The Prairie Museum of Art and History announces an online database for historical records of sod house dwellers
Records collected since 1955 by President and Founder Verney Kear of Sons and Daughters of the Soddies now available for access online
COLBY, Kan. (Wednesday, May 1, 2013) Continuing efforts to establish online accessibility to more than 20 boxes of letters, photographs, sod house surveys, certificates and log cabin surveys has been a major undertaking for museum staff for the past five years and is made possible with funding from the Ervil and Ronald Theil Charitable Trust, explained Prairie Museum Registrar Chris Griffin.
"The process of scanning in documents and photographs has been ongoing for over five years," said Griffin, "and will continue until all the information is digitized and made available on the searchable database.
"The collection was given to the museum in 2008 and so far, over 13,500 records have been scanned and uploaded onto the museum's private database. Many of the records have multiple images and each has to be accessioned, cataloged and recorded for identification and so that we can keep track of its location within our archives. 1,000 of those records are now available onloine for public access, but we still have about three more boxes that haven't yet been opened."
Griffin explained the records were first collected by Founder and President Verney A. Kear of the Sod House Society of America and the Sod Town Museum. Born on Aug. 21, 1897, and raised in a sod house, Kear lived in a two-room soddie until the age of 26, helped build several and even taught school in one.
Believing that the industrious pioneers who lived in sod houses should be honored and recognized, Kear organized and incorporated the Sons and Daughters of the Soddies Society and admitted its first members on Aug. 21, 1955. Anyone who was born in, lived in, taught or attended school or divine service, doctored, nursed or conducted religious rites in a sod house, part sod house or dugout, were invited to join the society.
For $1, or $1.35 by mail, members received a certificate and were encouraged to submit letters and photos describing their sod house experiences. By 1961, the society had over 14,000 members with at least one member living in each of the 50 states and in each province of Canada; and when the society dissolved, had about 25,000 members.
Those records now serve as a foundation for historical and genealogical research for scholars and family members across the entire United States and abroad.
"The benefits of offering this comprehensive database to the public is tremendous," said Griffin. "It will provide family members and professional historians all over the world with excellent resources on the sod house era and pioneering the high plains. Many of the records are completed surveys and documentation on sod houeses and family history."
Upon Kear's death, explained Donna Lamm of Colby in a special release to the Colby Free Press titled "Sod houses show Kansas heritage," the society became a corporation and was then served by a board including Gary Cooper, Paul Steele, June Epard, Vernon Englehardt and Ron Thiel, just to name a few.
The great nephew of Kear, Thiel became an important advocate for the society and took a special interest in Kear's Sod Town of Colby, too. He helped to gather over 500 authentic stories and pictures from 1954 until his death in 2008. His continued support to the Prairie Museum's efforts is now honored through a charitable trust memorializing him and his mother, Ervil (Angell) Thiel.
"Efforts to establish an online database of the records simply would not be possible without support from the charitable trust," added former Prairie Museum Director Sue Taylor.
To access the online database, visit prairiemuseum.pastperfect-online.com and for more information, call Registrar Ray Imhof at (785) 460-4590.
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