Notes on collections at the RIHS
For your consideration: a new series that will help researchers navigate our microfilm collection and highlight all of the resources that can be found on these tiny reels of film. Whether you are researching family history, need an obituary, want to find that picture that you know appeared in the paper of your homecoming football game, or want to access one of our manuscript collections available on microfilm, these examples (and our staff) are here to show you how! Administrative Assistant Ellary has taken on a few research quests of her own and she will share some tips, a bit about the collection and how to make the most out of your research time here at the Robinson Research Center (RRC).
Here at the RRC, one of our largest and most used collections in our Reading Room is our microfilm collection. This consists of more than 15,400 reels living in a behemoth of grey, specialized filing cabinets. This collection contains newspapers, city and town vital records, census records, Sanborn Fire Insurance maps, manuscript collections, and New England Yearly Quaker Meeting records for Rhode Island. All are viewable on one of our six microfilm readers, each machine with a varying temperament and maneuverability. They are comparable to cars; they all handle or “drive” differently, require a watchful eye on the road or rather screen, and need a regular tune up to keep the wheels running. My favorite reader to use is a lot like my first car; well-loved but temperamental. The major difference between my 2002 Ford Focus and this machine being that kicking it when it’s not working properly will probably not help and is strongly frowned upon.
I was interested in using our microfilm collection to search through my own personal family lore rather than a vital record search. I couldn’t dig too deep into my Rhode Island roots and truly take advantage of the library’s genealogical resources since my kinsmen don’t quite trace back to the Mayflower. Since I’ve gotten more comfortable with handling our microfilm readers, there was something I’ve been itching to find in the newspaper collection. I’ve grown up looking through a cross between a reluctant crafter’s scrapbook and a hoarder’s treasured collection of yellowed clippings and photographs. The part that most intrigued me from this book was a headline from a 1980s article in a local paper declaring “Partners in crime Fighting and at Home” with a lead up article to my parents wedding announcement. Not exactly a normal family keepsake to research but I’m definitely doing my part to keep Rhode Island weird. This was my starting point, the article that led me down the microfilm rabbit hole at the RRC.
The essential part of starting a fruitful research project with microfilm is to have dates or at least a good set of probable dates. All of the newspapers we have housed here are catalogued first by location then by title and date. Thankfully, I have a few specific dates to use but where I have to look is a little less clear. What I am hoping to find could be in The Providence Journal, The Pawtucket Times, or The Pawtucket Evening Times, so triple the reels but with manageable date ranges. I narrowed my search down to sometime in the end of May 1983. When I finally hit pay dirt on May 30, 1983 with The Pawtucket Evening Times, the classic Batman theme song did begin to play in my head as the headline comes into view.
Other gems I found; an article about said first Central Falls policewoman, Lois Wims, getting sworn in on April Fool’s Day 1977 (the irony isn’t lost) as well as their official engagement announcement. It is pretty cool to find a piece of family memorabilia in its original print for eternity and above the fold. Now that they’ve (mostly) hung up their capes, I wonder if they’ll tell me who’s the Robin in this duo?
~Ellary Wims Gamache, RRC Administrative Assistant