Small Town Museums

Recently, another genealogy blogger had a post that sharply criticized a rural Kansas historical society. While some of the criticism might be justified, I’d like to share my experiences working with such societies.

Over the years, I have corresponded with many smaller historical and/or genealogical societies. At various times, I’ve also been a member of some of these societies. My correspondence has resulted in a wide variety of documents and family information. The wall of my office currently has a map of original land owners in Garrard county, Kentucky which was generously sent to me by a member of the Garrard County Historical Society.

Because of my love of genealogy, I elected to spend some of my retirement time as a volunteer at the Nemaha County Historical Society, even though none of the branches of my family tree are found in Nemaha County, Kansas.

The Nemaha County (KS) Historical Society has a twelve member board of directors. While some may think of a board of directors as figure-heads, our board is a group of volunteers doing all of the work to “Collect, Preserve and Share” the local history. As volunteers, we spend Tuesdays working in the museums.

Unlike larger societies, we do not have a paid director. Not only does this limit what we can accomplish but it also limits the hours we can have our museums open and the ability to quickly respond to correspondence, including research requests.

In an effort to assist researchers, we maintain an ‘online catalog’ of our collection called ‘PastPerfect Online’ via the ARCHIVE link on our website. Thus, a genealogist wondering whether we had a family Bible in our collection could search our collection for the keyword, Bible, to see what we have. [In the case of the disgruntled genealogy blogger, the society in question only shows 2 Bibles in their version of PastPerfect Online. Thus, it is doubtful that they have the much sought after Bible.]

Our website also has a Genealogy page with links to the digitized versions of many of the county newspapers. A recent addition to this page is a link to, Genealogy Resources, a site providing links to a variety of historical and genealogical resources for Nemaha County, Kansas.

As someone who has spent years researching her family tree using a variety of records, I know that the Nemaha County Historical Society has wealth of information about Nemaha county families buried in its collections. I’m sure the same is true of many other small societies.

My advice to fellow genealogists when searching for that elusive family information in a smaller (or even large) historical or genealogical society is to

Look for an online catalog or other online resources


Donate your time and/or money

Be patient

Be Kind

About our museums

The old sheriff’s residence and jail was the first museum under the auspices of the Nemaha County Historical Society. Two additional buildings (annexes) were later built to the East of the residence and jail. The first annex has a few displays but is primarily a work area. The second annex houses several displays.

When the Seneca Masons disbanded, they donated their building to the historical society. The former Masonic Temple has been turned into a military museum honoring the veterans of Nemaha county.

6 thoughts on “Small Town Museums

  1. Thanks for your work at the historical society! Although I don’t live in the county, I belong to the East Yuma County (Colorado) Historical Society in Wray, CO. They have a wonderful museum, a genealogy room, and great volunteers. They do not have an online presence, but they are very welcoming when I visit and they respond to their emails. Speaking of Kansas, I spent the day yesterday looking at online information on Ottawa and Mitchell counties and was rewarded with the death date of Mike’s 3rd great grandfather from a newspaper (yea!) but alas, the death notice was too brief to tell me much.

  2. Kathy S.

    Instead of criticizing smaller societies, it would be great if people would volunteer even a few hours a week. Most small societies have only a handful of volunteers who are trying to process new donations, organize the ones they have, digitize what they can, develop web sites and programs, etc. I just started volunteering at a local historical society/museum, and there’s so much buried in its collections. But, we need people who can help make the materials and the information publicly available.

  3. I missed the post you referred to, but agree whole-heartedly with you – small-town museums/historical societies deserve our support for all they contribute to preserving our heritage. Thank you for your service!

    For my part, I’ve been a volunteer with our local museum for over a decade now, though I generally only visit about once a month now (I work f/t in another community in our area). This museum does incredible work and regularly helps genealogy researchers find answers to their questions, among other many, many offerings.

    In the same community where I work, we have an archive curated by a woman in her late 80s – she’s been the archivist since 1996! Again, family history researchers (among others) find help with their research through Ann.

    Further up the coast we have two more smaller museums filled with fascinating displays. This is all in an area populated by about 30,000 people.

    Further afield, I’ve received help via various historical societies, family history societies, small archives, and museums – I’ve only had to ask and presto, someone contacts me and helps me find what I need.

    As Kathy S said, rather than just moaning online, why not take the time to reach out and offer help.

    1. mcphilbrick

      I purposely did not link to the blog because I did not want to spread the negative. However, it was on one of the ‘best’ lists last week. Thus, there was potential for a lot of people to see it and be influenced by it.

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