Personal Discoveries in the North Carolina Collection

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By Helen Snow, North Carolina Librarian

One of the delights of my job is that, as I work with the North Carolina Collection, I find all sorts of fascinating information about people I’ve known over the years and about familiar places. One thrill was finding, in a book about old ballads, an account of the author’s visit to my great-uncle, “Tink” Tillett, in Wanchese (on Roanoke Island in the Outer Banks), where my father grew up. “Uncle Tink” sang for this author, a Duke folklore scholar, eleven traditional ballads sung in the Outer Banks area. Since this relative died in 1940,  I never knew him, but I found in this book a photograph of him with his banks pony, a letter written in his untutored English to the book’s author, an account of their visit, and the music and words of the ballads! At another time, I found two interesting entries in a book called North Carolina Lives, published in 1962, one on my uncle Dameron Midgett and one on my first-grade teacher! I also found a children’s book written by my fifth-grade teacher, Stella Sharpe, entitled Tobe. These are only a few of many happy discoveries which sent me hurrying to tell my colleagues, “Look what I found today!”

While you don’t have the advantage of working with the collection for hours every week, there are easy ways to make your own personal discoveries. Search the library catalog (from the library’s computer terminals or from your home computer), using subject keyword, under the name of your home town or some other town which brings special memories for you. My home town is Hillsborough, and by searching under the subject keyword “Hillsborough,” I found a history of the town’s churches, a book of photographs taken in Hillsborough by a friend from elementary school days who is now a well-known photographer, and a historical novel, based on real events and set in the town! Remember that the keyword approach is important because you’ll find those subject headings which include your town’s name—but not at the beginning of the subject heading. Examples are “Historic buildings—North Carolina—Hillsborough” and “Nash and Kollock School (Hillsborough, N.C.)

We have some church histories from various parts of the state, and you may find one on a familiar church by searching for the church name, using the subject approach.

A search, using subject keyword, under county is less specific than a search by town but may also be helpful. Here I found a book about a historical home close to the house where I grew up. It is now open for tours, but when I went there as a child, my parents were visiting the couple living there, and I was seated in a chair so big that my feet hardly touched the floor. This family had, so the story went, a bull in their pasture, and I used to have nightmares about being chased by that angry bull. Seeing the picture of the house brought back memories.

Also check the 920 Dewey number in the North Carolina Collection. Here you’ll find lots of collections of short biographies of people from our state. Some of them may be your friends and relatives! This is where I found my uncle and my teacher.

Browsing in the 720s--the architecture section--will, no doubt, disclose pictures and descriptions of some historical buildings familiar to you. Browsing will reveal some books of statewide or regional interest which wouldn’t be listed in the catalog under town or county.

Happy nostalgia trips!