Lindsey Foat — The Hale Center for Journalism
As an archivist, Jake Ersland gets a firsthand look at many of the 70,000 cubic feet of federal records maintained by the National Archives at Kansas City.
“I love that I work with original documents that capture history as it happened,” Ersland said. “When a person studies history in books, they are presented with an individual’s view on the event. With the records I work with, present-day bias is stripped away, and the story, as recorded at the time, is what is there.”
The National Archives at Kansas City is one of 13 regional branches. The collection holds documents, photos and maps for Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota dating back to 1818.
“The records of the National Archives allow the public to learn about our nation’s history and their ancestors involvement in it,” Ersland said. “We offer genealogy workshops and webinars, author lectures, school field trips, and exhibitions to the public all for free.”
In 2012, the Archives created an exhibit devoted to crime in the 1930s. Ersland helped select prominent records, including mugshots and other prison documents.
Although Ersland is unable to pick a favorite period of history, he says that crime in our region in the 1930s had national repercussions.
“The crime wave of the 1930s fundamentally changed the nation’s crime fighting operations,” Ersland said. “The laws and techniques developed to fight the lawless times continue to affect us today.”
Ersland will share more about the archive’s holdings from the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kan., Sunday, Feb. 15 at 2 p.m. at the Kansas City Public Library.
“It will cover famous people as well as people whose stories are hardly known, yet whose lives were telling examples of the conditions of their eras,” Ersland said.