Join us for the #AskAnArchivist Twitter event on Oct. 1

For Trails of History programs this weekend and early next week, check out the September program listings. If you're planning ahead, the October listings are now available.

Pennsylvania's Archives Month begins Thursday, October 1 with  #AskAnArchivist Twitter Event
Filling out the branches of a family tree isn't easy. Hours of your time are spent sifting through decades of birth and death records.  Sidetracks are common, especially if you discover that one of your relatives wasn't entirely truthful about their own history.

But, it's worth it...any archivist will tell you that.

On Thursday, October 1, four archivists with the Pennsylvania State Archives will participate in Ask An Archivist Day by taking to Twitter to answer anything and everything archives.  Later in the day, State Archivist David Carmicheal will do his part by fielding your most pressing inquiries.

Sponsored by the Society of American Archivists, Ask An Archivist offers the public the opportunity to connect directly to archivists in their community — and around the country — to ask questions, get information, or just satisfy curiosity.

Experts in protecting and sharing important historical materials, archivists assess, collect, organize, preserve and provide access to information that has lasting value.

This year, Ask An Archivist Day, the kickoff to Pennsylvania's Archives Month, will focus on five areas of research.  Here's the schedule: 

10 a.m. to noon 

Aaron McWilliams
Rich Saylor
Archivist Aaron McWilliams will take a break from his busy schedule to answer your questions on genealogy. Thanks to a continued collaboration between the Pennsylvania State Archives and Ancestry all of the publicly available death records from the Archives from 1906 until 1963 are now available online. In addition, Pennsylvania birth records from 1906 to 1908 are also available via

In the second half of the first session,archivist Rich Saylor will take your questions on military history. Saylor is the author of the national-award winning book Soldiers to Governors: Pennsylvania's Civil War Veterans Who Became State Leaders.

1 p.m. to 3 p.m. 

Kurt Bell 
Josh Stahlman
Archivist Kurt Bell will lead off the second session of Ask An Archivist by answering your questions on Railroad Research. Don't hold back. Kurt is an expert when it comes to railroad history in the Commonwealth.

Next, Josh Stahlman, an archivist at the Pennsylvania State Archives since 2008, is ready to offer tips when it comes to Caring for Family Records

3 p.m. to 4 p.m. 

State Archivist David Carmicheal will spend the last hour of Ask An Archivist answering questions regarding his role with the Commonwealth. Before coming to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Carmicheal directed the Georgia Division of Archives and History. During his tenure, he oversaw the design and construction of the award-winning Georgia Archives building, introduced the Virtual Vault to provide online access to more than 1.5 million archival documents and helped lead national efforts in emergency management, particularly for the protection of essential government records.
David Carmicheal

How to participate:
#AskAnArchivist Day is open to everyone - all you need is a Twitter account. To participate, just tweet a question @PHMC and include the hashtag #AskAnArchivist in your tweet. Your question will be seen instantly by our archivists.

You can ask pretty much any question that comes to mind. Here are a few examples from the Society of American Archivists:
  • What’s the craziest thing you’ve come across in your collections?
  • If your archives had a soundtrack, what songs would be on it?
  • What do archivists talk about around the water cooler?
  • How do you decide what should be kept and what should not?

Catching Up

This summer was marked by an unprecedented (in Trailheads history anyway) run of guest bloggers. I would like to thank Friends of Joseph Priestley House board member John L. Moore; Keystone interns Ryan Zsifkov (2 posts), Corine Lehigh (2 posts), and Kendra Ressler; Collections Advancement Project curator Rachel Yerger; PHMC director of strategic initiatives Beth Hager; and PHMC information specialist Sean Adkins. While I thoroughly enjoy writing weekly posts, it has been a very pleasant experience to share other people's work and a broad range of topics with Trailheads readers. I hope you've enjoyed it too. But now it's time for one of my patented "roundup" posts, gathering items of interest (I hope) that you may have missed (but probably didn't). In other words, fun's over. Winter, as they say, is coming. *wink*

John Fielding ready to answer questions (courtesy Anthracite Heritage Museum)
This past Wednesday was #AskACurator day. 2015 was the second year for PHMC's participation in this international Twitter-based initiative. Curators and social media folks from Anthracite Heritage Museum, Ephrata Cloister, and Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum took part at various times throughout the day, working with PHMC's information specialist. We had some good back and forth among the sites and other non-PHMC museums, with retweeting going on by site followers. (You can find a summary for all three sites on PHMC's Storify or for Ephrata and Landis Valley on Erin Negley's (Lancaster Newspapers) Storify.) Look for us next year on Sept. 14and join in the conversation!

Ephrata Cloister curator Kerry Mohn tweeting (photo by Rebecca Lawrence)

In anticipation of Pope Francis's visit to Philadelphia next weekend, Visit PA compiled a list of "sacred spaces" in Pennsylvania, reflecting the Commonwealth's significant history of religious diversity and freedom (PHMC's annual theme in 2011). Three Trails of History sites are on the list: Pennsbury Manor, home to Pennsylvania's founder, and two sites that embody Pennsylvania's diversity of religious practice and belief, Ephrata Cloister and Old Economy Village. (You can hear more about it on witf's Smart Talk broadcast from Sept. 11, about 35 minutes in.)

On a related note, PennDOT and the PA Turnpike Commission have created a website with info about traffic and road closures during the papal visit. If you're planning to go to Philly or want to be sure to avoid the traffic, this looks like a useful resource. Please be aware that many museums in downtown Philadelphia will be closed next weekend, but Graeme Park, Pennsbury Manor, and Washington Crossing Historic Park will be open. Just sayin'.

The September programs listing ended up being a separate page instead of a regular post, so if you're looking for something to do THIS weekend, please check it out. Look for the October listings to arrive next Friday, so that you can plan ahead.

Curious? #AskACurator!

As you know from Friday's post by Sean Adkins, PHMC's information specialist, tomorrow (Sept. 16) is #AskACurator day. This is an international, social media initiative designed to connect museum curators and collections to the public. The event runs all day, but at many museums, curators are available at specific times to answer questions via Twitter. This year, curators from the Anthracite Heritage Museum, Ephrata Cloister, and Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum will join hundreds of museum professionals from more than 1,000 museums all over the world. Not too shabby.

Flyer for exhibit curated by Jennifer Royer, 2013-14
First up is Jennifer Royer, who has has been a curator at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster since 2011 (she was coordinator of living history and director of exhibits and collections for the York County Heritage Trust, 2004-2011). At Landis Valley she works primarily with the Pennsylvania German decorative arts but has also dealt with farm equipment, tools, rifles, and a wide array of other artifacts. She is responsible for the research library at the Museum and is currently working on a weathervane exhibit to be installed in 2016. Jennifer and Landis Valley's media assistant, Shayla Carey, will field questions from 10 to 11 am EDT @LandisValley.

Kerry Mohn helps members of winter history class explore The Martyrs' Mirror

Next on the Trails of History is Kerry Mohn, a graduate of Pennsylvania State University and the former Kutztown State College with 30 years service at PHMC. Kerry has spent the past 15 years overseeing the collections at Ephrata Cloister. He has a special interest in Pennsylvania history and Pennsylvania German studies; other interests include immigration, labor, and baseball history. He lives in Berks County and served on the boards of the Historical Society of Berks County and the Governor Mifflin Area Historical Society. You can tweet questions to Kerry and volunteer coordinator Rebecca Lawrence from 11 am to noon @EphrataCloister.

John Fielding with a cache of bobbins at Eckley Miners' Village
Rounding out our day is John Fielding, curator for the Anthracite Museum Complex, which consists of the Anthracite Heritage Museum, Scranton Iron Furnaces, and Eckley Miners’ Village, since 2004. During his tenure, John has led numerous collections management and collections care projects and has assisted with projects at several other PHMC sites including the Museum of Anthracite Mining, Old Mill Village, PA Lumber Museum, and Washington Crossing Historic Park. He has been the lead worker for eight exhibits at the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Eckley Miners’ Village. His areas of interest are 19th- and 20th-century anthracite mining processes and the cultural significance of the many ethnic groups that came to the anthracite region of Pennsylvania. John will be available for questions from 2 to 3 pm @AnthraciteMuse (I will be attempting to assist with the tweeting, so please be patient).

If you're interested in participating but aren't sure what to ask, last Friday's post included some suggestions. So please join us for the conversation!

Mark your calendars & join us for #AskACurator on Wednesday, Sept. 16.

Next week, you’ll have the opportunity to chat with a few of the experts who care for many of Pennsylvania’s most-prized artifacts and you won't have to leave your house or office.

On Wednesday, curators from three historic sites along the Pennsylvania Trails of History will participate in #AskACurator Day, a Twitter-based event that connects curators with the public.  Everyone is invited, so remember to create a Twitter account if you haven’t already. 

Launched in 2010, #AskACurator is coordinated by Mar Dixon, a social media consultant.  Essentially, #AskACurator is a way for visitors and other professionals to engage with curators, often receiving immediate answers to questions about collections, education…just about anything. 

This year, more than 900 museums from 47 countries have signed on to participate, including Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum, the Anthracite Heritage Museum and The Historic Ephrata Cloister.

How do I participate? 

At 10 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 16, start by tweeting your questions to @LandisValley using the #AskACurator hashtag.  For the next hour, curator Jennifer Royer will pull herself away from her daily tasks to field your questions on everything Landis Valley. And, don’t be afraid to throw a few hardballs.  Royer works primarily with Pennsylvania German decorative arts, but has also dealt with farm equipment, tools, rifles and an array of other artifacts.  She is responsible for the research library at Landis Valley and is currently working on a weathervane exhibit to be installed next year. 

Kerry Mohn will pull double duty from 11 a.m. to noon Wednesday as he juggles answering your questions while handling the collections management at the Ephrata Cloister. Tweet Mohn @EphrataCloister using #AskACurator.  A graduate of Pennsylvania State University and the former Kutztown State College, Mohn has a special interest in Commonwealth history and Pennsylvania German studies. Other interests  include immigration, labor and baseball history. A resident of Berks County, Kerry served as a trustee of the Historical Society of Berks County and as president of the Governor Mifflin Area Historical Society.

Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. Wednesday, remember to clear out a good block of time to chat with John Fielding, the curator for the Anthracite Museum Complex, which includes the Anthracite Heritage Museum, Scranton Iron Furnaces and Eckley Miners’ Village.  Tweet Fielding @AnthraciteMuse using #AskACurator.  During his tenure at the complex, Fielding has served as the lead worker for eight exhibits at the Anthracite Heritage Museum and Eckley Miners’ Village. His interests range from the 19th-and 20th-century anthracite mining processes to the cultural significance of the many ethnic groups who moved to the anthracite region of Pennsylvania.

What should I ask? 

Well…that’s entirely up to you.  Last year, #AskACurator questions ranged from "Which artifacts require the most attention?" to "What's the story behind the green tiles around the fireplaces at Pennsbury Manor?".  See our Storify of the conservations had between the public and curators at Pennsbury Manor, Old Economy Village and Drake Well Museum andPark.

Still not sure what to ask?  Here's a short list of questions visitors often ask curators: 
-- What is it like to be a curator?
-- What is your favorite artifact?
-- What is the oldest piece in your collection?
-- Which artifact has the best story?
-- Which artifact makes you laugh and/or cry?
-- How do you know when to wear gloves?
-- How do you decide which artifacts go on display. 
*Please refrain from asking for item appraisals or artifact identification. 

Natural History at The State Museum

The September program listings for events on the PA Trails of History have been posted. If you’re going to be out and about on Labor Day, you may want to check the list to see which sites will be open.

Today’s guest blogger, Beth Hager, is PHMC’s Director of Strategic Initiatives. Her post highlights programs at The State Museum of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg) related to the new Nature Lab and the work of the PHMC Natural History Advisory Committee. (Unless otherwise noted, photos below are by Beth Hager.)

Nature Lab, State Museum of PA (photo by Don Giles)
Bird feathers and eggs, writhing snakes, “Animal CSI,” a live Peregrine Falcon, turtles, Native American tools and effigy pots, and rocks from space – what do all of these things have in common? They were front and center throughout the summer in Nature Lab, the new multipurpose demonstration space adjacent to Mammal Hall and the Carboniferous Forest on The State Museum of Pennsylvania’s third floor. Set with laboratory furnishings and showcasing selections from the museum’s collections, Nature Lab is the setting for live educational presentations and hands-on learning experiences offered by museum curators and Pennsylvania scientists and naturalists.

Dan Lynch, PA Game Commission, presents "Animal CSI"
As part of a new emphasis on interpreting Pennsylvania’s vast natural heritage, PHMC staff members have been collaborating with educators and naturalists to plan exhibit upgrades and new presentations for The State Museum’s natural history galleries. The agencies include the PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), PA Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP), PA Game Commission, PA Fish & Boat Commission, and the State Library of Pennsylvania.

Archaeology curators Melanie Mayhew and Dr. Kurt Carr
In addition to intensive work sessions to devise an interpretive plan for the museum’s natural history exhibits and prototyping new labels for Mammal Hall, each partner agency provided special “Meet the Experts” presentations for Nature Lab. And weekly, State Museum science curator Dr. Walter Meshaka and a team of archaeologists led by curators Dr. Kurt Carr and Janet Johnson offered very popular hands-on programs emphasizing State Museum collections and research.

Dr. Walter Meshaka
Two exciting programs are coming up this month as part of the PHMC natural history initiative. “Pennsylvania’s Conservation Heritage Considered,” a noontime event on Tuesday, September 15, in the museum auditorium, will preview WITF-TV’s new short documentaries on Pennsylvania conservation legends Gifford Pinchot and Mira Lloyd Dock. The videos will be followed by an informative panel discussion on the challenges of conservation leadership featuring DCNR Secretary Cindy Dunn and DEP Secretary John Quigley. The free event is presented by PHMC, the PA Conservation Heritage Project, and the PA Association of Environmental Professionals. Museum admission will be free with the program beginning at 12:15 pm.

On Friday, September 18, the PA Fish & Boat Commission will return to Nature Lab to present “Fishes of Pennsylvania” as part of the State Museum’s Learn at Lunchtime series, 11 am – 1:30 pm. This event and admission to the museum will also be free.

Watch for details to come on more exciting things happening with nature at The State Museum – like the restoration of Mammal Hall and the Carboniferous Forest exhibit – that will inspire Pennsylvanians of all ages to understand and protect their local environment.

[Editor’s note: the new exhibit, “Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests,” at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum includes an exploration of the conservation movement in Pennsylvania and its impact on the forests of today.]