Keeping Pace with history

Dec. 22, 2012 @ 05:47 PM

OXFORD — The North Carolina Room of the Richard H. Thornton Library is lined with portraits.

“All these people over a period of 40 years contributed to the genealogical collection of the library,” said Mark Pace, the history and genealogy specialist for the library.

But it didn’t happen all at once.

“First there was a genealogy shelf, then a genealogy corner and finally a genealogy room,” Pace said.

Genealogical material is just part of the collection. On the shelves and in the files are abstracts of original records from Granville County, the surrounding areas, other North Carolina counties and some Virginia counties. Alongside these are donated family histories, xerographic copies of Bible records, microfilms of newspapers and information about the history and development of Granville County.

Thornton Library is a regional center for genealogical studies, Pace said. The focus is on Granville County, but much material is collected on the Tri-County area and North Carolina.

People visit the library regularly to do research on family origins, historic sites, cemeteries and churches. But it’s not just local researchers.

“The majority of people who come here are from out of state,” Pace said.

Doing research is one purpose of the room. The flip side is obtaining and preserving documents. Pace invites people to donate family records rather than throwing them out when they are thought to be obsolete.

“I want people to know that there is a place where they can put valuable records,” Pace said. “With the state-of-the-art technology we have here and in Henderson, people know that they can put family documents here where they’ll be preserved.”

He spends part of his time in the Local History Room at Henderson’s Perry Memorial Library, which also has a valuable collection of documents.

Pace grew up in Henderson and graduated from Vance High School. He attended East Carolina University and then the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

For a number of years he worked in advertising as a designer and illustrator. “The money was good, but about three years ago I decided to do something I wanted to do,” he said.

That’s when he went to work in the North Carolina Room at Thornton.

His father, Rex Pace, was a teacher with Vance County Schools for many years. During the summer he ran Presbyterian Point.

“Teachers were just paid for nine months,” Pace explained.
His mother raised him and his two brothers and worked as a teacher’s aide at Pinkston Street School.

His interest in history and genealogy stems from family conversations among his parents and aunts and uncles.

“I’d sit and listen to the stories they would tell,” he said.

From that beginning, Pace followed an unconventional path that led him to Thornton Library. His interest in history became a commitment.

“My motivation is to let people know that there are some very interesting things that have happened here that people are not aware of,” Pace said.

And he ticked off some examples:

• The man who designed the Old Well on the UNC campus at Chapel Hill was from Stovall.

• Gen. Braxton Bragg, for whom Fort Bragg is named, was born in Warrenton.

• Granville County was one of the first counties in North Carolina to integrate the schools and it was done with little publicity and little controversy.

• The Philemon Hawkins family has lived on the family farm in Middleburg for six generations.

Along with little-known facts such as these come interesting questions and requests.

“I got a call from a man who said, ‘My great-granddaddy ran a gas station in Oxford in the 1930’s. I think his name was Nelson.’ So I went through old directories looking at all the gas stations, and there it was,” Pace said.

That was one more connection with the past that Pace was able to make.

“Another man called,” Pace continued, “and said, ‘I’ve got all these old high school annuals I don’t know what to do with. What should I do with them?’”Pace responded with the suggestion that he give them to the library, where they’ll be preserved and available for others to use in doing their own research.

Pace thinks an interest in genealogy is shared by many people.

“I believe you have a subconscious desire to know who you are,” he said.

He has seen the techniques of doing genealogical and historical research change over the years, especially with the advent of the Internet.

“At one time to check on a person’s vital statistics you had to go to the state archives in Raleigh and thumb through file after file,” Pace said. “If it wasn’t there, you had only 49 other states’ archives to check. Now you can go to a computer and check them all in a matter of minutes.

“But the Internet has a bad side. A false story can circulate around the world in a matter of minutes.”

That’s one reason why he wants to know the source of information.

“I try to document everything,” he said.

Pace likes to talk with senior citizens. They have recollections to share with the younger generation as well as with future generations. Their memories need to be preserved. That’s what his work is all about.

“The sum total of civilization is what we preserve,” Pace said.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.