About Barbara

Barbara Austen is the Archivist at CHS and is responsible for all of the incoming manuscripts, which means she gets to read people's diaries or mail. She has a master's Degree in Library and Information Science and has been working in the museum and historical society world for 30 years.

Are you Mickey Mouse?

White gloves often seen in museum and archives settings.

White gloves often seen in museum and archives settings.

One question we often get in the Waterman Research Center from researchers handling manuscripts is, shouldn’t I be wearing gloves? Here at CHS we have determined that clean hands are less damaging to the documents than gloves would be. Note the emphasis on clean. Your fingers are highly sensitive to the edges of pages, can feel if a document is particularly weak or beginning to tear. Gloves reduce that sensitivity and could lead to further damage due to decreased dexterity and sensation. However, if you are using photographs, handling textiles or furniture, looking at works of art on paper . . . and the list goes on . . . you will be asked to wear gloves. In these cases, the oils on your fingers are more dangerous than the gloves. Continue reading


A Who’s Who of the Early Republic

Working with the papers of Oliver Wolcott Jr. really is like reading a Revolutionary War/Early Republic who’s who, as I mentioned in my previous post about our grant-funded project. I keep running across letters to or from the likes of Alexander Hamilton, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster. Continue reading

Everything Kate

I thought I would “jump on the Kate bandwagon”, as it were, for this week’s post. We actually do have in the collection some letters written by the stage and screen star. They provide additional proof that her heart still belonged in part to Hartford and more particularly to the Asylum Hill Congregational Church. Continue reading

Wolcott goes online

Oliver Wolcott. A portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart.

Oliver Wolcott. A portrait painted by Gilbert Stuart.

With grant money from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), a division within the National Archives, we recently started a project to digitize manuscript collections that have already been captured on microfilm. The digitized images are going to be available on Connecticut History Online, and there will be links from our online finding aids to the digital images. The first collection we are working on is the Oliver Wolcott Jr. Papers. Wolcott, a native of Litchfield, was first appointed in 1789 as auditor at the new Treasury Department then appointed to comptroller and finally, in 1795, when Alexander Hamilton retired, Wolcott became Secretary of the Treasury. Continue reading

Daylight Practice Air Raid

One of my favorite sources for historical content and context are diaries. Madeline L. Wells lived in Danielson, Connecticut, when she kept a diary that recently came into the collection here at CHS. She was about 22 in 1943 and kept a meticulous record of the major news stories of the day, all recorded in clear block print. For example, on Tuesday, April 20, 1943, she noted that Adolph Hitler’s 59th birthday was celebrated with “little enthusiasm” by the German people and that the British Army continued its advance toward Tunis. Only rarely do we get an idea of her personal activities. Continue reading

Right to your door

You mean to tell me that at one time the postal service did not bring my mail directly to my house six days a week? How could that possibly be?

mailbox Continue reading

Just part of the job

KKK rally broadside. CHS 2014-054

KKK rally broadside. CHS 2014-054

Collecting history can sometimes be uncomfortable and it is often hard to retain objectivity. Such was the case with two recent acquisitions—a broadside advertising a Ku Klux Klan demonstration in Woodstock in 1926, and two protest posters from this past Saturday’s rally to repeal Connecticut’s gun laws. Continue reading

Hawaii Once Again

One of these days, I will have to go to Hawaii because I keep coming back to it in my research and blog posts. Now I am going to be talking to a college class about Connecticut missionaries in Hawaii. In addition, next week is filled with Hawaii-related programs at Central Connecticut State University(CCSU) and the Hartford Seminary. All are free and open to the public.

On Wednesday, April 9 from 4:30 to 5:10 p.m. Keala Kelly will show her documentary film Noho Hewa, with a discussion to follow. This award-winning film explores the effects of colonialism on the indigenous people of Hawaii. The program is in the Thorp Theater at CCSU.

On Thursday April 10 there are two programs. First, from 10:45 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., Dr. Keanu Sai from the University of Hawaii will talk about “Hawai’i: An American State or a State under American Occupation?” He will be at CCSU in the Vance building, room 105. That will be followed by an evening program, 7:00-9:00 p.m. at the Hartford Seminary with a panel presentation on “The Hawaii-Connecticut Missionary Connection: Rumors and Realities” featuring Dr. Steven Blackburn of the Seminary, Aolani Kilihou from the University of Hawaii, and Dr. Clifford Putney of Bentley University, with Dr. Sai serving as moderator. At this event, CHS will display some of the items from its collection related to Hawaii and missionaries from Connecticut.

Letter from Amos Starr Cooke in Hawaii to Obadiah Mead of Greenwich, Conn. Ms 63965

Letter from Amos Starr Cooke in Hawaii to Obadiah Mead of Greenwich, Conn. Ms 63965

This series is sponsored by a grant from the Hartford Consortium for Higher Education, Women’s Studies at the University of St. Joseph, Peace Studies at CCSU, Hartford Seminary, and CHS. Please join us for one or all of these programs.

Do we ever learn from history?

I am continually amazed by how history repeats itself, and not always for the better. We recently acquired a set of diaries kept by a young Waterbury man just prior to and during his study to become a doctor. James A. Root, Jr. was between college and medical school when he finally decided to keep a diary. His first entry was on August 20, 1939.

Continue reading

A behind the scenes tour

Aerial view of The Hartford's main building on Asylum Street in Hartford.

Aerial view of The Hartford’s main building on Asylum Street in Hartford.

On Tuesday a number of CHS staff had a cook’s tour of the archives of The Hartford, one of Connecticut’s premier insurance companies. I never realized that behind the imposing main building that is on Asylum Street, there is an entire campus of buildings and facilities. Continue reading