General Lafayette's Hdqtrs. in Birmingham Twp. on Brandywine Battlefield when it was still a farm. c.1915
The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
local historical societies
Every local historical society is different in how they look, what they have and how it is organized. But what they do and how they handle visitors differs greatly from group to group. I'm not going to name any groups but do want to give some samples.
I obtained some glass plates of a local township that were over 120 years old, most I could identify but several I could not. I went to the societies face book page and asked three different people to call me, I had some questions. These are people I know personally. I asked all of them several times on different occasions to call, they promised they would. That was over 6 months ago and I'm still waiting.
Phone calls can be a waiting time too. Many local societies are run by volunteers and have no home so you do not expect a quick answer. No problem. I was calling a local society that has a paid librarian, home and staff. NOT DCHS. I called several times over 2 weeks and heard nothing, so I had another friend call. NOTHING. My friend knew the president personally and called her. I received a call the next day from the societies, director/librarian. She apologized for no one not getting back to me. She told me the volunteer who handles the phone calls and answers etc., had been out sick with a medical emergency for over a month. I said how sorry I was and then asked why another volunteer had not answered the phone messages. The director explained that it was the sick girls job and no one wanted to step on her toes, so no calls would be answered till she came back. It was her job alone!! I almost cracked up laughing!! someone is out sick and no one picks up the phone, her job?? RIGHT
Answering phones is important! I got a call from a lady who lives out of state. She left a message on my phone saying she had some history questions, so I called her the next day. We talked for awhile and I asked her what I could do for her and she said it was about what she could do for me. She had been calling a local society and asking them to return her calls. She did not want anything she wanted to DONATE a large collection of family pictures, booklets pamphlets etc. These were not just family pictures, the family had owned several businesses in Delco and the collection included pictures of them and local landmarks. It was a great collection! I got it all because I simply returned a phone call.
Emails are even worse. I was at another historical society one day and the director, a friend, was showing me an email she had received. She wanted to know if I could help the emailer. What shocked me was the dozens and dozens of emails on the computer that had never been opened going back weeks.
Going to some historical societies can be weird too. When I go to a society I like to sit in a corner away from everyone and concentrate on what I'm doing. One historical society I was at one day was like a party the volunteers were all laughing and joking making noise etc. The man next to me doing work said" Is it always like this?" all the noise etc. I had no answer. I was at a historical society one day working minding my own business when a friend of mine came in and said my name. At the mention of my name a man talking to the societies librarian came over and asked if I was "Keith Lockhart the historian" I said yes. He was having a local history problem and the librarian wasn't sure what to do. Luckily it was a question I could answer and I took 5 minutes got him started looking in the right books and he found what he was looking for, He was very grateful. All good right?? NO After he left the librarian came over to me and said I had no right to intervene with her helping a patron. HUH? I said the man came to me and asked me questions, what was I suppose to do? She said I should have sent the patron back to her, I should not have " intervened". Right
I was at an auction one day and saw a family album a local society would die for!! It was from a prominent family and had pictures, booklets, programs pasted inside. The album was 4 inches thick! I got it for a steal, $35.00!. I showed it to the society I thought would like it, they were thrilled! They wanted it for their collection, I said NO problem, I showed them my receipt for $35.00 dollars and told them that was all I wanted. They said HUH? They told me it was their policy they only accepted gifts they never paid for anything. I was surprised, this society has money and owns several buildings. I still have the album.
Finally, I was helping a local society several years ago as a guide. When going over their handout something about one of the buildings did not seem right. I checked some maps and I was correct. I want to the courthouse and titled searched the property and got all the correct information. There was no time to change the handout, so when people came to where I was a guide I told them the society "had misprinted" the information and told them the correct information I had researched. The president was furious, I was making the society look bad. I told her I told visitors it was just an accident the society printed the wrong information. The president told me I should not have said anything but should have told the visitors the information in the guide and left it at that. Who cares if the information was correct or not??? DUH