One People, All Colors
BIG STONE GAP — The southern Appalachians are a region rich in culture and history, attributes that author and educator Terry Mullins said make researching and writing about them an “illuminating” experience.
Mullins, a native of Tazewell and associate professor of education at Concord University in Athens, W.Va., has authored several books, many about places in Southwest Virginia.
He was one of several speakers featured last weekend at the Melungeon Heritage Association’s 16th union, which was held at the Southwest Virginia History Museum and State Park in Big Stone Gap. In past years, Mullins has presented an overview of the Melungeon people, but this year decided to focus on what resources to use when researching and writing about the mountains for historical and genealogical purposes.
“Researching and writing in the mountains is exhilarating,” he told the audience. “It’s exciting and, to me, it’s challenging, and I hope you will try to do some of it yourself, if you haven’t already.”
Below are some of the tips Mullins gave:
• When recording stories, no matter the subject, make sure you’re inspired to write about that subject and be sure you can find information about it.
• Write about what you know. Mullins’ first book, Pisgah United Methodist Church, Two Centuries of Faith was about his hometown church in Tazewell, which celebrated its 200th anniversary in 1993.
• When researching the history of a church or organization, inquire about its records. Depending on the denomination, district and conference reports might be available, as well as denominational compilations (membership numbers and other information that offers a feel for that church’s history). Mullins mentioned the Holston Conference of the United Methodist Church archives at Emory and Henry College, which offer quite a bit of information about Methodist churches in Southwest Virginia and Eastern Tennessee.
• When researching his book, Bishop, Virginia-West Virginia, a Coalfield Community and Its School, Mullins took advantage of the Eastern Regional Coal Archives, a special collection of resources related to the coal industry housed in the Craft Memorial Library in Bluefield, W.Va.
• Businesses and corporations, as well as ethnic and other special interest groups, such as the Melungeon Heritage Association, might have resources not readily available elsewhere.
• Local historical societies harbor invaluable information.
• County courthouses in Virginia keep marriage, divorce, probate and civil court records from the beginning of the county, as well as birth and death records.
• Newspaper archives can reveal what was happening in a community at a particular time.
• Public and college libraries often have state and region-specific sections. Public libraries might have obituary indices, local and family history files, census records and vertical files. Several nearby colleges that have Virginia or Appalachian collections or Appalachian Studies programs include Appalachian State University, Virginia Tech, Radford University, the University of Virginia’s College at Wise, the University of Kentucky, Marshall University and East Tennessee State University.
• Photo archives can be helpful, such as the Library of Virginia and Virginia Tech’s digital library and archives.
• The internet harbors digitized photo archives, historical records, as well as online access libraries, digital projects and genealogy databases.
• Museums have written records, photos/images, thematic files, gallery collections, dioramas and artifacts, all of which might not be on display.
• Oral histories, eyewitness accounts, audio- and video-taped interviews can help uncover information that might otherwise be unknown.