Bring your Questions to Ask An Archivist on October 5

The new listings for October events on the Trails of History are up. Since October starts tomorrow, I guess that's a good thing! Lots to do to celebrate fall.

Today's post comes from PHMC Social Media Manager Sean Adkins, with info on the Pennsylvania State Archives and #AskAnArchivist, coming up next Wednesday, Oct. 5.

The Pennsylvania State Archives has a had busy year. This spring, the Archives unveiled plans to build a new home on a multi-acre plot along North Sixth Street in Harrisburg. Paying homage to Pennsylvania's namesake, William Penn, the address for the soon-to-be built project will be 1681 N. Sixth St. in Harrisburg. Pennsylvania was created when England’s King Charles II granted a charter to Penn in 1681.

So...with news for the new Archives building still fresh in our minds and the always present need to know more about Pennsylvania history, there should be no shortage of questions from the public for Ask An Archivist Day.

Maybe we should back up a little, just in case you missed last year's Ask An Archivist Day or are not familiar with this popular Twitter event.

On Wednesday, October 5, four archivists with the Pennsylvania State Archives will participate in Ask An Archivist Day by taking to Twitter to answer your most pressing, or silly, questions regarding the state's archival collections.

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 — through asking questions, gathering information, or just satisfying curiosity.

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

Here are the folks who will be answering your questions :

Aaron McWilliams
-- Join archivist Aaron McWilliams from 11 a.m. to noon as he shares his knowledge of researching family histories and genealogy.   So far, nearly 14 million documents preserved by the Pennsylvania State Archives have been digitized by and are available free of charge to Commonwealth residents.  These documents include select years of birth and death records, World War II bonus applications and marriage records.  

Kurt Bell 
-- Following up Aaron McWilliams will be his fellow archivist, Kurt Bell.  A 20-year veteran of the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, Bell will spend 30 minutes answering questions about the railroad, oil, coal and iron industries. Bell will be available for his Q&A from noon to 12:30 p.m.

Rich Saylor

-- Next up will be Rich Saylor.  Last year, Saylor fielded questions on pretty much anything related to  Pennsylvania military history.  This year,  he's still willing to answer those same type of questions, however, his preferred area of Q&A will be focused on World War I history.  Did you know that the Pennsylvania State Archives, in cooperation with the State Library of Pennsylvania, has digitized a collection of World War I posters?  Join Rich from 12:30 to 1 p.m.

Josh Stahlman

--Rounding out the day will be archivist Josh Stahlman who will offer tips on preserving your family records.  Join Josh from 1 to 1:30 p.m.

How do I 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?

In the News and Coming Up

There's still stuff to do in September on the Trails of History - check out the monthly program page. I plan to have the October listing available next week.

PA Lumber Museum receives AASLH award
(from left) Julia Rose, AASLH Chair; Josh Roth, site administrator, PA Lumber Museum; John Dichtl, AASLH President and CEO (photo via AASLH Facebook page)
The Bradford Era picked up the story of the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum's core exhibit receiving a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History (AASLH). Site administrator Josh Roth was in Detroit last week to receive the award on behalf of the museum and PHMC.

The Ephrata Area Chamber of Commerce is holding a history-themed murder mystery event on Oct. 1 (since I won't have the October program listing up until late next week, I'm mentioning it now). The action of the story is set in 1941, the year Ephrata celebrated its 50th birthday (they're celebrating their 125th this year) and the beginnings of restoration work at Ephrata Cloister were getting underway. Michael Showalter, museum educator at Ephrata Cloister, wrote the script for the murder mystery event, weaving together borough and Cloister history - some vignettes will take place at Ephrata Cloister. If you're interested in attending, you can find out more info in an article in the Ephrata Review.

The Daily Item (Sunbury) last weekend included two articles on a new children's exhibit and education area at the Joseph Priestley House, which explores what life was like for families other than the Priestleys who lived in Northumberland and surrounding areas in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. In other Priestley House developments, the third in a series of videos about Dr. Priestley's scientific work identifying and isolating various gases is now available. Each video provides historical information on Priestley's work and shows experiments in a modern laboratory. The most recent video focuses on nitrous oxide and was partially funded by the Dept. of Anesthesiology at Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center (previous videos covered carbon monoxide and ammonia).

Walter's Mill Covered Bridge Somerset Historical Center
Walter's Mill Covered Bridge at Somerset Historical Center (photo by Janice Mullin)
Earlier this week I got around to checking my Google Alerts folder (it had been several weeks), I found an article from the Fort Morgan (Colorado) Times about a local 4-H group that visited western Pennsylvania in July. Among the many sites they visited was Somerset Historical Center, and the article includes a photo of the students in front of the Walter's Mill Covered Bridge. Coincidentally (?) there was a more recent story about a new self-guided tour brochure for Somerset County. The Bridges of Somerset County brochure and map, supported by the Somerset County Tourism Grant Program, lists covered bridges and historic sites as well as recreational trails and other points of interest (you can download a copy of the brochure online).

We Want You!

Please check out the September program page for things to do this weekend and next week on the PHMC's Trails of History.

Here on the PA Trails of History, we are blessed with a great many wonderful volunteers who serve their fellow citizens by supporting programs and activities at our sites and museums. Each year we recognize outstanding contributions from volunteers and try to share their stories with the public (read the most recent Trailheads post about volunteers from April 2016). I've seen several calls for volunteers in the past week, so today's post brings you some specific opportunities. Don't see your favorite site in these examples? Rest assured our sites and museums are always on the lookout for new volunteers (find your spot here).

Call for Student Historians at Ephrata Cloister
From Ephrata Cloister's Facebook page
Ephrata Cloister is looking for a few good young women and men to be part of the Student Historians group at the site. Students age 14 and up learn about local history, do hands-on projects related to historic crafts and material culture, travel, and share history with the public, primarily (though not exclusively) through the annual Lantern Tours theatrical program offered in the days between Christmas and New Year's. It's a great way to meet other people interested in history and to hone skills that will serve you well throughout your life. And there's always food, so that's a plus. For more information, contact museum educator Michael Showalter at or 717/733-6600.

Through their Facebook page, Pennsbury Manor issued a call for volunteers this week. They have opportunities for students, scouts, and businesses/organizations looking for community service projects and for individuals looking for meaningful ways to share their time and talents. I believe they also have food. Visit Pennsbury's website for more information and to find out how to apply.

Curators inventorying a teapot at Landis Valley
Volunteer assists with inventory project at Landis Valley
(Top) Curator Rachel Yerger and Chief of Special Projects David Dunn inventory at teapot
(Bottom) Volunteer Sharon O'Neal Lehner assists with computer tracking of inventory
(photos by Bruce Bomberger, Curator, Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum)
As part of PHMC's Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a major collections inventory is underway at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum. Under the direction of David Dunn, chief of special projects for the Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums, this project will provide a physical inventory of some 150,000 objects in Landis Valley's collection. The current focus is the Landis Collections Gallery - objects in storage are examined closely, comparing the catalog number, dimensions, and condition to a collections database. The work moves much more efficiently and effectively when teams of two work together - a "caller" reads out info and describes the object while a "recorder" matches info to the database or makes note of items not listed (for later review and reconciliation). Volunteers are already assisting curators with this work, but it's a huge project and more hands are needed. Computer skills and familiarity with Microsoft Excel are helpful; experience with digital photography and/or collections management software is a plus! If you're interested or want to know more, contact David Dunn at 717/569-0401 x 230. Oh, and there will be food, but not in collections storage or the galleries.

And I just noticed this article about United Way volunteers helping out at Old Economy Village recently. Thanks folks!

PHMC curators log in for Ask A Curator

Many thanks to PHMC Social Media Manager Sean Adkins for this post on the upcoming #AskACurator Day. If you're looking for PA Trails of History activities, the September program page will help you decide.

Next week, three curators stationed at historic sites across Pennsylvania are taking off the gloves. Well, only if they’re wearing gloves will they need to take them off. Sometimes, curators don’t wear…the point is that Sue Beates, Bruce Bomberger and Sue Hanna have graciously volunteered to take part in Ask A Curator Day on Wednesday, Sept. 14. So far, more than 1,000 museums and historic sites from all corners of the world have signed on for Ask A Curator Day, a social media event geared toward engaging the public and connecting them with museum staff.

Essentially, Ask A Curator is a Twitter-based Q&A that serves as a venue where curators and people can chat about nearly anything that piques their curiosity. Questions may range from the silly (“Do exhibits really come alive at night, after the museum is closed?") to the more serious (“Where do get your ideas for exhibits?”). Last year, our curators had fun answering a host of great questions.

And don’t be shy about sharing photos and videos. Often, residents share with us their Pennsylvania stories ranging from how their relatives toiled in the mines near Pittsburgh to the Native American pottery that’s been passed down from one generation to the next. Curators want to learn those histories and, in the process, might be able to offer a few previously unknown facts and interpretations. Just remember to submit your questions via Twitter with the #AskACurator hashtag. Have questions now that you want to ask? No problem. Send your questions now to and our curators will supply the answers on Ask A Curator Day.

At this point, you’re likely wondering which Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission curators will be taking off their gloves long enough to field your questions. Well, we’ve put together a strong lineup packed with the most knowledgable curators.

Here’s the who, where and when you’ll be speaking with on Sept. 14:

Drake Well Curator Sue Beates and volunteer Toni Urey
Drake Well curator Sue Beates (front) and collections volunteer Toni Urey
Who: Please join Susan Beates, curator at the Drake Well Museum and Park in Titusville, Pa., as she shares her knowledge of the History of the Pennsylvania Oil Industry. Susan has a Master of Arts in Public History from West Virginia University and Bachelor of Arts in History & Folk Arts from the same university.  She's been floating in oil since February 1998. She will be joined by collections volunteer Toni Urey.

Where: @DrakeWellMuseum

When: 11 to 11:45 a.m.

Landis Valley curator Bruce Bomberger
Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum curator Bruce Bomberger
Who: Join Bruce Bomberger, curator at Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum in Lancaster, Pa., as he answers questions about the Landis brothers, their lives, motivations and the collection preserved at the historic site. Bomberger, who has worked for PHMC since 1984, holds a Bachelor of Arts in History from Lebanon Valley College, a Master of Arts in American History from Penn State University and a doctorate in American history from Lehigh University. He has prepared museum exhibits on agricultural technology, local inventors, African-American history, Pennsylvania German traditions, the Landis family and the Pennsylvania long rifle.

Where: @LandisValley

When: 1:30 p.m. to 2:15 p.m.

PHMC regional curator Sue Hanna
PHMC regional curator Sue Hanna
Who: Join Sue Hanna, regional curator for PHMC’s Bureau of Historic Sites and Museums, who will discuss the recently installed core exhibit at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum. The American Association for State and Local History (AASLH) selected “Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests” as a 2016 Leadership in History award winner. This exhibit explores six time periods, from 800 BCE through the present, with the goal of illustrating the intended and unintended consequences of human interaction with the forest. Sue, who was part of the team that developed “Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania’s Forests,” holds a graduate degree in American Civilization (Material Culture) from the University of Pennsylvania.   

Where: @PHMC

When: 3 to 3:45 p.m.

Happy Labor Day Weekend!

Many PA Trails of History sites will be open on Monday, Sept. 5, for Labor Day (list of open sites).

The full September program line-up is now available (I'll try to update as I get more info throughout the month). So much to do as fall approaches.

Intro Gallery PA Lumber Museum
Intro Gallery, "Challenges and Choices in Pennsylvania's Forests" (photo by David Fox, Hilferty & Associates)
I am pleased and proud to announce that the new core exhibit at the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum will receive a Leadership in History Award from the American Association for State and Local History at its annual meeting later this month. The official press release provides more details. Site administrator Josh Roth will represent the museum and the exhibit team in Detroit. Earlier this year, the exhibit and building expansion/renovation received was recognized by PA Museums. The exhibit will be a focus of discussion on Sept. 13 during PHMC's participation in #AskACurator day 2016 (stay tuned for more details on that next week).

If you live in the Lancaster area and are a public, private, or homeschool student age 14 or older, you might want to bring a parent or guardian to historic Ephrata Cloister Thursday evening, Sept. 8, to learn more about the Student Historian program. Volunteer student historians meet weekly after school to learn about site and regional history and prepare to share it with the public, primarily during the annual Lantern Tour program in late December. Work with primary research sources and material culture, hone your public speaking skills, and make a significant contribution to education in your community. Students or parents/guardians who want to know more may contact Michael Showalter, or 717/733-6600.

Ephrata Student Historian at Lantern Tours
Student Historian Jeremy talks with visitors during Ephrata Cloister Lantern Tours program
This weekend:
  • on Sat. (9/3), the Pennsylvania Lumber Museum will host a community yard sale in their parking lot (and did I mention we have an award-winning exhibit that you ought to stop in to see as well?)
  • on Sun. (9/4), Landis Valley Village and Farm Museum will offer make-your-own ice cream sundaes and loads of other fun stuff included in regular admission
  • on Labor Day (9/5), the Pennsylvania Military Museum will include a guided tour in regular admission at 11 am and 1 pm

However you choose to spend this weekend, please be safe and responsible. That is all.