New archives and research center helps people find pieces of the past

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Shelly Birkelo
Thursday, April 17, 2014

JANESVILLE—Christina Holder was on a mission to find some old pictures of her 1886-era Clinton house, which her father had remodeled.

Her plan: to put them together in a gift portfolio for his birthday.

Unfortunately, the Clinton Historical Society was rebuilding, so it had no physical location for Holder to conduct her research. That's when staff at the Clinton Public Library referred her to the Rock County Historical Society in Janesville.

"They definitely pointed me in the right direction," said Holder, who spent about an hour Wednesday morning with historical society volunteer Dori Coplien in the Reading Room of the new Charles Tallman Archives and Research Center, 430 N. Jackson St.

Although Coplien found pictures of every house on Pleasant Street but hers, Holder was not discouraged. Coplien recommended Holder visit the Real Property Description Department at the Rock County Courthouse to look up the name of her home's original owner.

"Once she finds the name, we'll have better luck finding the history of the people in the home," Coplien said.

Holder is among a growing number of those turning to the center since it relocated from the Wilson King Stone House, 933 Mineral Point Ave., Janesville, to it's new location.

The new center saw 10 visitors in January, 21 in February and 49 in March. That doesn't include the increase in phone and email inquiries that more than doubled during the first quarter of this year, said archives manager Ruth Anderson.

Anderson attributes the increased usage to users gaining access to a reading room with guest Wi-Fi and staff that has more room for research.

"We have at our fingertips the Rock County Marriage Application papers, probate files, photos, city directories, and a scrapbook collection awaiting discovery," Anderson said.

Finding aids--spreadsheets of newspapers, certificates, larger-size photos and news articles--have been inventoried with cross references for easier access to volunteer staff, who are Rock County Genealogical Society members or avid genealogists, she said.

The center's collection of photographs comes in a variety of styles: carte de viste that are about the size of a business card, cabinet cards that measure 5-by-7 inches and lithographs that represent the county's earliest photographic records, Anderson said.

The center's images collection includes late 19th and early 20th century prints, snapshots, Marvin Helgesen professional portraits and many Janesville Gazette photos in print format, glass-plate negatives, 35 mm and large format negatives, she said.

"The new archive and research center provides a better experience for the client, and volunteers are happier working in this space where we have room to spread out," Anderson said.

Having all the archives in one accessible area also is a plus, she said.

"In the Stone House, to get to the basement (archives), we had to go outside. Now everything is under one roof, which makes it more efficient for volunteers," Anderson said.

"We are here to help find that history someone is looking for,” she said, “and we get just as excited as they do when we find it."

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