Kane County History: Elgin's Incredible Historic Image Collection -- Made Possible By Volunteers

Kane County History: Elgin’s Incredible Historic Image Collection — Made Possible By Volunteers



  • Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series on Kane County’s amazing history. Today’s blog was written by Elgin History Museum Curator of Collections Beth Nawara. All photos are courtesy of the Elgin History Museum.

April is National Volunteer Appreciation Month — 30 days dedicated to recognizing the importance of volunteering and honoring the significant contributions volunteers make by donating their time and talents to organizations.

Elgin History Museum volunteers help in many areas of the museum. From greeting visitors, assisting with education programs and special events to helping organize the museum’s artifacts, volunteers are instrumental in the museum’s success.

One project that volunteers are working on now is digitizing images from the Elgin Courier-News.

Mary Wheeler Chapter of American War Mothers — 1980.

The museum has about 100,000 photographic negatives that are being made more easily accessible to the public. The negatives show people participating in sports, church, school, community organizations, and neighborhood events. The negatives date from about 1936 to 1986.

Nearly 20 years ago, David Siegenthaler began indexing each negative. The index is available on the Elgin History Museum website. Volunteers Judy Schroeder and Mira Wojciechowska continue to add to the index.

Many people have used the index, but in the last few years the feedback from the public was that they wanted to see the image with the index.

The museum applied for and received grants from the Illinois State Historical Records Advisory Board for $3,919 and from the Institute of Library & Museum Services for $14,862. Funds from these grants are being used to make those images accessible to the public.

The grant’s focus is showing under-represented groups in Elgin. There are images pertaining to Laotian immigrants during the 1970s, The American War Mothers organization, The Centro de Informacion, students playing sports, and many other images.

Summer Day Camp — 1968.

Volunteer Laurel Garza is scanning hundreds of negatives. Jackie Marcus is uploading images and inputting data to Illinois Digital Archives. Angel Jacoby is inputting data about the images to the museum’s website. Currently, about 1,000 images are now available on Illinois Digital Archives and the Elgin History Museum website. More images are added weekly.

Another aspect of the grants is to repair images of negatives that are damaged. Negatives in the collection from the 1930s and 1940s are deteriorating. Ira Marcus is repairing 200 images to restore the clarity before the negatives are unusable.

The negatives are a great genealogical resource and with the help of volunteers the number of images available to the public will keep increasing. The easiest way to search for someone is by last name. When the grant projects are completed, there will still be thousands of negatives to digitize and make available to the public.

With the help of dedicated volunteers, more images will continue to become available. The project is funded by the Illinois State Historical Records Advisory Board and the Institute of Library & Museum Services.

About The Elgin History Museum

The Elgin History Museum is housed in an 1856 landmark building known as Old Main that was once part of the Elgin Academy campus.

The Elgin Area Historical Society, which was founded in 1961, is a thriving organization that operates within the museum. The society has a board of directors with a mission that is driven to preserve and educate the community about Elgin history.

The Elgin History Museum is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. Two floors of Elgin history exhibits pull you back in time to remember how the community developed from 1835 to today.

For more information, visit elginhistory.org.

Read The Kane County History Series!

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