Contributed by Susan Webb
Mary Alice Moore used to teach Mineral Point’s youngest residents their numbers and letters. Now, as curator of the Mineral Point Archives, her subject matter is Mineral Point history, including our old buildings and ancestors. Below is a recent interview with Mary Alice:
I was born and raised in Mineral Point. Both my paternal and maternal ancestry dates to the mid-1800s, when my ancestors arrived here from Ireland, Cornwall and other areas of England. I attended school here and, after college graduation, resided elsewhere for a few years teaching kindergarten. I married and moved back to Mineral Point and my husband built and operated Midway Lanes. When our five children were of school age I opened Merry-Mor Preschool, and I retired in 1999 after 27 years. Then I accepted a summer position as a docent at Pendarvis, which I very much enjoyed for 10 years. During my time at Pendarvis I also accepted the curatorship of the Mineral Point Room. As of March, 2013, I will have been curator for 10 years.
The Mineral Point Room has a new home after the recent library renovation. It moved from the damp, cold basement to the second floor. What is your favorite thing about the new space?
The new area for the Archives is wonderful, with plenty of space to house the many collections. It has abundant windows for natural sunlight and, most importantly, a controlled air quality environment for our valuable collections. This area was the council chambers until around the early 1990s after the state mandated handicapped accessibility for all buildings. It is now a perfect archival area in the library. What a pleasure to be greeted with this awesome room upon my entrance each workday!
EVERYTHING! I have become quite a history buff, especially Wisconsin and local. I don’t consider this employment a “job” as such, since every aspect of my workday here is so fascinating. Even when I’m not busy with patrons and curious visitors I have plenty to do, such as answering email, researching requests, and organizing the collections and files. I enjoy meeting folks, helping them with their requests and getting to know them. They usually return or we keep in contact.
What’s the best way for me to begin research on my family history?
First I would have to know the surname and the given name if possible. I would look in our obituary and marriage database which contains thousands of names. These obituaries and marriage records are from our Mineral Point newspapers dating back to 1847. When a family ancestor is found, I give the patron the corresponding microfilm for he or she to peruse. Another resource would be our hundreds of family folders that are on file and 50 or so family histories in binders and bound volumes that have been donated to the Archives through the years. Another resource is the census records on microfilm and also hundreds of identified old photographs. It is very rare that a patron’s visit, email, phone, or letter request turns up with no information.
What if I want to research my home?
For anyone researching their home in Mineral Point, we have the 1982-1992 Architectural Survey that was commissioned by the city. All homes in existence at that time are in the survey, each with their own documentation. Many folks who have purchased a home here will visit the Archives to find out the home’s history, especially the date constructed and first owners, if stipulated. We also have a photo collection of hundreds of MP homes, though not every home.
What do people most often research?
I would say their “roots” and for locals, also their homes. We have two people doing research at this time for books they are writing. Others authors through the years have depended on the Archives for their research.
What is the farthest someone has traveled to do research?
Oh my goodness, folks have come from almost every state in the Union. Most are interested in doing family research but many are touring Mineral Point and are curious upon seeing the sign as to what is housed in the Archives. I do remember a person from Cornwall visiting, who wanted some information on ancestors who emigrated to this area. Usually its the other way around.
I have so many interesting requests. One was from a descendent of an ancestor who was listed with his whole family in the 1860 census but could not be found in the 1870 census, even though his wife and family were listed. After looking through many sources, I found him in a GAR record book, stating that he had been killed in a skirmish in Alabama on the very day that Grant and Lee signed the surrender agreement at Appomattox. This is where his remains stayed, thus no burial record in any local cemetery. The lady was ecstatic to receive this information! Researchers love to find another piece to their family puzzle.
Something that I have found so exciting about my years as curator is when an out-of-town visitor is interested in searching a family surname, I can respond with, “Well, whaddya know, we’re related!” This really takes them by surprise, but then I will point out my ancestry and we connect our linked ancestors. I bet this has happened at least nine times. We exchange our family information and they always leave happy. Many have kept in touch through the years.
The Allen Ludden Collection, of course, along with the Sydney Shepard Civil War Collection, the various collections of Robert Neal, the early bound Mineral Point Tribune newspapers, most of the Mineral Point H.S. yearbooks dating from 1917 to 2012 (which, by the way, are requested and looked through often), and since the archives has been in the former council chambers, the photos of all the Mineral Point mayors (which we never had in the former archive room). I could go on and on about what we have at our disposal.
Thank you, Mary Alice for sharing your time and your exhaustive knowledge of Mineral Point with us! You can find Mary Alice in the Mineral Point Archives – located on the second floor of the Mineral Point Library – Thursdays from noon to 8 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.