The Museum Is Switzerland

Can you imagine experiencing the über drama of a reality television star, with your life played out publicly at full volume? Thankfully, the lives of most families in Morrison County are much quieter than those of reality television stars. However, because we deal in family history, we often hear of family tiffs and long-time feuds at the Weyerhaeuser Museum. One portion of a family refuses to talk to or acknowledge another part of the family, sometimes even changing the spelling of its name in order to distance itself from the dreaded relatives.

At times, there are even disputes over our collections related to family disagreements. A three-dimensional artifact was donated once that was claimed by a different relative who was just sure it was meant to be handed down to her. In checking our accession records, we noted a signature from the original donor giving the museum legal ownership of the piece. If the museum didn’t have a signature, the relative claiming the item would have had to work through all of the potential heirs to the piece in order to legally claim it. The signature is proof that the donor intended for the piece to be at the museum.

Another time, a researcher said he was willing to donate his genealogical research only if we would keep it away from particular relatives. Umm, no, thank you. That is a collection we cannot accept. Aside from the nightmare of keeping track of which relatives would be “allowed” to look at the materials, that isn’t the way the Morrison County Historical Society operates.

Our museum is like Switzerland. We maintain a neutral attitude and territory concerning county history. We don’t play favorites among family members, politicians, or controversial issues. It is our job to preserve a multitude of perspectives about the people and events of Morrison County and help researchers cross-reference oral histories, family stories or hearsay with accurate documentation via official records.

“But, but, but … what if goofy Uncle Bob who likes to tell tall tales submits the family history? No one can believe a word that guy says.”

If your goofy Uncle Bob wants to donate a family history related to Morrison County, that’s fine. Just because he tells tall tales at family gatherings doesn’t mean his genealogical research is faulty. Even if some of his facts aren’t completely accurate, there will be value in what he contributes because of what it shows us about him. And, if you are a stickler for accuracy in your family history, we encourage you to donate a copy of what you’ve compiled so that it can be compared with Uncle Bob’s version.

Understand that museum staff don’t have the time or resources to fact-check every document submitted to MCHS. We take each donated item on faith and then, when using it for research, find other resources to confirm the information contained within. “Trust, but verify,” a Russian proverb President Ronald Reagan was fond of quoting, is our modus operandi.

The museum’s Switzerland-like neutrality also carries over to who has access to the history we’ve collected. Our files are open to the public so long as their use does not threaten their preservation. If we have a brittle letter from an early Morrison County settler that is in danger of tearing when handled, we won’t provide the original to a researcher, but we will provide a working copy. It doesn’t matter if you’re quirky Quentin, bossy Beverly, shy Sylvester, rowdy Rita, or magnificent Matilda, if you’re interested in Morrison County history, we’ll share it with you.

And that’s the great benefit of museums in general. Our collections can be used to pass along culture to all comers, whereas private collections typically enrich only those who own them. We take our role in sharing the culture very seriously. To do that fairly and properly while providing the fullest representation of the county, we’ll maintain our Switzerland status. We don’t take a particular side … we take all sides.

By Mary Warner

Copyright 2013, Morrison County Historical Society

This article first appeared in the Morrison County Historical Society newsletter, Volume 26, Number 3, 2013.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *