Backstage Pass to North Dakota History

This blog takes you behind the scenes of the State Historical Society of North Dakota. Get a glimpse at a day-in-the-life of the staff, volunteers, and partners who make it all possible. Discover what it takes to preserve North Dakota's natural and cultural history.

This summer I was lucky enough to be chosen as temporary staff for the State Historical Society of North Dakota. My official title for the summer was reading room assistant; this includes greeting guests as they enter the State Archives and assisting them in finding the resources they need to complete their research.

College-aged man standing by a cash register ready to greet people

Zachary greets patrons entering the reading room.

You never know what the next person coming through our doors is going to want to find, or why. I have heard many interesting stories and find it fascinating the long distances people will travel to acquire what they are after. I have worked with patrons from all over the United States and even Canada. I look at each patron’s research like a puzzle, and have to find the missing pieces to help them complete it.

As archivists it is not only our job to find resources for our patrons but to archive and keep track of North Dakota history. My project for the summer has been to document Morton County probates in an Excel document. The end goal is to make this information readily available for the public to use in research. While working on the probates it has been interesting seeing all the foreign names of immigrants, and the cursive from back then looks like a whole different language. I am hoping this project will one day help complete another puzzle piece in a patron’s research.

College-aged man sitting at a computer working

Working on entering Morton County probates into Archives for patrons’ use.

The more I have learned about the Archives’ vast amount of resources, the more I have taken advantage of using them myself. I have used resources such as ancestry library and our county history books to begin piecing together a small genealogy project for my dad’s side of the family. I have also used the microfilm collection to look up old articles on family members and even on myself. I have started a scrapbook for myself on my high school soccer career that documents all my stats and interviews. The microfilm machines are very fun to use and are helpful in finding all types of newspaper clippings at lightning speed.

College-aged man sitting at a computer looking at microfilmed newspaper from the microfilm machine next to him

Looking at microfilm for old newspaper clippings.

After my experience working in the State Archives this summer, I am looking forward to utilizing my newly acquired research skills in my upcoming year of college. My love for history has never been in doubt, but this job has given me a greater appreciation of history and the wonderful people that archive and keep it safe.

College-aged man standing in an isle of shelves full of boxes

The stacks in the Archives were by far the sweetest thing to use.