Volunteers organize Hempfield historical society storage into archive room

Renatta Signorini
| Sunday, Jan. 26, 2014, 10:20 p.m.

Painstaking work by volunteers at Baltzer Meyer Historical Society is slowly transforming a messy, unorganized room into a wealth of genealogical documentation.

“Because of them, this is usable space,” said society President Bruce Shirey of Youngstown.

Numerous filing cabinets filled with neatly arranged pictures, family trees and records line the walls of an upstairs room in the society's building, the former Old Zion Lutheran Church at 642 Baltzer Meyer Pike.

Books are stacked on shelves. Items culled from the mess — such as a 1938 tricycle, milk bottle caps from Shirey's Dairy Farm and a green megaphone — are displayed as a “mini museum,” Shirey said.

It is the result of tedious archiving work by Franny Petras and Bonnie Bach of Greensburg.

Neither knew the extent of disarray they faced upon agreeing to take on the project in October.

“We were kind of shocked” at the haphazard state of the catch-all room, Bach said. “We knew it had to be done.”

So they got to work organizing the room's contents into related piles on the floor, which took about three or four weeks. Bach and Petras have spent five to six hours semiweekly since October cataloguing each photo, document and item they found in the room.

Items sorted over at least 100 volunteer hours by the women include family trees, vintage Valentines, an early-1900s toy electric stove and old photographs.

On Wednesday, they peered through a magnifying glass to examine names on a framed 1914 class photo from Grove City College.

Meanwhile, Shirey and volunteer Carl Webberking of Hempfield were cleaning and painting. They hope to eventually update the wooden floor of the 130-year-old church.

A detailed list of the room's contents will be loaded into a spreadsheet, which will allow for easy computer-based searching and a quick means of finding an item, thanks to numbered shelves and drawers.

“I think it's a great asset for people who are looking for ancestors,” Petras said.

One of the best finds, the women agree, are two, 30-foot paper scrolls outlining the Ruff family's lineage and dating back to the 1700s.

The Rev. Paul Miller Ruff founded the historical society in the 1990s and wrote numerous books during his life about the area's early settlers.

“We were pretty excited about that,” Bach said.

Shirey hopes the archiving will give the society a more professional handle on its inventory. The project could be completed by late summer.

Shirey will have a new task for Bach and Petras when they finish — archiving items in the society's library.

“They work well together,” Shirey said. “I am more tickled than I can stand.”

Renatta Signorini is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-837-5374 or rsignorini@tribweb.com.

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