Resources Improve at California Historical Society,
by Denice Stephenson
Sometimes people ask me what I am still doing there on the lower level
of the California Historical Society, immersed in one of the 150 cartons
of paper that make up the Peoples Temple Archive and related collections.
"I'm figuring out the related part," is what I want to say, but I usually
reply, "I'm processing the papers, getting them in order."
The "related collections" that I am working on are MS 3801, papers that
were gathered in Guyana after Jonestown and turned over to the FBI;
MS 3802, the papers from the Moore family; MS 3803, the materials that
John R. Hall used for his book, Gone from the Promised Land;
and MS 4062, a collection of correspondence and news clippings from
the family of Ross E. Case, who was an associate minister in the Temple
in the 1960's.
After surveying the files and making a plan for what order to put them
in -- if they are not already in order -- I write summaries about each
collection in formats that are accessible to researchers from all walks
of life: scholars, students, journalists, and relatives. In the "big"
collection (130 cartons!), also known as MS 3800, The Peoples Temple
Archives, there are some smaller projects in the works, like cataloguing
the Peoples Temple newspaper, the Peoples Forum, and revising the 1985
This summer, in addition to working with the manuscript files, I started
working with the photographs in the collection. My goal for the months
ahead is to get the paperwork finished, so I can spend more time with
the photographs. More than 3,000 passport and membership photographs
are currently being indexed at CHS. It's true that "Every picture tells
a story," and the pictures in these files tell a lot of stories. The
photographs share with us the faces of the people we've lost and people
who are part of this unique history.
With 2003 bringing us the 25th anniversary of Jonestown, this processing
work is a timely project for the renewed interest in the archives. It
is an honor to be able to do it.
(Ed. Note: Ms. Stephenson continues her volunteer work to organize
the CHS collections on Peoples Temple.)