Tag Archives: staff profiles

Staff Profile — Alex Christopher (Chris) Meekins

Continuing our staff profile series, we present Alex Christopher (Chris) Meekins, correspondence archivist in the Collection Services Section.

Describe your current job at the State Archives.

The main aspect of my job is managing the correspondence unit and answering patron inquiries from across North Carolina, the United States and internationally.  From genealogical queries to questions from history students and professors, the correspondence unit handles the bulk of connecting off-site patrons with the collection.  Correspondence is part of Public Services in the Collection Services Section and as a member of that team I also work the main reference desk assisting on-site patrons in connecting to the collection.

What project(s) are currently working on?

I have a number of projects that are ongoing – most recently I am completing a research project and subject finding aid for US Joint Resolutions (sent as amendments to the Constitution) in the Archives holdings – there have been 27 amendments and 6 additional proposed Joint Resolutions.  It’s been interesting tracking those down and learning more about the amendment process.

How long have you worked at the State Archives?

I started work on January 1, 2001 – a holiday!  I will have a dozen years in at the Archives in December which will also mark the end of my 25th year as a State employee. Prior to being the Correspondence archivist I was in the Public Services reference staff and was the person who managed the microfilm room.

Are you involved in any committees, special projects, DCR-wide programs, or professional organizations?

I am the symposium chairperson for the DCR Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee and am currently planning the Freedom Symposium which will be held in October 2013 at our co-host’s facilities in Winston-Salem. I am also on the State Archives Civil War Sesquicentennial committee contributing blog posts and speaking at some of our 2nd Mondays quarterly talks.  I am also part of a DCR team working on a publication with a working title of “Witness to War” – concept architecture/Civil War cross-over.

Describe your educational or career background prior to working here.

I finished my undergraduate degree as a returning student at North Carolina State University.  Originally an engineering major I transferred to History as a means to an end – a four year degree.  Luckily I ran into a few professors who made me understand that History could be more than a means to end – it could be an end unto itself.  After successfully completing my undergraduate degree I went to graduate school at NCSU in History and minored in Public History with an archives concentration.  I finished classwork in December 2000 and wrote my thesis that summer and defended that fall.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

Working with the public is always the most rewarding part of my job – whether it is helping an historian track down a particular letter or diary or helping a genealogist find their ancestor’s will or other record.  Connecting people with information is just a rush!  I also enjoy speaking to groups about the Archives’ collections.

What skills or traits do you think are needed to be successful at your job?

Adaptability is a key skill when working reference either in person or through correspondence.  As a staff member you must be able to switch gears seamlessly from working in Proprietary era documents to 20th century materials.  One moment you are discussing the War of Jenkins Ear with a researcher and the next you are trying to find a World War II service record.  A good dose of humility never hurts either.

Is there an aspect of your job that you never thought you would end up doing?

They never mentioned photocopying in grad school!

What work-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am proud of my work with the Archives Civil War 150th committee.  I am also proud of my correspondence team – they do a bang up job day in and day out and always with a smile on their faces.

Have you received any specialized training, certifications, awards, or recognitions?

I have completed several supervisory workshop training classes and have recently completed the three year supervisor section of the DCR initiative to train future leaders in DCR (Leadership Development Program).  My LDP group is the third group to complete the training.  I have also had some advanced history training beyond my master’s degree.

What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve come across in a collection?

It really is hard to say as there are many fascinating things in the Archives records.  I guess tops would be the thing I found while processing in some Pasquotank County miscellaneous records.  In the court material I found a packet of documents about a murder case.  The packet was sealed in 1866 and had not been opened.  Opening the packet, removing the string and paper, I came across a piece of cloth.  Turned out that the piece of cloth was a mask with eye holes and a tie-string found near the murder victim.  Wow, just wow!

Do you have a favorite collection or set of records?

I find the coroner’s inquest materials and the slave and free person of color papers to be interesting.  Inquests can have all manner of interviews of people who were in the area of the dead body, etc.  Often they give details of the social events of the period and so can be a window for social historians to use.  The same for the series of papers that deal with slaves and free persons of color – the material is rich with social information.

What’s the most challenging reference question you’ve been asked?

Without a doubt it was a question associated with North Carolina’s declaration of secession – the Secession Ordinance.  The document is not in the collection – I had to try and determine if it ever existed.  I matched newspaper accounts with materials in the collection about the special convention held to secede.  It was a difficult assignment but it taught me any number of good lessons.  Although other resolutions from that convention are in the Archives holdings, the original Session Ordinance is not (although a record copy is).

What would you want people to know about our collections or services that may not be widely known?

We have a new online portal that allows out-of-state patrons to request materials and pay invoices electronically.  It is still new but people are getting used to the service and taking advantage of it more and more.  It saves the Archives postage and shaves time off the response time for inquiries – a win-win if ever there was one.

Do you have any special memories or anecdotes about working here?

When I first started working here in 2001 there were a group of dedicated temporary employees who worked on Saturdays.  One of those told me, in response to my asking her to turn on the stacks lights, that she would be glad to do the first two levels but that she did not go on the third level by herself.  She was sure one or more haints lived on that floor.  Every now and then, when I am opening or closing the stacks and get to the third level  the hair on my arms will stand straight up and goose-bumps pop-up all over.  I think back to what that temporary employee told me and I just say – “it’s just me” and “goodnight” or “good morning,” as the case may be.

chris_meekins

Staff Profile — Fran Tracy-Walls

Next in our staff profile series is Fran Tracy-Walls, Private Manuscripts Archivist in the Special Collections Section.

Tell us a little about your job.

My position has existed since 1907 when our General Assembly gave the Historical Commission (later the State Archives) a mandate to acquire and preserve the documentary heritage of North Carolina, including private papers. Dating from the 17th to the 21st centuries, materials here include letters, diaries, speeches, poems, photographs, family and business financial records, and much more, and serve to supplement and add a rich human and cultural dimension to public and governmental records. I develop and build these holdings by cultivating connections, reaching out to potential donors, and responding to inquiries. I handle the formalities of contracts so that the Archives has legal custody of holdings for which I am responsible; and I arrange and describe new sets of papers and collections and also those unarranged groups of manuscripts from the past, using  the available high and low-tech  tools of the trade to create finding aids and provide searchable index terms. Currently I supervise two highly qualified interns paid by the Frances H. Wynne Endowment, N.C. Genealogical Society.  As time allows, I create promotional materials and guides to raise awareness and assist in explaining to visitors, potential donors, and interns and volunteers what private papers are; how to care for them; and how to arrange them for long-term preservation and access; why they are important to N.C. citizens, students and others.

How long have you worked for the State Archives?

I was hired in June of 1991 as an Archivist for state agencies, with main tasks being to arrange and describe state agency records groups and series, and to research and write histories of agencies departments and commissions for the Archives first guide to state agency records, published in 1995. In 1996 I was hired by the Research & Development Unit, of the then N.C. Division of Archives & History. As a Digital Archivist, I supported the division’s research and development functions in the areas of electronic records and legal aspects of public records and performed a portion of the division’s website design and implementation. I later became an Access Archivist for Special Collections in the N.C. Archives & Records Section. My assignments included digitizing, encoding, and indexing legacy finding aids in private manuscripts; writing and putting together the web pages (a first)  for the components of the then Special Collections Branch; and building holdings and  arranging  and describing  Organization Records. In 2008 I was hired as Private Manuscripts Archivist.

Are you involved in any committees, DCR-wide programs, or professional organizations?

I serve on the Section’s Finding Aids Committee and the Backlog Committee. I have been singing since 2008 with the N.C. Dept. of Cultural Resources (NCDCR) EEO Diversity Choir.  Since 2010 I have sung soprano with the N.C. Master Chorale, which performs each year with the N.C. Symphony, under the umbrella of NCDCR. In the past my memberships and positions have included newsletter editor  and  member-at-large representative on the board of the Society of North Carolina Archivists, and  member and recording secretary of the former Div. of Archives & History Electronic Records Task Force.  In 1990 after earning my last graduate degree I was elected to Beta Phi Mu, an international library science honorary society.

Describe your educational or career background prior to working here.

My educational background includes:  Converse College, Spartanburg, S.C., liberal arts degree with majors  in history and English; University of N.C., Chapel Hill, Master of Arts in history; University of S.C., Columbia, Master of Library and Information Science, with concentration in archives.  As student at U.S.C., I was awarded a one-year fellowship in the Manuscripts Division of the South Caroliniana Library and subsequently worked in a special research project at the S.C. Dept. of Archives and History. Before that, career highlights consist of teaching history, some of them advanced placement courses at a high school in Tallahassee, Fla.; serving as planning specialist and grants writer for a Georgia and South Carolina regional Economic Opportunity Authority, Inc.; running a small business; and working as a free-lance photographer, journalist, and researcher.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

I love the opportunity to learn so much each day and to believe that I am contributing to our state’s rich cultural legacy.  Working with the private manuscripts, especially  letters, diaries, and the like, gives me insight into a wide range of fascinating people and the times and circumstances in which they lived. I relish interactions with many professionals in this department, yet I also cherish the experience of working with many college, graduate school, and post-graduate interns and volunteers who have come under my direction for the last ten  or so years.

What skills or traits do you think are needed to be successful at your job?

Many skills and traits are needed, including love of history and culture, coupled with the ability to effectively work with a variety of people; and the possession of broad and deep interdisciplinary thinking and training, plus curiosity, inquisitiveness, creativity, patience, sense of humor, flexibility, and much more.

Is there an aspect of your job that you never thought you would end up doing?

I never expected to bring a pliers and a crowbar from home so I could rescue photographs that come as a part of various private collections (many are encased in acidic papers, mats and wooden frames loaded with lignin, rusty hardware, and the like).  This was the opposite action from my past days as a free-lance photographer when I cut mats and assembled frames for my shows and exhibits.

What work-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

To narrow down to one specific accomplishment, I will name the processing and describing of the Theodore and Barbara Dreier Black Mountain Collection (PC.1956). Though this experimental college in the North Carolina mountains was of relatively short duration, 1933-1956, it drew many influential figures of national and international significance including artists and scientists escaping from Nazi Germany. The college sought a balance of academics, arts, creative thinking, and even physical labor, and had a profound impact on the region (eventually), and almost immediately on many 20th century artists and thinkers of national statue. It was an honor and challenge to work with papers of one of the college founders, Ted Dreier, and his wife who had an extraordinary circle of family, friends, and colleagues.  To meet a strict deadline and have the finding aid available online, I sought and received help from my colleagues, and even the labor and moral support from my wonderful husband. Yet I did the bulk of the work of this 82-box collection and somehow stayed sane while encoding a finding aid composed of seventeen sections that printed out to some six-hundred and thirteen pages.

Have you received any specialized training, certifications, awards, or recognitions?

I was elected through examination to Academy of Certified Archivists, 2000, and I am a graduate of Dept. of Cultural Resources Leadership Class, 2008-2010, and recognized as the only class member with perfect attendance (brought back grammar school memories).  My specialized training has been primarily in database design, workshops in encoding finding aids in EAD and Archivist’s Toolkit, and more recently, webinars on various technical and other subjects including the use of social media.

What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve come across in a collection?

There are so many, but I will mention two handmade leather saddle bags (for a horse) filled with folded papers such  writs of execution, notes of debt, receipts, and summonses from a constable of  McDowell County, James McNeely (circa 1813-1887), PC.1906. The bags were customized to accommodate the sizes and types of documents.  McNeely’s papers also contain business correspondence and accounts from his businesses, a tavern, and general merchandise store. Just looking at those saddle bags conjures up images of McNeely on his horse traveling through the hills of that gorgeous, semi-wild county during the 1840s and 1850s–sometimes delivering bad news to constituents. Then I imagine McNeely stopping off at his or another tavern for home or forest-brewed libations, carefully removing his traveling filing cabinet, and prudently taking them inside. If only those two bags could talk.

Do you have a favorite collection or set of records?

I am enthusiastic about almost all of the private collections. If pressed, I will say that I have a soft spot for the sets of papers that offer rich insights into those who were left out or given scant acknowledgement in history books during the last century and before, namely women and minorities.  I love the diaries of women and girls that are part of various collections, especially those of the 19th century when most women did not benefit from an education; and I am gratified to notice and record all slave vital records, and other slave documents that give researchers clues that are often missing from public records. Two examples of diaries are the Margaret Eliza Cotten Journal, 1853-1854, PC.1977; and the recently received Ann Hudson Woodhull Diary. ca. 1846-1847, in the Dimock, Dickson, Arrowood Family Papers, PC.2065. Slaves records can be found in these examples of collections arranged or almost completed and/or revised in the last year: the George White Collection, PC.1979; Cuthbertson and McCollum Family Papers, PC.1961; Virginia Pou Doughton Papers, PC.1981; Hewitt A. Brown Collection, PC.2042; Zimmerman Family Papers, PC.2056;  Eleanor Troy Pippinger Collection, PC.2060; Matthew and Margaret Byrne Account Book, 1761-1864, Account Book, 76. There are many more and I continue to seek additions.

What’s the most challenging reference question you’ve been asked?

For a number of years I was on call for Black Mountain College-related reference questions (before the college-related collections were moved to the Regional Western Office in 2012). Many were fascinating, including one from a professor of philosophy and religious studies who wanted to know  elements of Zen Buddhism that were said to emerge  in what was later called the first “happening” in U.S. cultural history: also known as Theater Piece No 1 organized by John Cage at Black Mountain College in 1952. I poured through everything BMC-related in the State Archives, including later interviews with those who were there. He was grateful for the careful and helpful work and saw possibilities, but realized (as I had hoped) that he would eventually have to come to the Archives.

What would you want people to know about our collections or services that may not be widely known?

Including Accounts Books, our Private Collections number almost three thousand different collections. Many contain multiple boxes and/or volumes, adding up to thousands of containers.  These provide important resources for understanding North Carolina’s deep and wide cultural heritage, but they also supplement the wide array of public records preserved in the State Archives and in many cases fill in gaps when public records were destroyed or otherwise lost in the counties through fire and other calamities.  Additionally, Private Collections have provided documentation for genealogical quests, and will long continue as a family, social, cultural, and economic history gold mine.

Do you have any special memories or anecdotes about working here?

I have gained enormously from outstanding colleagues/supervisors, but looking back I think I benefited in a particular way from the vast knowledge, kindness, humor of the late George Stevenson.  I can say the same, on a somewhat different plane for a shorter term, of my experience with Mary Emma Harris, of the Black Mountain College Project, NYC. I worked with her from 2008 to 2010 when she was the consultant for the Theodore and Barbara Dreier Black Mountain College Collection project (PC.1956).  In addition to history, we had much in common, such as love of art, music, and a green salad for lunch finished off with an overflowing bowl of banana pudding.

Staff Profile — James Sorrell

Next in our series of staff profiles is James Sorrell.

Tell us a little about your job.

I am presently chief of the Special Collections Section, and I directly supervise a staff of six (there are 10 1/2 positions in the section) at three locations – the State Archives in Raleigh, the Western Regional Archives, and the Outer Banks History Center in Manteo.  The Special Collections Section is tasked with the collection, arrangement and description, and reference (at the WRA and OBHC) of all non-government records and materials in the Division of Archives and Records.

How long have you worked at the State Archives?

I have been a permanent full time employee at the State Archives for 34+ years.  Prior to that I worked as a college intern in the photograph collection for two summers and part-time in the Search Room in graduate school. My first position as a full time employee in 1979 was as a reference archivist in the Archives Search Room.  I then worked in arrangement and description of both county and state agency records for about two years.  After that I was correspondence archivist for six years, then Archives registrar for twelve years. In 2002, I was appointed as head of the Archival Description Unit which later became the Special Collections Branch, and now the Special Collections Section.

Describe your educational or career background prior to working here.

I have a BA (1978) and a MA (1981) in history from North Carolina State University.  I came to work at the State Archives right out of college.  The only other job I’ve ever had was working in the drug store in my hometown in high school.

Are you involved in any professional organizations?

Charter member of SNCA [Society of North Carolina Archivists]; served on the SNCA executive board as secretary/treasurer and, when that position was divided into a treasurer and secretary, as treasurer; also served on the publications committee.

What project(s) have you completed recently or what are you currently working on?

I have recently completed the reclassification and description and indexing in MARS of the Archives map collection.  I am currently editing and providing more robust descriptions of the map entries in MARS.

What aspects of your job do you enjoy the most?

I still enjoy simply being around and handling the archival materials housed here.  That has never gotten old.  I can also say that I have always been well treated by my supervisors and other staff members here.

What skills or traits do you think are needed to be successful at your job?

Patience, ability to motivate people, attention to detail, multi-tasking, and, increasingly, technology.

Is there an aspect of your job that you never thought you would end up doing?

Supervising the OBHC and the WRA.

What work-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

Completing the map collection after 30+ years of starts and stops on that project.  I’m also very proud of the reference work I did, both behind the Search Room desk and as correspondence archivist, and of the skills I acquired while doing it.

What’s the most interesting or unusual thing you’ve come across in a collection?

That’s hard to say.  I’ve touched most everything here at one time or other.

Do you have a favorite collection or set of records?

The maps drawn by Robert Brazier from surveys he conducted as part of an effort to improve the state’s transportation system in the early 1800s by building a system of roads and canals.  These are really works of art as well as being important one of a kind records.  I’ve also always been fond of the Tomato Club booklets in the Jane McKimmon Papers (PC.234).  These are creative, and I like the idea behind them that McKimmon was trying to instill in these young farm women at the turn of the last century that they needed to find a way to make money on their own to give them a measure of economic independence.

What would you want people to know about our collections or services that may not be widely known?

That we are a lot more than a place to do genealogy.  We preserve the records that protect the rights and property of the citizens of North Carolina and that these records help to preserve transparency in state government.

Staff Profile — Heather South

We are starting a new series on our blog to introduce our readers to some of the staff at the Archives. The Division of Archives and Records has around 70 fulltime positions in addition to numerous interns and volunteers. Our staff is organized into four sections: Collection Services, Digital Services, Government Records, and Special Collections, and  performs a wide variety of duties and services. Here is your chance to get acquainted with some of our staff and learn more about what we do.

First up is Heather South. Heather is the archivist at the Western Regional Archives (WRA) in Asheville.

Tell us a little about your job.

I serve as the sole employee running the newest branch for the State Archives.  I work with patrons, donors, process collections, do outreach and training, supervise volunteers and interns, write finding aids and promote and collect Western Regional history.

How long have you worked for the Division?

I’ve worked with the State Archives of North Carolina for a year, opening the WRA in August 2012.

Describe your educational or career background.

I have a BA in History and Political Science and an MA in History from Winthrop University in Rock Hilll, SC.  I fell in love with archives while completing an intership at the University Special Collections and never stopped working with history.  After school I became the research archivist for the York County Culture and Heritage Museums and then moved the South Carolina State Archives as Preservation Officer.

Have you received any specialized training, certifications, awards, or recognitions?

Certified Archivist, AIC- Cultural Emergency Responder, IPER instructor, Archivist of the Year in SC 2010

What skills or traits do you think are needed to be successful at your job?

Well I lovingly call it schizophrenic project management- a little here and there and it eventually all gets done.  Really, being flexible is probably the number one trait that makes me successful.  With so many items being juggled, from projects to reports, requests to processing- being flexible helps make me better able to manage my time and tasks.  It also helps to have a sense of humor.  I fully embrace and acknowledge my history geekness and by doing so, make it fun to work here, fun for researchers, and fun for volunteers.

Are you involved in any professional organizations?

I am a member of Academy of Certified Archivists (ACA), Society of North Carolina Archivists (SNCA), South Carolina Archival Association (SCAA), Museums in Partnership, Mountain Area Cultural Resources Emergency Network (MACREN), Western North Carolina Historical Association (WNCHA) Palmetto Archives Libraries and Museums Council on Preservation (PALMCOP), and the American Institute of Conservation- Cultural Emergency Response Team (AIC-CERT)

Do you have a favorite collection or set of records?

I’ve fallen in love with the Black Mountain College Collections.  While the school was short-lived, the set-up, the people, and the philosophy make for some interesting stories and ideas. With researchers from around the world using the materials, there are always new discoveries and connections being made that leave me in awe.

What’s the most unusual thing you’ve come across in a collection?

Not here, but in a previous job we were working to unfold court cases and we discovered some evidence.  Occasionally I would find a swatch a material for someone who had stolen fabric from a store but this time it was blood and brain matter folded up and labeled inside the case from a murder trial.  GROSS!

What project(s) do you have coming up?

The WRA has several projects in the works but the biggest one coming up is cleaning and cataloging the American Enka Textile Mill Collection.  This donation consists of over 500 original drawings, blueprints, and plans for the plant, the mill village, as well as some of their machinery and processes.

What aspect of your job do you enjoy the most?

The opportunity to share information with such a diverse group of people.

What’s the most challenging reference question you’ve been asked?

Since I am new to NC history, all reference questions are challenging.  I have a whole new state to learn about so I welcome the questions.

Is there an aspect of your job that you never thought you would end up doing?

Plumbing- we have a sink that constantly gets blocked with sediment so I have to tinker with it and empty out the filter on the spigot.

What work-related accomplishment are you most proud of?

Opening a brand new branch! It took a lot of hard work and dedication but the WRA continues to grow.  Our use figures have been phenomenal considering we are brand new and it makes me proud to say I had a part in making it so successful.

What would you want people to know about our collections or services that may not be widely known?

Our collections are a big draw for historical tourism!  The WRA has already seen visitors from California to Florida, France, Germany, the UK and Canada.

Do you have any special memories or anecdotes about working here?

Every day is a new adventure but having the black bears hanging out in the archives parking lot has to be one of the most interesting so far!

Heather (center) with Becky McGee-Lankford and Sarah Koonts at the opening of the Western Regional Archives.

Heather South (center) with Government Records Section Head Becky McGee-Lankford (left) and State Archivist Sarah Koonts (right) at the opening of the Western Regional Archives.