On Feb. 15, the Knox County Public Library will host a presentation and book signing for my new book, “Hidden History of Vincennes and Knox County.” The book is made up of columns that originally appeared in the weekly “Our Times” column that I have written for The Sun-Commercial since 1999.
The library, of course, is an obvious place to hold a book signing for any author, but it is a particularly appropriate location for the kickoff event for this book. That’s because almost all of my research was done at the library’s McGrady-Brockman House, 614 N. Seventh St., and the majority of the photos that appear in the book came from the library’s collection. In other words, publication of the book would not have been possible were it not for the library’s outstanding local history/genealogy resources.
It has often been said that newspapers are the first draft of history and the Knox County Public Library has the most complete set of microfilmed Vincennes newspapers around, dating back to 1806 and continuing up to the present day. Some Bicknell newspapers are also part of the collection. These newspapers were my principal source for researching the columns that appear in the book, offering all kinds of unique detail on particular topics that could not be found anywhere else. Since, at one time, there were several Vincennes newspapers being published concurrently, it is always interesting to read what are sometimes diverse accounts of the same event in different papers and then sort out the facts.
A portion of the newspapers have now been digitized and are available for free online. They can be found on the library’s web site at www.kcpl.lib.in.us. Users just need to go to the Genealogy tab and then click on “Historical Newspapers” to access this wealth of information. This is one of the library’s most popular online resources.
The library also maintains the most comprehensive set of Vincennes City Directories available, the earliest edition being 1858-59, as well as a few directories for the city of Bicknell. The directories are invaluable in tracing residents and their occupations and for creating a timeline of when local businesses were in operation.
Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps on microfilm are also part of the library’s collection. The library has maps of varying dates for Vincennes, Bicknell, Edwardsport, and Oaktown. The maps give a bird’s eye view of their respective communities, with the layout of streets and buildings carefully reproduced. Although originally created for fire insurance purposes, they now provide an important resource for researchers who can see the outline of these communities in earlier years.
Genealogy records, such as census and death records, were also helpful. The library maintains a subscription to Ancestry.com that patrons can access for free on site. Secondary sources, including published Vincennes and Knox County histories also offered insight. There are a number of local histories at the main library that patrons can check out.
It was the library’s collection of photographs, postcards, and artwork that allowed me to illustrate some of the columns. Some of the photos in the book may be familiar to people, but many have never been seen before. A few came from published works, such as a photo of the cast of the 1916 high school play, “Alice of Old Vincennes,” which appeared in that year’s Vincennes High School Yearbook. The library also offers the most complete set of Vincennes/Knox County yearbooks around.
Some of the library’s artwork appears in the book. For example, a column on Vincennes resident “Uncle” Billy Green Jr. is illustrated with two of his paintings. Green, who died in 1955, began painting late in life, much in the style of Grandma Moses. Many of his rustic works hang in the McGrady-Brockman House.
The sources I have mentioned, barely begin to touch upon all of the resources available at the library. I have just highlighted many that have been helpful to me in my research. There are many more, especially those of interest to genealogists, including original Knox County records, such as civil, criminal, and probate records.
My book was published by The History Press, which focuses on local and regional history. Many other books of history from this publisher can be found at the library.
The official publication date for “Hidden History of Vincennes and Knox County” is Feb. 10. My book signing at the library will be at p.m. on Feb. 15. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. The signing of books will be preceded by a Powerpoint presentation about the book and my publishing experience.
For more information on this event, contact the library at 812-886-4380.