The Cumberland County Historical Society (CCHS) was founded as the Hamilton Library in 1874. Today, the Hamilton Library is the research library within CCHS. An earlier post discussed donating materials to CCHS. After the materials are processed and cataloged they are accessible to researchers using the collections. The goal with donations is not only to preserve the materials but to also make them available to researchers.
Who does research at CCHS?
There are currently four main groups of researchers that regularly use the Hamilton Library. Genealogists are the main group who use our library resources. As one of the fastest growing hobbies, genealogy is a popular research topic. If your family lived in Cumberland County, there is likely to be a record of them being here. Another resource we have available is Ancestry Library Edition. This tool is great for researchers who families are local but also for researchers who families are not from Cumberland County. CCHS will be having our first genealogy conference this fall. For more information, please visit www.cumberlandpathways.org. Another group is property researchers. These are people curious about their own properties, the historic properties of their ancestors, or a property that just interests them. This type of research will most likely also involve a trip to the Recorder of Deeds office in the New Cumberland County Courthouse. There researchers can do a deed trace for the names of the property owners for that specific property. Many of the records and images are tied to the owner of the property rather than an address. Third is what I call general research topics. This could be any topic within Cumberland County including: the Civil War, the Mully Grubb, the railroads, Pine Grove Furnace, etc. The topics are basically endless. The researchers can be any one from local students working on history projects, to local people with a general interest, to scholars. The last major research topic is both a history topic and genealogy topic is the Carlisle Indian Industrial School. CCHS works with researchers who are interested in the school but also descendants of those who were sent to Carlisle.
How do you use the library at CCHS? What is the difference between the Hamilton Library and a public library?
There are some differences that you will see with research libraries almost across the board. Unlike public libraries, researchers will be asked to secure their bags in a locker. Researchers will also be asked to not have food or beverage in the library and to only write with pencils or on a laptop or tablet. These rules are in place to help preserve the materials for as long as possible.
Another main difference is the focus of the libraries. We have a much narrower focus than a public library. Most our collection deals with things relating to Cumberland County. Historically, Cumberland County was much larger than its modern-day boundaries. There are some records for the areas that were once part of Cumberland County. For areas that are no longer within the county’s boundaries, it would be worth researching in both counties. Local government records are in the county it was part of at the time. For instance, the records like a will or tax rates, Cumberland County records before 1750 would be found within Lancaster County’s records. Also, we do not allow materials to be checked out to be taken home. All materials must be used within the library. Finally, the Hamilton Library like most archival library is “closed stacks.” This means that a library staff person or volunteer will need to pull the materials off the shelf for the researcher.
The library is free for students and members of CCHS, for non-members there is a $5 charge per day. If you are a member of the Cumberland County Library System, you can check out a CCHS pass that will allow you to use the Hamilton Library for free. This pass is available from all of the library branches within the Cumberland County Library System.
Research can be a collaborative effort. The staff at CCHS works with people who have never stepped into an archival library and people who have been conducting research for years. We are here to help people with their research. Collaboration can be between the researcher and the staff but also between different institutions. A researcher may come to CCHS but also need to go to another county’s historical society or another genealogical society, local government facility, or museum association within Cumberland County.
One last take away for conducting archival research. If you are started doing research online, that is a great place to start but not all records from any research library are online. There are going to be many amazing documents and materials housed in archival libraries that cannot be seen if you do not reach out to that research library. Do not limit your research to just what can be found on the internet.
Cara Curtis, Archives & Library Manager