Private Collections

Written by Faith Baxter, Digital Services Intern

Imagine playing a game of hide and seek and wandering into a room with over 3,000 private collections rarely seen by anyone except for you. Inside of the collections are inspiring stories about individuals, families, businesses, politicians, judges, and other influential people from North Carolina. These stories, filled with tremendous amounts of information, were just waiting to be discovered.  

The above narrative reminds me of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Although fictional, readers of all ages love Narnia because of the great collection of stories, characters, and truths that are meaningful to them. Just think of what you could discover once you take the first step!

The Private Collections (PCs) section of the State Archives has been keeping collections for over one hundred years, dating back to the 1700s. Included in the PCs are approximately 3,000 different collections composed of manuscripts, correspondence, family accolades, letters, diaries, photos, recordings, and financial and legal records. These materials are collected from a wide variety of individuals, families, and businesses from around the state and add to the rich culture and history of North Carolina.  

Fran Tracy-Walls

Fran Tracy-Walls is the Private Manuscripts Archivist and is the person responsible for managing North Carolina’s PCs. She is also the first contact when wanting to donate your collection. [or for those wanting to donate a collection.] Some of Fran’s favorite materials, from her years of collecting on behalf of the state, include personal letters, diaries, and account books. She particularly enjoys identifying the situational, physical, and cultural descriptors left by letter writers so that she can understand the context while reading. Fran loves finding scarce information that can help with genealogical research and gives a sense of the period or obstacles faced. She seeks papers that reflect experiences of North Carolinians whose heritage and lives are inadequately represented in our current holdings. Examples include African American, Native American, Hispanic, or Asian Pacific individuals or families.

The State Archives provides for, through legislation, not only the preservation of these materials, but also public access to them. The collections provide a unique story about North Carolina and its history and culture. There is a great deal of information given through these collections and there is a process by which these materials get accessioned and ready for public use. The digitization of these materials is harder to provide because of the large quantity of donated materials and a lack of funding. These collections are available to the public,  but they are required to be used in the Search Room where researchers are given full assistance by the wonderful reference staff.  

The PCs hold information that has been kept for generations but has not been published. Researchers and archivists find these materials to be interesting artifacts that can be used to teach different subjects. The Guide to Women’s Records gives a wide variety of information that includes but is not limited to, correspondence, private manuscript materials, women’s organization notes, account books, photographs, and government documents. While spending time updating the Guide, I have come across many remarkable private collections of phenomenal women.

Dr. Lavonia Allison (PC. 2049)

Dr. Lavonia Allison

Dr. Allison is a visionary whose inspiring story holds so much power, determination, and leadership. She donated her collection and it includes, Clippings, Correspondence, Memorandum, Yearbooks, Brochures, and Committee reports. Dr. Allison is widely known for her outstanding leadership in the political arena; and her commitment to the re-creation of a fair and just society in which all citizens can shape their own destiny through both the educational and political processes. She was a member of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, where she served in many capacities, including the chair, from 1998 to 2012. Dr. Allison has served on 60 boards and community/professional organizations in her lifetime and she adds so much to the culture and history of Durham.

Betty Ann Knudsen (PC. 1960)

Betty Ann Knudsen

Betty Ann Leonard Knudsen was a trailblazing female politician and community activist in Wake County, as well as an avid butterfly lover. She was the first female chair of the Wake County Board of Commissioners from 1976 to 1984. She served on numerous boards, councils, and associations at the state and local level since the 1970s. Knudsen paved the way for future female candidates by running for N.C. Secretary of State. She has been an active mentor to other women in politics and leadership positions. Her collection includes correspondence between Betty Ann Knudsen and various politicians on a political and personal level; correspondence related to the Royal Order of the Butterflies; her children’s book, DVD, and butterfly presentations; material reflecting her political and community action and involvement; and personal correspondence with family members and friends from the 1970s to the 2000s.

These are just a few of the collections. Just imagine what you might come across!

Contact Information:

Questions about the Women’s Record Guide:

Fran Tracy-Walls
Private Manuscripts Archivist, Special Collections
State Archives of North Carolina
(919) 814-6856