It used to be that historical records and photographs at museums and libraries were available only to a few researchers and only at certain times of the day when those places were open to the public.
But since the advent of the Internet and home computers, anyone can look up cool stuff – any time – about Kansas history.
The Kansas Historical Society announced this month that it has now uploaded more than 400,000 images from its collections to www.kansasmemory.org. It began uploading photos to the website in 2007.
The website contains letters, diaries, photos and government records as well as maps and other items. Viewers can browse by county or topic.
The 400,000th image is a letter from a former Barton County school superintendent to the state chair of the Women’s Committee of the Council of National Defense. It’s dated Aug. 30, 1918, and asks on behalf of the women who were too young to attend the Army School of Nursing whether they could attend a civilian school for nurses. The committee coordinated all activities for women helping with national defense during World War I.
The website contains papers and records from throughout Kansas history – from the Bleeding Kansas territorial period to the Menninger Foundation. There are records from famous Kansas criminals and lawmen, plus at least 40 items on each county in Kansas.
“We started this as a way to get materials out there for people to use,” said Pat Michaelis, director of the Kansas Historical Society’s research collections division. “We think we have great stuff, but not everybody can come in here. So we’ve been getting great usage.”
Kansasmemory.org is averaging about 20,000 to 25,000 users a month, she said.
One of Michaelis’ favorite items is Martha Farnsworth’s diary. She was a Topeka housewife and teacher who wrote detailed accounts of daily life during the late 19th century and turn of the 20th century.
There is also a collection of Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe photographs and pamphlets advertising train, plane and trail travel with Transcontinental Air Transport from 1927 and 1928.
“The airline worked a deal with the Santa Fe Railroad to ride the train at night, fly by day, and you could get across the country faster,” Michaelis said.
The website, Michaelis said, has helped with the society’s current acquisitions.
“People will be looking at Kansas Memory and say, ‘I have some photos like this, are you interested?’ And, generally we are,” Michaelis said.
The website keeps growing daily as more items are uploaded.
“Our intention is to make collections available to the public,” said Michael Church, the society’s digital projects coordinator. “Doing that over the Web is the easiest way for people to access our records.”