September 10, 2014
By Betsy Johnson, assistant archivist at Mercy Heritage Center
The Sisters of Mercy have long honored those who came before them by keeping records in community archives. Historic records are stored at Mercy Heritage Center in Belmont, North Carolina, while five community archivists collect and maintain more recent records. Each archivist is committed to caring for these records and helping people use them—to locate information for someone writing a dissertation on Mercy’s influence on nursing, for example, or to find historic photographs of a ministry for a museum exhibit. On other occasions, we provide answers to questions like: “My great-aunt was a Sister of Mercy. Can you tell me about her life?” or “Whatever happened to my favorite teacher, Sister Mary Polycarp?”
But how exactly does an archivist find the answers to these questions? Here at Mercy Heritage Center, it usually means a trip to “the stacks” where the records are stored in a special climate controlled area of the building. Although much of our world today is online, the majority of our historic records must be accessed the old-fashioned way—by knowing the unique history of a community and how its files are organized.
Taking the example above, how would we look up information about Sister Mary Polycarp? A request like this one for a former teacher, or a group of former teachers, is especially common for class reunions and similar events. But there are a few big steps we have to take to reconnect Sister Mary Polycarp and her former pupils. Read More