I learn something new every time. I take questions from visitors and try to help them find resources. Then I watch them have the same awe at touching history as I do. Yesterday, someone asked for a picture of a train station in Holyoke. Seems mundane enough… The picture that was found was a stunning picture taken in 1881 oriented from a high point in the Flats straight up Dwight Street towards the City Hall. If you looked carefully, you could see several horse and buggys parked on the streets. The streets were not yet paved and the sidewalks appeared to be wooden. No pedestrians…and I am told that pictures of city streets often looked deserted because the people were moving and the cameras of the day could not capture them due to the longer exposure, so people in the picture “disappear”. Fascinating…I love this stuff. I never would have asked for a picture of a train station…but I am glad someone else did so I could see my hometown from high above Dwight Street and how the city looked when my great grandfather travelled through it.