Monday, July 6, 2009

Asheville Public Library Genealogy and Local History Collection

My husband and I have come to Asheville's main public library, known as the Pack Memorial Library of the Buncombe County Public Library System for a little internet time. So I took the opportunity, as a visiting genealogist, to browse the local history and genealogy collection. It is located on the main floor, in the reference department.

They have an extensive collection of North Carolina regional histories, providing wonderful coverage of all parts of the state. They do, of course, have a concentration of materials on Asheville and Buncombe County, of which it is the county seat. Buncombe County is the origin of our word "buncombe" or "bunkum," meaning nonsense, information with no foundation whatsoever. The term was applied to a particularly hot-air-filled state legislator, the gentleman from Buncombe, whose inflated prnouncements led to the use of the county's name as a synonym for bombast and hokum.

One of the highlights is the Pack Memorial Library Newspaper clipping collection, consisting in several volumes of photocopied newspaper clippings about the area and its people. Prominent among them in the volume covering the "Pa" part of the alphabet, is George W. Pack, local resident in the early 20th century, described by one of the newspaper articles as "the greatest public benefactor" in Asheville's history. The articles are arranged alphabetically by subject, with a table of contents at the beginning to indicate the contents of each particular volume.

Also wonderful is the postcard collection, kept in binders, again arranged alphabetically. The collection does not consist in actual postcards, unfortunately, but only in black and white photocopies of them. Arranged by subject, the postcards reflect decades of Asheville area history, covering the city, the people, places, and the surrounding National Park areas which include the Blue Ridge Parkway and Mount Pisgah National Park.

Photocopying the newspaper articles and the postcards is a way of preserving them. The newspaper articles, especially, are subject to deterioration and subsequent loss. Photocopying the postcards not only preserves the images from deterioration, but also from pilfering by light-fingered people, the bane of any librarian's existence.

Censuses are naturally a part of the genealogy collection. Census microfilms are available, and there are transcriptions of most of the censuses, as well. The library also subscribes to the library edition of

City directories form part of the collection, from the mid-1800s onward. This library has also bound copies of their telephone directories from the mid 20th century onward. I know of few libraries which have taken the trouble to do that, but it is a boon to genealogical researchers attempting to fix their ancestors in place and time.

People wishing to trace western North Carolina ancestries could do well to stop by at the Pack Memorial Library in Asheville.


Amy (We Tree) said...

Oh how lucky you are to live near that library! I have Jones ancestors from there. Ebed Jones, Wiley Jones, Manson Jones, Frank Wiley Jones. They ended up moving to TX in the 1850's or so. I've barely touched the surface of their history (my history) in Buncombe County.

Thanks for sharing all the great details about their collection.

Karen Packard Rhodes said...

Thanks, Amy, for the comment, but I don't live in Asheville. My husband and I were vacationing there, and were otherwise without internet connection, so we went to the library with our laptops to use their wi-fi. While we were there, I decided to check out the library's collection because I needed a subject for my blog. We live in northeast Florida! (But we have a great library nearby, the Jacksonville Public Library. I should blog about them too!)

Evelyn Yvonne Theriault said...

Thank you for this informative article - especially the part about the postcards.
I think it's a great idea to have copies and then I presume if someone wants to look at the original they can sign up for them.
And of course we're lucky now that many collections are going online!
Evelyn in Montreal