Historical society continues to grow its offerings

Published 6:13 pm Thursday, March 14, 2024

Profile 2024: Historical society continues to grow its offerings

By Angela Cutrer

Lafayette County has a precious jewel inside the Lafayette County and Oxford Public Library on Bramlett Boulevard in Oxford: It’s a dedicated room for reviewing historical relics that reflect Lafayette County life and the people who lived in it. 

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It’s all a part of the Lafayette County Historical and Genealogical Society. “Most of the publications we provide are unique and have not received broad coverage in other collections or online,” said Max Hipp, the society’s president. 

“While most people recognize the familiar genealogy websites like Family Search and Ancestry, our collections of items like marriage licenses and bonds date from the 1840s and have not been digitized. Therefore, we believe some hard-copy documents and out-of-print books are still valuable and irreplaceable.”

Back in 1967, the group first formed as the “Skipwith Society” in Lafayette County. Later, it became the more descriptive Lafayette County Historical and Genealogical Society. The society has 70 members, many of whom are out of state and have a keen interest in Lafayette County, said Hipp. 

Today the society can boast an extensive research library sure to help anyone wanting to know about the history of the area, complete with vintage photos and resident listings. On the group’s website, the organization notes that a new addition includes an index to Enslaved Persons mentioned in probate cases in early Lafayette County.

All the work of the nonprofit charitable educational society is through volunteer society members. Dues are $20 a year and members receive an informative newsletter every quarter. Donations are tax deductible. The quarterly meetings are set on the third Sundays of January, April, July and October each year.

In 2023 more than 500 recorded visits to the group’s genealogy room were documented, including those of volunteers who designate certain times of the week to be in the library to assist visitors and process inquiries. They received more than 50 inquiries through e-mail, phone calls and regular mail last year and each inquiry is handled individually or collaboratively with all volunteers. Inquiries in-person and otherwise have come from more than 10 states, 15 Mississippi cities as well as many citizens of Lafayette County, the website homepage reports.

“Our collection has more than 2,000 books in the Genealogy Room at the public library,” Hipp said. “We’ve cataloged and inventoried hundreds of publications we know we have plus, more that we did not know we had. During this process, we’ve cleaned and reorganized our holdings to be more researcher friendly. 

“We have knowledgeable people available in our room most weekday afternoons. We also take inquiries over the phone or by email.”

Society volunteers have been instrumental in making progress in rearranging, cataloging and displaying on shelving directories. “Our staff is composed totally of volunteers; we have spent the better part of two years making sure our books, periodicals, maps and family folders are updated and cataloged so that anyone can view our resources online by subjects or titles,” he said.

The society has also revamped its website and coordinated efforts with the Heritage Foundation and the Lafayette County Digital Museum. These two websites, which concentrate on the people, families and history of the county, have feature stories, videos and photos of those who have contributed to the rich heritage of the area. “Our major effort now is to continue to improve both websites and merge them,” Hipp said.

Quarterly society meetings in the Genealogy Room offer programs of interest to members. “We recently have had speakers who presented facts about genealogical research and ways to properly store that information,” Hipp explained. This research focused on women who fought in the Civil War and local legends, including blacksmith Wohlleben. 

“We have provided the venue for other local nonprofit organizations teaching genealogical research,” Hipp said. “We plan to collaborate with our local Lafayette-Oxford library, as well as the University of Mississippi Library Special Collections, to improve our society’s footprint in the community.”

Hipp said the group has great expectations for the future of the society. “We’re making strides to improve the presentation of our holdings to the public,” he said. “And in the case of some of our resources, we’re making them available online for the first time. Our goal is to let everyone know what is available from us for research, both for genealogy and history, here in Oxford.

“Our future, like so many volunteer organizations, will depend on the interest of future volunteers, along with any technical abilities to help keep our offerings up to date and relevant to researchers.”