[Editor’s Note: This is the sixth and final part in a series on services provided in the Burke County Library system.]

By Tammie Gercken

Staff Writer

The North Carolina Room at the Morganton Public Library is the place people go to research their genealogy or find out more about local history.

“One of the most rewarding things I do is to try to document, preserve and promote our local history,” said Laurie Johnston, curator of the NC Room. “There’s a lot of local interest in history. We did a veterans’ project with (local) African-Americans. That project has gone over so well. Over and over, people have said, ‘Thank you for doing this.’”

She receives inquiries from all over the U.S. from people researching their family histories or certain aspects of local history, averaging about 10 questions per week, in addition to visitors who come in person from many different states.

“People come from all over, because in genealogy work, you really benefit by going to the actual locations where people were, because that’s where the records are, and they’re not always online,” Johnston said. “Just yesterday, some visitors from California came. They contacted me a couple months ago to try and locate a family cemetery so that when they visited the area, they would be able to go out and find it. We were able get detailed directions and GPS coordinates from a local man who knew of the cemetery.”

She described what people can find in the NC Room.

“We have books on local and regional history and genealogy, including works that were ‘self- published’ by genealogists, documenting their own family history, books by local authors, as well as widely published works,” she said. “We have scrapbooks, pamphlets and other printed materials on local history and genealogy from Burke County and primarily western North Carolina. We also have files on items of local interest, such as businesses, institutions, local services, churches, schools, civic organizations, criminal cases, major events, local news, etc. We maintain family files and biography files on local families and people of interest to genealogists and other researchers. We have old telephone books dating back to 1929 and city directories dating back to 1942. We have yearbooks from local high schools, the North Carolina School for the Deaf and Western Piedmont Community College.

“Some of our books are very rare or out of print, so these materials are only available onsite and cannot be loaned to other libraries or checked out -- they must be used in the NC Room. All of these materials may be accessed and used by the general public.”

The NC Room also has back issues of The News Herald on microfilm.

“There are issues available up to 1924 and from 2008 forward online through subscription services, but everything in between can only be found by locating an original paper (stored at the History Museum of Burke County) or by looking up News Herald archives on microfilm,” Johnston said. “Just this past year, we purchased a new digital microfilm reader, allowing us to view, edit, save and print digital images from the microfilm copies of the newspaper.

“We have early marriage records for North Carolina on microfiche (flat sheets of film). Other records we have on microfilm include regional newspapers dating to the mid 1800s, The Valdese News, early court records, census records and Burke County estate records.”

Johnston goes out into the community periodically to present history programs, such as a recent slideshow of photos she presented, along with the Waldensian Heritage Museum, featuring the history of the town of Valdese in recognition of the town’s 125th anniversary. She also partnered with the NCSD Historical Museum last year to create a slideshow documenting the history of the school.

The NC Room is supported by the Burke County Historical Society and Burke County Genealogical Society, and the groups often sponsor NC Room programs. A brochure for the NC Room reports that the Historical Society donated the initial materials for that part of the library.

“In 1983, the Burke County Genealogical Society organized and began researching, abstracting and printing genealogical records from our county courthouse and the State Library,” the brochure reads.

The North Carolina Room was expanded in 1997, thanks to a donation by the Historical Society.

A signature project of the NC Room is “Picture Burke,” in which Johnston and volunteers who work with her scan historic photos belonging to members of the community and compile them into a database. The number of pictures in the database recently surpassed 5,000. The project was started by former NC Room curator Gale Benfield.

“The Picture Burke project is huge,” Johnston said. “It’s one of the best things we do.”

Johnston invites members of the community to share historical information or Picture Burke photos with the NC Room by contacting her at 828-764-9266 or ljohnston@bcpls.org.

“We are privileged to have such a well-stocked and organized grouping of materials available to document and share local history,” Johnston said. “Not every public library system has a similar collection of resources. We are often told by researchers who have visited libraries all across the state or nation that our NC Room is one of the best.”

Library Director Jim Wilson agreed.

“We have an excellent local history room here,” Wilson said. “It’s one of the top in the state and one of our most heavily used resources. It’s a self-contained library within a library. It takes a lot of effort to organize and maintain it. The people that we have had who have been curators in that room are passionate about it, and Laurie is a prime example of that. They really want to do it, and that makes a huge difference.”

To learn more, visit www.bcpls.org.

Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at tgercken@morganton.com.

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