In 1997, before he passed away, Christopher Millsap quietly donated a small collection of historical family documents to the University Library in his grandmother’s name (Martha L. Walker). Over the next 19 years, family members lost track of the exact location of the donation. The lack of information about the contents of the collection made them very difficult to find. It wasn’t until this year that Mr. Millsap’s daughter, Kelly McCleary, decided to take a chance and inquire with the University Library about her family’s documents.
A simple question posed to the Library’s Ask a Librarian online chat service led her to Krista L. Gray in the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections. Krista immediately confirmed that the Library did have the collection and that, in fact, she was currently working on arranging and describing its contents.
“After the collection is arranged and described, we will post a summary of the collection and an inventory of its contents in our online database (as we aim to do for all our manuscript collections) so future researchers will be able to find the collection more easily,” said Krista, a visiting archival operations and reference specialist in the IHLC.
The Sheffer Family Papers, 1836-1993, includes a few Civil War-era letters (two from 1865) and the 1864 marriage license and certificate for Kelly’s great-great-great grandparents.
“I was in complete shock. I jumped out of my chair and yelled. I cried a little. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was elated. I immediately called my mom and said, ‘I found them. I found the letters.’,” remembers Kelly. “It was pure luck that I was able to find the right collection, and the right person that just happened to be working on it at the time.”
On March 8, Kelly was able to visit the IHLC in the Main Library to see the fairly-fragile materials for the first time. She pored over numerous letters, greetings cards, obituaries, birth certificates, and photographs.
“I have decided to become a donor to the Library. I set up payroll deduct donations to the Library in honor of my dad and my Grandma Walker,” said Kelly, who works in the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Institutional Advancement at Illinois. “The reason that I decided to do so is because the Library is a wonderful resource available not only to students, but also to the entire community. I know that the Library will preserve and take care of this collection so that my children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and so on will be able to see this family history at any time.”
For more information about the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections, visit www.library.illinois.edu/ihx.