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Preserving History in Heritage Hall

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They come almost daily, sometimes two or three at a time, from all over the United States and Canada.

Some are members of the Christian Reformed Church who come to look up their family’s history; others need background information for their church’s anniversary booklet. Still others are students doing research. All of them find information in the vast collection of historical documents that resides in Heritage Hall on the second floor of the Hekman Library at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

Seventy-two years ago, in June 1934, Classis Grand Rapids East asked synod to form a historical committee to “gather and preserve books and documents of historical value pertaining to the history of our Church and to the Church from which we originated and to religion in general, and to provide a room and facilities (in the College or Seminary building) where they can be properly preserved and displayed.”

That year marked the 100th anniversary of the Afscheiding (Secession) in the Netherlands from the Dutch Reformed Church, and thoughts were centered on church history and how best to preserve it.

Synod granted the request and the Historical Committee of the Christian Reformed Church was born. The first members were Rev. H. Beets and professor D. H. Kromminga. Current members are Rev. Michael DeVries, Dr. Robert Swierenga, Rev. Lugene Schemper, Mrs. Janet Sheeres (chair), and Dr. Richard Harms, secretary (ex officio). Dr. Robert Bolt, emeritus professor of history at Calvin, serves as the committee’s field agent.

The mission of the archives is to collect and preserve data from Christian Reformed churches in the United States and Canada. The staff works under the direction of Harms, who also edits Origins, the semiannual journal of the archives that publishes articles about the church and its members and our immigrant history. They are assisted by volunteers who know the Dutch language and can translate church minutes.

Besides the church materials, there is also a growing collection of family histories and genealogical data, such as obituaries and wedding anniversary notices. Currently the staff is keying these data into an electronic index that will be accessible online. (Data from the period 1996-2005 are already available at www.calvin.edu/hh/Banner/Banner.htm)

Passenger lists of Dutch immigrants to the United States beginning in the early 1840s are available in books and on CDs. The Holland American Line passenger lists from 1900 to 1940 are accessible on microfiche.

The archives have records for most Christian Reformed congregations. Holdings include church anniversary booklets, histories, membership directories, newspaper articles, and other pertinent information.

One source of information about post-World War emigration is a comprehensive list of emigrants generated by the Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland, which requested that all Gereformeerde congregations in the Netherlands forward the names of families who intended to emigrate and where they intended to settle. A committee compiled lists and forwarded the information to the Christian Reformed Church in Grand Rapids which, in turn, sent field men and ministers to welcome the immigrants as they arrived.

The archives welcomes donations of family histories and other memorabilia of historical value and would appreciate receiving periodicals about immigrants, churches, schools, businesses, and organizations.

Heritage Hall is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Origins is published semiannually. Subscriptions are $10 per year and may be obtained by e-mailing archives@calvin.edu.

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