Buried history: Funeral programs are valuable research tools

Dottie Demarest was excited when she saw the Eula M. Ramsey Johnson Funeral Program Collection online for the first time last week.

"This is huge, really huge," said the reference librarian and genealogoy/local history specialist at the Augusta Headquarters Library, where the print collection of funeral programs of blacks is kept.

"It's a big deal for us because it is believed to be the first funeral program collection in the nation to be digitized. It's also a big deal because now anyone can access this resource from anywhere in the world to do research."

The collection began about four years ago when Gloria Ramsey Lucas, the niece of Eula Johnson, donated funeral programs to the library.

The collection, also referred to as the African-American Funeral Program Collection, has grown from 300 programs to more than 1,500. Slightly more than 1,000 can now be viewed online.

About 70 percent of the programs are of blacks who lived in or had ties to the Augusta area, Ms. Demarest said.

The oldest program in the collection is from Lucy Craft Laney's funeral in 1933. Funeral programs for prominent blacks such as James Brown, Edward McIntyre Sr. and R.A. Dent are also included.

The library has received several calls in the short time the collection has been online, said Gary Swint, library director.

"I'm impressed with how much interest this has generated. We have gotten calls from people who want to donate funeral programs they have collected or are just interested in the collection in general," he said. "It's been exciting to have such a strong response from people already."

Funeral programs contain information that is sometimes hard to find elsewhere, Ms. Demarest said.

"They include information about where they were born, names of their parents, sometimes even their grandparents; their children and extended family members; where they worked; where they attended church; and the organizations they were a part of," she said.

"It's this sort of information that makes funeral programs very valuable, and (it is) the reason so many have held on to them for years."

The online collection can be accessed by going to www.ecgrl.com or dlg.galileo.usg.edu/funeral.

The print collection can still be viewed at the Augusta Headquarters Library, 902 Greene St.

The library hopes to update the online collection, Ms. Demarest said.

For more information about the collection or to donate funeral programs, call (706) 821-2600.

Reach Nikasha Dicks at (706) 823-3336 or nikasha.dicks@augustachronicle.com.


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