Making History Accessible For All

Recent SUNY New Paltz graduate Carrie Allmendinger discussed Historic Huguenot’s database website and the advantages of having local historic letters online for the community to access. Much of her lecture focused on the website’s advantages, and she proved with printed copies of Civil War letters, that history could be preserved and appreciated with close attention to first-hand sources.

When asked why she chose to present this lecture, she said, “I thought, ‘sure, why not?’ It’s an opportunity to try something different and that’s not new to me.” This opportunity affirmed her willingness to show college students the information available for pleasure-learning or required study.

She said to young students early on, “we can find more stuff, like letters, photographs, quilts, clothing and other items online,” from Historic Huguenot Street with this treasury database.

“Hudson River Valley Heritage (HRVH) is where we house the digitized collections, this is where we take the physical items and make them accessible to users online,” Allmendinger said.

She also stressed that HRVH isn’t the sole site to use to uncover local gems. Similar information can be found on the HRVH website, which also offers more information on past local inhabitants and artifacts. Many other Hudson Valley libraries, museums, historical societies, etc. have collections on this site. We also have items on Digital Public Library of America through HRVH.

In conjunction with other sites, the Historic Huguenot’s database has connections all the way down to Cedar Creek and beyond, Allmendinger said.

Since Huguenot received information of a soldier who died in Cedar Creek but lived in upstate New York, their institution has contacted Historic Huguenot to add a copy of his photo on their memorial wall.

Comparable to other common databases, Allmendinger recommended to do a field search, a general topic search, or general keyword search on the HRVH website. Time traveling has never been so quick or reliable to modern explorers who use computers daily to gain knowledge.

Allmendinger said that most of the documents could be found through a Google search, though a more refined search would probably necessitate HRVH’s database.

Allmendinger felt that nearly all of the documents are useful.

“Pretty much everything in there is important: letters and documents that helped establish the town, Revolutionary War records, etc.,” she said.

According to Allmendinger, even after the Revolutionary War era, many things were re-used, including paper and cloth for letters. Though this eco-friendly practice did not conserve bits of history, most of these documents are currently recognized as priceless and donated from descendants or locals unsure if they are the best owners of history-rich records. A lot of donors also want to share what they have, and think the museum is the best way to make that happen.

“[Most of] the letters are donated, sometimes by descendants who found them in their home or admit they aren’t the best person to keep it, as poor storage can make the items fall apart,” she said.

And if Historic Huguenot Street researchers decide a given artifact does not hold local value, Allmendinger said they sometimes give the letters to other institutions if we believe they belong somewhere else.

First-year education major Rachel McLaughlin said she learned a lot about the history and what the historical site does for us as a program. While she hasn’t used this site before, she intends to use it for research purposes.

Publication of these letter online allows the public to access them without damaging the papers. Copied handouts showed students the types of documents that are online and allows them to read pieces of history in an easy-to-read typeface.