My first trip to the Southern Historical Collection at UNC

This weekend I visited the Southern Historical Collection located on the 4th floor of the Wilson Library at UNC.  I checked out a box from the William S. Powell Papers. This was my first visit to the Collection library. I was allowed to bring my laptop and digital camera in, but had to use the loose leaf paper and pencils they provided to me. They do not provide photocopying services, and if I had not had digital camera, I would have been able to check one of theirs out for free. The only two conditions to using digital cameras were 1) I cannot use a flash and 2) I had to sign a form that said I would not reproduce any images I photographed without the written permission from the Southern Historical Collection.

The purpose of my trip was to find the research notes of William S. Powell that he used in writing his book, “When the Past Refused to Die: The History of Caswell Count, North Carolina.” On page 71, he mentioned my ancestor, “Colonel Henry Williams” as a Revolutionary War soldier and I would like to know what source Powell used to indicate that my ancestor was a Colonel or that he was a Revolutionary War soldier. I have blogged previously here and here that I can’t find any other documentation that he was a Colonel or participated in the Revolutionary War.

The box I reviewed had 5 folders in it which were not named or numbered. As I took a folder out, I had to insert a placeholder in its place. The first folder had printed pages from the book with some corrections Powell made. The 2nd and 3rd folder had correspondence Powell had with his publisher, the Caswell County Historical Association members, and Caswell County residents, just to name a few.  I found a few index cards with notations made of other collections titles that Powell reviewed (although he did not list the repository – whether they were contained in the Southern Historical Collection, the Duke Manuscripts, or North Carolina State Archives, for example), but no reference to any Revolutionary War Records.

In one of his letters to his publisher, Powell mentioned that he had indexed every name and place title he found in each record he reviewed on index cards. These cards were not included with these materials. Maybe he sent these cards to his publisher?

I learned a lot about writing a North Carolina history book from reading Powell’s correspondence.  I learned about the administrative practices of securing an agreement with a publisher and securing funds. I learned about feasibility and finding enough subject material to write about. I learned about how to get the county residents involved and soliciting submissions for historical essays on the history of places like churches, mills, houses, and schools.  I also found in his papers a guide that was written about how to write a county history including a list of subject matter and outline material!  I also saw some correspondence Powell had with people who disagreed with the information he wrote about their ancestors. This gave me great insight into what it would be like to write a historical book, which is something I would like to do someday!

So all in all, my trip was good. I would love to do more research in the Southern Historical Collection. I found their online finding aids to be very information and specific enough to determine if a collection is what I am looking for. Although I did not find exactly what I was looking for, I will not lose hope.


One Response

  1. great that they let you bring in a digital camera. i too hope you one day find what you’re looking for.

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