Tag Archives: coastal history

Processing the Bill Harris Papers

[This post was written by Taylor Wolford, a summer intern at the Outer Banks History Center.]

When I began working at the Outer Banks History Center, I was familiar with the name Bill Harris. In 2014, I was a high school student and budding historian in Dayton, Ohio researching the history of flight. My history teacher suggested that I contact local historians in North Carolina to expand the scope of my research. I researched local historians to contact, including Bill Harris, as word had gotten out among researchers regarding his extensive collection of local photographs, oral histories, and documents.

As a graduate student in Archives and Records Management, I am now processing the Bill Harris Papers at the Outer Banks History Center for future researchers. My internship involves processing the collection according to current archival standards and creating a descriptive online finding aid for the collection.

In order to process the collection, I developed groupings, known as series, for the organization of the documents. A notable series in this collection is the Wright Brothers First Flight, which is beneficial for researchers interested in a variety of related topics, including the construction of the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the Anniversary of the First Flight, and the First Flight Shrine. Bill worked for the Wright Brothers National Memorial as an expert on local history, and documents throughout the collection showcase his work with the National Park Service and First Flight Society. Additional topics covered by the collection include Dare County, N.C. and the U.S. Lifesaving Service Stations.

Bill Harris (right) at the Wright Brothers National Memorial for the unveiling of the Barnaby Plaque on December 17, 1963. The plaque was a gift from the Soaring Society of America.

Perhaps the most impressive series, however, is Local Genealogy. This series contains a large number of oral histories, documents, and photographs that highlight the juxtaposition of an evolving yet deeply rooted Outer Banks community. The Local Genealogy series poses the most difficulties in terms of organization, for local families often intermarried until it was challenging to separate the Baums from the Harrises. As locals tend to say, “Genealogy in the Outer Banks is not a tree, but a vine.” For those interested in researching family histories in the area, the collection provides many opportunities to answer questions and delve deeper into the familial vines that constitute the Outer Banks community.

After two months processing these documents, I can verify that this collection extends far beyond my initial research in aviation history. Bill spent his entire lifetime immersed in the unique culture of the Outer Banks, and the collection certainly reflects his knowledge of the area. As the collection covers a wide range of topics and geographic regions, I am confident that it will continue to contribute to the research community long after it is properly stored in boxes and folders.

Members of Bill Harris’s family explore his newly processed collection with Taylor’s help, July 2018.

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