While the pandemic and COVID safety protocols have made it impossible for researchers to come to West Virginia Wesleyan College to use the West Virginia Annual Conference Archives in person, the Conference Commission on Archives and History has been taking proactive steps to make at least some of the most commonly used material accessible to researchers wherever they happen to be. Starting in 2018, the West Virginia Annual Conference Commission on Archives and History, in conjunction with Conference Archivist Brett Miller, embarked on a pilot project to digitize the first ninety years of conference journals of the Methodist Episcopal Church dating from 1848 to 1938. In partnership with West Virginia Wesleyan College, the Commission was able to take advantage of special consortium pricing to have the journal project outsourced to Creekside Digital, a firm in Glen Arm, Maryland that specializes in preservation digitization. Because each of the journals ranged anywhere from 100 to 400 pages each, the project would have taken substantially longer to accomplish if it had been done in-house at West Virginia Wesleyan.
After the success of the first batch, the Commission established a goal of sending off more journals each year after that to be digitized, and in 2019, the Commission moved forward with the digitization of a second batch of journals, this time those of the newly-merged Methodist Church dating from 1939 until 1967. The Methodist Church was formed in 1939 from the merger of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South, and the Methodist Protestant Church. Unfortunately, as the pandemic impacted all aspects of life in early 2020 and West Virginia Wesleyan College employees were sent to work from home, the project slowed and the process of getting the digital journals online came to a halt. Once in-person work resumed in summer 2020, the process of getting the journals online resumed, and currently journals from 1848-1944 are online. The archives staff is continuing its work of checking quality control on the scans, uploading the digitized journals, making sure that there is appropriate descriptive data.
“Many of the requests for information we receive from local church historians and genealogists can be answered with information that comes from the conference journals, so having these oldest records available online and fully searchable is a game changer for researchers,” noted conference archivist Brett Miller. “Now instead of researchers having to drive to West Virginia Wesleyan or for our staff to have to spend hours digging through materials to research for people, we are putting the power in their hands to find the information they need.”
The Conference Commission anticipates digitizing the journals of the Methodist Episcopal Church South next, followed by the Methodist Protestant Church, the Evangelical United Brethren Church, and eventually the most recent journals of the United Methodist Church dating from 1968 to the present. Additionally, the archives is seeking some missing journal volumes for certain of the Methodist predecessor denominations, especially the Methodist Protestant Church and the Washington Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, which was the segregated African-American conference that encompassed black Methodist churches in West Virginia. Any former MP or Washington Conference ME churches with historic journals are encouraged to contact Brett Miller, as these journals may potentially help the archives fill holes in its collection and to make this valuable historical content available to researchers all over the world.
The journals are freely available and accessible to the public at the following URL: https://pagesintime.wvwc.edu and then select the collection “West Virginia Methodist Conference Journals and Minutes.” Researchers may browse the journals page-by-page, search within individual journals, or search across all the journals that are currently available.
For more information, or if you have journals to contribute to, please contact Brett Miller, West Virginia Annual Conference Archivist.