Counties losing support for historical societies shows a lack of understanding

Today’s Star-Tribune in the Twin Cities carried an interesting article. Interesting but sad and covering something that occurs too frequently in many places. The article “As counties tighten their belts, local historical societies hold their breath” told the story of some Minnesota county historical societies that have lost support funding from county commissioners.

One section of the story told what is too often the case. Brent Peterson, Executive Director of the Washington County Historical Society [and former member of the Board of Directors of the Minnesota Genealogical Society], discussed the county’s loss of funding for the reason that “history was not a “core function of government” . . . “I actually asked the county attorney one day what a ‘core function’ is, and he laughed at me,” Peterson said. “He goes, ‘Whatever three of the five [commissioners] say is a core function.’?”

My response is that I have had to use historical records in more than one county to help one county gain clear title to the land on which its courthouse sat. In another case, I have used multiple counties’ records to help clear title to some right of way lands in a county. I have used the records from counties in several states in work for federal lawsuits. Other county and state level records of historical value are needed for many other personal, legal, and community reasons. The papers of those who helped create and settle our counties and states are needed in much research. The same goes for the papers of businesses

Gee, not in that set of core functions of government! I could give more examples but I will spare you the list. Talk to your county and town commissioners, supervisors, and state legislators. Heck, don’t forget your national legislators. The National Archives needs continued funding to help preserve this country’s historical records.

Additionally, these historical societies and archives bring researchers lodging, food, and other dollars to the community. I am in the midst of a week-long research trip to Wisconsin. I will have researched in 3 counties and we are enjoying both state and county level historical societies. Our credit cards are being used, too.

Read the full article here.

© 2015, Paula Stuart-Warren. All rights reserved.

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2 comments on “Counties losing support for historical societies shows a lack of understanding

  1. I think this type of under-funding will occur more frequently as several states are quite short on funds as they have pension-related and similar problems. Illinois is one I have been watching. I am surprised they haven’t already cut services and access as well as raise fees for copies etc.

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