Now you can find the text of correspondence with Underground Railroad participants, photographs of agents and former slaves and maps of Underground Railroad routes online. This fascinating material about the Underground Railroad in Ohio and other states was collected and compiled by Wilbur H. Siebert, a former history professor at Ohio State University. His original papers have been held by the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library since 1946.
Siebert was a professor at the Ohio State University from 1891-1935. His research material on the Underground Railroad, collected over a period of 50 years, includes survey responses, interviews and copies of notes from books, diaries, letters, photographs, newspapers, biographies, memoirs, speeches, annual reports, trial records, census records and legislation. He organized his research by state and county, eventually binding his notes in volumes by location.
Among the many fascinating items in the collection are transcripts of letters by well-known abolitionists like John Brown and John Rankin, an Underground Railroad conductor in Ripley, Ohio; a letter Siebert received from famous former slave Frederick Douglass; and documents that show the large role Ohioans played in the abolitionist movement. Follow the links below to view selected items from the collection.
Now Accessible 24/7
For decades teachers, students and historians had to come to the Ohio Historical Society’s Archives/Library at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus to view the collection. Now, for the price of a subscription, researchers can view over 4,700 Ohio-related items from the Siebert Collection 24 hours a day, seven days a week in Ohio Memory, the Ohio Historical Society’s digital library. In addition to unlimited access, subscribing to the online collection gives researchers the ability to search the full text of documents; page through multiple-page documents; zoom in to view documents more closely; and save interesting items to a “my favorites” list.
Giving researchers the ability to search the text of documents in the Siebert Collection and read them online has been a dream years in the making. It began with a grant in 2001 to reprocess the original papers and scan each item. In 2008 the Ohio Historical Society purchased CONTENTdm, powerful digital library software created by OCLC. Digital projects staff loaded over 22,000 files, including the scans of the original documents and text files of transcribed documents, into the CONTENTdm database.
The technology that allows researchers to access the collection outside of the Ohio Historical Center also gives us the ability to work on the digital library database outside of the building. Staff have been assisted for the past year by 20 volunteers working both on- and off-site to update the descriptions of individual items in the Seibert Collection. Currently there are four “virtual volunteers” who log into the CONTENTdm database and edit records for the Seibert Collection from their own homes. Some dedicated staff are known to log in after hours and edit records just for fun. The flexibility to work on- and off-site has improved productivity. Fewer than 1,000 records are yet to be edited.
The Siebert Collection finding aid, a detailed inventory of materials in the collection, is available free online without a subscription. One-year subscriptions to access all of the materials in the Siebert Collection online are available at individual and institutional rates. The individual rate is $50 (Ohio Historical Society members $30). Click here for a printable subscription form to return by mail, fax or e-mail. Questions about subscribing? E-mail email@example.com.