Historical society museum needs assistance

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 8/30/00.

Sorting pictures In the files at the Paynesville Area Museum are boxes and boxes of unidentified photos from the turn of the century.

Wedding pictures. Family portraits. Smiling couples. Unknown buildings. At least a half dozen boxes are full of photos that need identification.

These boxes signify a larger problem in preserving the history of the area.

After all, the museum doesn't focus on the past presidents, military leaders, and inventive geniuses that were so prominent in your high school history book. The museum records the history ofour community.

Curator Bertha Zniewski looks through the boxes of unidentified pictures with employees Connie Williams and Lindsey Savage.

The museum staff needs the public to not only visit and learn about the history of the area, but to provide information about the history of Paynesville.

The pictures are a prime example of this problem. “Especially when we first started," explained museum curator Bertha Zniewski, “people were very enthusiastic and they would leave boxes at our door."

The only problem with these several hundred pictures in the museum files is, as Zniewski explains, “years ago people never wrote on the back of pictures."

If the photos were identified, they could be used in exhibits or placed in the respective family file. “People ask for family pictures all the time," explained Connie Williams, who has worked at the museum for several summers.

The museum staff has tried to have the photos identified. For awhile, they hung one on the bulletin board each week. They also showed them to a group from the Good Samaritan Care Center a few years ago, which led to several identifications. They may try to tap this, and similar sources, again.

But no museum visitor has ever asked Williams to look at them. And they need people, especially long-term residents of the community, to help.

Unidentified picture Zniewski and Williams also urge people to label their photos. Write on the backs now, so future historians won't look at your wedding pictures and wonder. “When you think of how special that day was and how no one remembers it," explained Williams, holding a unidentified wedding picture from the turn of the century, “it's kind of sad."

At right is one of the museum's unidentified pictures.

While photos are needed for displays, it's the stories behind the photos that give the history life. It's those stories that people sometimes neglect to include when they make a donation to the museum.

Williams said the museum appreciates all the donations of artifacts. “What's even more precious is the information that goes with it," she explained.

“People need to come and use (the museum) more, but also, before they come and use it, they need to give us the information so the next one can use it," she added.

With all the nice exhibits in the two buildings of the museum, the files can be easily overlooked. The files include folders with information on individual families, businesses, churches and cemeteries, wars, area lakes, and much more.

Williams said descendants will come to the museum and want information about their ancestors in Paynesville. On occasion, they will be disappointed to find only a scrap of information in the file, while another file will be full of details.

The museum's role is to maintain and organize items and information once they come in. “We can't do anything about it 'til it comes in here," said Williams.

“Everybody has a story," she continued. “You don't have to be rich and famous to have a story. Just because he was a farmer and not a movie star doesn't mean his story isn't interesting."

The museum staff documents even the scraps of information that come their way. When all these are combined, Williams said, they can form a story about the area.

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