I love discovering new genealogical archive treasure troves, and today’s post is an extremely exciting discovery. A coworker of mine clued me in on a fantastic tool that I had to share with all of you! It’s the Durham Museum Photo Archive.
For those who may not know, the Durham Museum is housed in what was once Union Station, a train depot which was and remains to be “one of the finest examples of Art Deco architecture in the Midwest”. It houses different collections including histories of Omaha and of the West. Check out their website here for more information.
Since I’ve begun researching for my current WIP, I’ve been relying on newspapers, books, and factual information like census records to trace each person that appeared in my 2x great grandfather’s life. But I found little that could show me how Omaha would’ve appeared in the 1920s and 1930s when he was living here.
That is, until learning of this photo archive.
Finding this photo archive literally made my jaw drop. From my newspaper research, I knew that my 2x great-grandfather, William Sutliff, dropped dead on the sidewalk outside the State Hotel (a building that is no longer standing). But I had thus far been unable to locate a picture of what the hotel looked like. And seeing this photograph really opened my eyes. In my mind, I had pictured an imposing, architecturally detailed building, like that of the Hotel Fontenelle:
Yet if you click on the photo above of the State Hotel, you can see a tiny sign near street level advertising a burlesque show. (Clearly my 2x great grandfather liked to have a good time. Which is not at all evident from the multiple alcohol-involved accidents and arrests.) But in all seriousness, this photo did give me more insight into his life. The State Hotel looks to be designed more for living quarters rather than an opulent escape for visitors to the city. With laundry, barber shop, restaurant and entertainment all available within a city block, he wouldn’t have needed to travel far for much. It’s also sobering to think that his life could’ve turned out so differently had he chosen to walk another path. (I do love my “what-if” questions as a writer!)
It’s an amazing collection, and one that I’ll be browsing through frequently in the coming months while working on research. It’s completely searchable by keywords as wells as by certain collections. I highly recommend anyone with ties to Omaha history (or simply and interest in history!) check it out!