Volunteer Highlight – Lost in Translations

A valuable asset to a small staffed museum is a team of volunteers. Without willing, knowledgeable members of our community giving a little of their time to help the Leelanau Historical Society’s mission, the archives, events, and museum would not be the same.

Meet David and Robin Beatty. After their retirement in 2013, they moved to Leelanau county to be near relatives and are thoroughly enjoying everything our area has to offer. David and Robin began volunteering with the Leelanau Historical Society Museum this past summer. Robin’s friendly personality greeted many museum visitors. Her background in non-profits and finance  was useful as she assisted us in the gift shop operations. She also worked for the Library of Congress. David could be found working in the archives translating artifacts, pulling from his background as an interpreter for the Department of Defense.

An obstacle any museum can face is an artifact that is not in the given tongue of the museum it is donated to. The ability to translate such an artifact is to unearth lost histories. Having staff or volunteers with a broad language background is not always easy to come by. The Leelanau Historical Society Museum is appreciative to have a volunteer with the knowledge of German, Dutch, Norwegian, Polish, and a handful of other Eastern European languages.

Leelanau County had an influx of European Settlers arriving between 1847-1905. Their immigrant trunks were filled with their belongings such as housewares, clothes, and books. One such book, if not the only book they carried,  was a bible printed in their native tongue. Further more, important family names, births, deaths, and marriages would be written within inside. Once settled, letters would have been sent back and forth to communicate with friends or family. For a museum, the information within these letters and books is invaluable. It’s a light shining into the dark corners of history, revealing and validating an individual or family’s story in time.

Beyond identifying the language, translating the titles, authors, and giving us an overview of the contents, David has to decipher elaborate cursive. Cursive can be cumbersome to read in the first place, let alone the elegant, looping calligraphy that was a common practice. Ink smudges, wear, slang, and dialects are also added challenges.

David’s insights have proven to be very valuable. The results of his time delving through these books and papers have allowed us to make these artifacts more accessible to the general public for genealogical, and cultural research in connection to Leelanau’s history.

Want to Become a Volunteer!

Let us know your area of interests, skills, and availability. We are happy to find a task that plays to your strengths.

Areas of Interest

Please Check what seasons you are available.(required)