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Central Illinois Jewish Communities Archives (CIJCA)

In 2021, an initial donation of historical materials and documents by Sybil Mervis, Neal Ehrlich, and John P. Wolgamot of Danville, Illinois, established the Central Illinois Jewish Communities Archives (CIJCA)/Mervis Archives at the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections (IHLC). These materials offer insight into the integral contributions made by Jewish residents, including businesspersons, rabbis, and community leaders, in central Illinois, particularly in the Danville area. The arrangement and description of the records began in fall 2021, and the initial contributions to the archives became available to researchers in Spring 2022. Currently available collections are listed under Central Illinois Jewish Communities Archives in our Manuscript Collection Database (click on “Records and Manuscripts” to expand the list).

Beyond the initial donation, we are continuing to evaluate materials for inclusion in the CIJCA. To preserve the diverse experiences of small-town Jewish residents in central Illinois, we are collecting materials that document their lives and the history of their communities. Small congregations, organizations, and individuals across central Illinois are encouraged to inquire about contributing to the archives. Please see below for more information about our processes in IHLC and what we collect.

What kinds of materials do we collect?

The IHLC collects a wide variety of historical materials that document the history of Illinois and its communities and inhabitants. As a special collections library, our focus is on print publications and unpublished archival materials, and not on three-dimensional objects. As a whole, our archival collections date from the early 1700s to the present.

Historical materials of particular interest for the CIJCA include:

  • Correspondence
  • Printed ephemera such as programs, leaflets, event materials, and posters
  • Photographs
  • Films/videos
  • Records of families or organizations
  • Legal documents
  • Histories of organizations, businesses, or families, both published and unpublished
  • Obituaries
  • For more ideas, please see More ideas for materials of interest below

The IHLC does not generally accept, apart from items closely related to the context of a larger collection:

  • Three-dimensional objects and memorabilia (trophies, clothing, etc.), with the exception of books and other bound materials
  • Active records (records still in regular use)
  • Mass-produced, non-local publications such as popular magazines
  • Detailed financial records or receipts
  • Duplicated materials

While our digital collecting program is less developed, we are open to discussing donations of either physical (e.g., documents on paper) or digital (e.g., Word or PDF documents) materials.

What can I expect if I would like to donate?

When you reach out to us, we will start by gathering some basic information about the materials you have and are interested in donating. Please note that there is no need to reorganize your papers prior to donating them; in fact, the original order of records can often convey valuable contextual information to archivists and researchers.

Once we determine that a particular set of materials is a good fit for the IHLC, we will work with you on paperwork related to related to their transfer to the archives. This includes preparing and signing a document called “Deed of Gift,” which will transfer ownership of the materials to the University at the time of the donation. In the Deed of Gift you will have the opportunity to choose whether any materials not added to the collection will be returned to you or discarded. The transfer of ownership facilitates the IHLC’s efforts to invest in preserving, describing, and providing research access to the records at the University Library. We will preserve, arrange, and describe the materials in accordance with standard archival practices.

Research access to the materials accepted to the CIJCA will be facilitated in the IHLC reading room once they are arranged and described. Please note that while we do not have the capacity for large-scale digitization of archival materials at this time, we can typically provide reference-quality images for researchers unable to visit in person. The quantity of materials able to be reproduced will depend on available staffing, as well as the materials’ format, condition, and other factors. Providing broad digital access to certain materials may also be restricted by copyright.

If you have any questions about the donation process, or would like to discuss the types of materials you have, please feel free to reach out to us at ihlc@library.illinois.edu.


More ideas for materials of interest

Here are some additional ideas for types of materials of interest, adapted from the Society of American Archivists’ brochures, “Donating Your Personal or Family Records to a Repository” and “Donating Your Organization’s Records to a Repository.”

From individuals and families:

  • Correspondence such as letters or email
  • Memoirs/autobiographies
  • Diaries/blogs
  • Genealogical information
  • Personal papers
  • Photographs
  • Films/videos/audio tapes
  • Scrapbooks/photo albums
  • Brochures and fliers
  • Speeches/lectures
  • Articles/essays
  • Printed awards/certificates

From organizations:

  • Correspondence such as letters or email
  • Photographs
  • Scrapbooks
  • Handbooks
  • Films/videos/audio tapes
  • Constitutions, charters, and/or bylaws
  • Meeting minutes/reports
  • Brochures and flyers
  • Membership lists
  • Newsletters and other publications (generated by the organization)
  • Speeches
  • Press releases
  • Printed awards/certificates