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Tag archive for: research help
[Mike Kemezis joined Library Services last spring as Curation, Preservation, and Archives’ new Access and Outreach Archivist. He’s been responding to a wide-range of research and reference requests ever since…]
Most weeks in the Archives, we receive at least one visit, email or phone call from a family member looking for information on their grandfather, great-uncle, or parent who graduated from WPI. These amateur genealogists are usually working on or preparing their a family history for an upcoming reunion or are interested in tidying up their family trees. They are always excited to hear that we can, indeed, help them in some way!
The requester shares what they know, we open a research task to track progress, and then we get started on the hunt…
The former student’s full name and class year are the most valuable starting points the requester can share. Knowing the class year helps us scope our search through the mountains of potential genealogical sources included in the archival collections. Sometimes the can also share what clubs or sports their relative participated in at WPI, or sometimes a major. These pieces of information can also be helpful in tracking the former student down.
Usually, the requester has the student’s exact class year handy and some proof of graduation. Sometimes, they may only have an idea when their relative was on campus or a belief they graduated. In these cases, we have to cast a wider net and search for individuals across several classes, and look for the hints as to when and why someone may have left WPI without completing their studies. WPI’s Alumni Directory has had several editions since the early 1900s and is now available online to alumni and archives staff. It is a perfect place to start to confirm attendance, year of completion, and degree.
So, with name and a “possible-to-likely” class year in hand, where do we go next? There are three go-to genealogical sources held in the Archives: alumni files from the former University Relations department, WPI class books and yearbooks dating to the late 1870s, and the Archives’ long-serving card catalog. Among these three sets of information, we can answer many genealogical-focused questions thrown our way.
Many graduates up through the 1930s, along with most non-degree-completing students, have an alumni file with clippings, notes, and occasional photographs from their time on campus and their lives post-WPI.These files can be gold mines for family researchers and historians. Many of the files contain biographical surveys sent out by the WPI Alumni Association ahead of reunions and when updating directories. These surveys contain information on family members, which clubs and/or organizations the individual participated in on campus, career highlights and, in most cases, summaries of their military careers. The files also include correspondence with departments and faculty members, news clippings, and often any obituaries which ran in the WPI Journal or a local newspaper.
After the 1930s, the Archives’ holdings for alumni files are not as complete as the earlier decades. Since we rarely get genealogical research requests for before the 1950s or from non-family members, we are also able to easily manage any privacy concerns. But, looking to the future, someone in my position 40 years from now (or even 4 years from now) may receive a request for information about an alumni from the class of 1970. Some of these files will have privacy issues that the Archives will need to navigate, and also format accessibility issues, as the WPI’s Division of Advancement moves more and more to digital record-keeping. We are currently working with Advancement to transfer over more physical and digital alumni files on a regular basis, since having more recent alumni records under Archives stewardship will benefit both WPI alumni relations and genealogical researchers in the future.
Our second source of information are the many, many class books and yearbooks produced by WPI’s students. Many of the early books contain a photo and a paragraph about each graduate which can expand on what the alumni file may offer. Yearbooks do have their limitations for genealogical research. For some of the pre-1900 years, the graduating class did not publish a yearbook. The 1970s can also be a challenge, as many yearbooks lack photo captions and senior portraits.
This summer, we undertook a project to inventory the many copies of each yearbook we have in the Archives. As a result of that survey, we now offer two reference copies of each yearbook in the Fellman Dickens Reading Room and have identified another two archival copies now housed separately from the reference copies, as well as a digitization candidate. One long-term goal of this project is to increase access to and use of the yearbooks by digitizing them and making them available online. This project is currently in its early stages, but when completed, researchers will be able to perform yearbook research on their own.
Archives Card Catalog
The last go-to resource consulted in our genealogical search is the Archives card catalog. Yes, we have the self-proclaimed last card catalog in the library and by extension, on campus. The catalog contains indexed entries, by person or subject, from WPI publications, alumni files, and archival collections up through the 2000s.
Using the card catalog, we can find out if a person is mentioned in an article contained in one of the WPI student newspapers, WPI Journal or other campus publication, or if they appear in any of the personal papers or university archives collections. The catalog is used by Archives staff and students, which has made us start to think about the challenges and benefits of improving the searchability of the information by digitizing it. We are also looking at more robust collections management tools and descriptive practices that will continue to provide us with the same level of discoverability that the labor-intensive indexing card catalogs offer as we move forward with archiving digital versions of WPI publications.
We also have many other resources in the archival collection we can consult if we are unable to find any of the specific information requested by the researcher in these three go-to resources. That rarely happens, though, as among the yearbooks, alumni files, and card catalog, we often end up with an awful lot of information in a short period of time.
Find YOUR Family
Using the information gathered from these sources, we can offer a brief biographical sketch of the individual and provide digital copies of the photos, articles, and other potentially informative sources.
Do you have a WPI relative you’d like to learn more about? Are you interested in starting a family history? Get in touch with Curation, Preservation, and Archives to get started researching today at firstname.lastname@example.org or 508-831-6112.
As a student at WPI the library is a safe haven when I need to seriously get work done. There are a variety of work areas to choose from, and spaces for all study types. For the long, coffee, class, and project filled days I’ll start off upstairs at a computer workstation, before my group meetings. I usually end up in the small study cubbies on the first floor during the afternoon when the building is crammed full of students.
However, the building itself is not the only resource the library has to offer. The research and instruction librarians, who staff the reference desk, are amazing when it comes to helping students with research and finding, otherwise hidden, sources for projects. The library has access to thousands upon thousands of articles through subscriptions to online journals, not to mention the tons of physical books and reports contained in the collection.
A little known fact, to most students, is that the library holds copies of many technical reports from large organizations, even government organizations, and they are all located on the ground floor! A great example would be the technical reports published by NBS, the National Bureau of Standards, which was the precursor to NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. This organization carried out studies relating to the creation of testing equipment used to create the standards that are now found commonplace and accepted as truth, as well as studies about human behavior and how people interact with technology.
The fact that the Helpdesk is now in the library is amazing! The technology Helpdesk provides laptops to use, when all of the desktop computers are taken or you just want to go sit in a corner and do work but forgot your own laptop at home. They are also there to answer questions or try to help troubleshoot problems. This is definitely a plus for me since I am one of the students that loves technology, but it does not seem to return the feeling. In my years at WPI I have had computers crash multiple times… each time the Helpdesk has been able to help me save my files and transfer them over to a new computer on a few occasions as well.
All in all, the library is an amazing resource. It provides a place to work, where productivity is encouraged, as well as resources to help you succeed and carry out projects that will have an effect and make a positive impact on society and the world!
P.S. did I mention that there are also movies and video games on the third floor that can aid in giving you a break to prevent mental meltdown?
Have you ever wished that you could find library resources in one place? Well now you can. Summon is one stop shopping for searching for books, eBooks, project reports, articles, patents and more. Instead of searching separately through many sources, you can search Summon to get the research you need quickly and easily. From your search results, it’s one step to the full text of articles or determining if a book is on the shelf. Summon is still growing –features continue to improve, and content is being added regularly. Come try it out and find out how it can benefit your research!
- Books and e-books
- Research and news articles
- Project reports and electronic theses and dissertations
- Archival materials
- Open access collections
- and more…..
- Friday, September 2nd 2-3 p.m.
- Wednesday, September 7th 6-7 p.m.
- Thursday, September 29th 10-11 a.m.