The Heritage Library is a place to seek, honor and commune with our past.
For such a small Island, Hilton Head figures into the birth and evolution of our nation in a big way. It was instrumental in pushing back the Spanish settlements creeping up from St. Augustine. It grew the first crop of Sea Island cotton in the 1790s. Hilton Head fell to Union troops in 1861 and was instrumental in the blockage of Southern ports. It sheltered hundreds of the formerly enslaved at Mitchelville during the Civil War. And the Island saw the last stand of a general locking horns with President Johnson to implement Lincoln’s plan for Reconstruction.
But while the resort town of Hilton Head Island has been lavished with awards for years, it is not often thought of as a repository for historical record, yet, it is. Hilton Head is home to the Heritage Library, a nonprofit organization that safeguards local and state history — old periodicals, letters and historical photographs, plantation ledgers, Freedmen depositions, smugglers’ records, research projects, some of the Lowcountry’s earliest maps and more. It also works to preserve historic sites like Fort Mitchel and Zion Chapel of Ease Cemetery.
“Telling the Island’s story is what we do best,” says Executive Director Barbara Catenaci.
This fall, for example, the library will offer an array of explorations of the past. They offer these virtual classes…
- “Early Families of Hilton Head Island”
- “The Institution of Slavery, Part 1: The Beginning Through the Triangular Trade”
- “Shepherd of the Sable Multitude: General Rufus Saxton”
And, of course, they offer its genealogy classes. Heritage Library avidly promotes the personal and professional study of genealogy.
The Heritage Library guides participants in starting a family tree, navigating the technical aspects and weaving a narrative from the clues our ancestors left behind.
COVID-19 has required a number of changes. The Library requires wearing masks at all indoor and outdoor library events and practicing social distancing. They enacted cleaning protocols and limit the number of people inside the library at one time and offer appointments. But Heritage Library is deeply committed to their community outreach, and it has lost no time in growing its virtual footprint. Says Catenaci, “We are making use of online classes and programs, providing ancestry research tips and tricks via Facebook and will be adding virtual tours of our sites soon.” Just in the past couple of months, participants from 18 different states took virtual DNA and Family Tree Maker classes!
And though this year’s Historic Holidays on Hilton Head Island will be a virtual event, it will be brimming with Lowcountry and Sea Island holiday traditions, this time beamed directly into your homes. “Keep checking our website and Facebook page,” Catenaci says, “as we are constantly adding new resources and information!”
Piecing together the past can be tricky.
But the library’s employees, champions and volunteers work hard to bring the history of the Lowcountry to the present. Their passion for its mission leaves no doubt as to why USA Today named Heritage Library one of the “10 Great Places to Trace Your Family Roots.”
The library offers a modest daily fee and affordable annual membership options, which provide patrons access to a number of major ancestry and heritage databases. It is open Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. Call today to make an appointment to come see us!
By Dani Ray
2 Corpus Christi, Suite 100, Hilton Head