UNION — They came from Union County and other South Carolina communities, from across the United States, and from as far away as Asia and South America, but wherever they were from they all visited the Union County Museum in August.
Director Ola Jean Kelly announced this week that the museum had 277 registered visitors. Registered visitors are those who sign the museum’s guestbook during their visit. In addition to signing their names, visitors are also encouraged to write where they are from.
While many of the museum’s registered visitors were Union County residents, Kelly said there were a number of visitors from other South Carolina communities including Aiken, Anderson, Boiling Springs, Clinton, Columbia, Fountain Inn, Gaffney, Greenville, Pacolet, Pauline, Rock Hill, Roebuck, Seneca, Sharon, Spartanburg, Summerville and York.
In addition to South Carolinians, the museum also draws visitors from throughout the United States. Kelly said visitors from outside South Carolina who signed the guestbook in August were from Illinois, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Washington.
Though it doesn’t happen every month, the museum periodically receives visitors from overseas. Kelly said there were seven registered international visitors in August including one from the South American country of Colombia and six from the Asian country of Mongolia.
Kelly said that one of the visitors from Mongolia is actually a native of Union County.
“One was Chris Owenby who is originally from Union and is a missionary to Mongolia,” Kelly said Friday. “He married a Mongolian woman and they and their three children and her mother visited us. In fact, they came in twice while they were here.
“The mother didn’t speak a word of English so her daughter translated for her during the visit,” she said. “While they were here, the children played games in our Children’s Corner.”
Kelly said the visitor from Colombia was visiting a friend in Jonesville and the friend brought him to the museum.
The museum has averaged more than 200 registered visitors a month this summer. There were 207 in July and 261 in June. The registered visitors in June included two from Germany.
Visitors are encouraged to sign the guestbook, both on their initial visit and on all subsequents visits. Kelly said this enables the museum to keep track of the number and variety of visitors it receives each month. She said the number of visitors are also included in the reports the museum sends to the City of Union and Union County which provide funding for the museum.
In addition to signing their names and listing where they are from, visitors are also encouraged to leave comments about their experience at the museum. Those that have done so in the past have had nothing but good things to say about the museum and August was no different.
• “Very helpful.” — Researchers from Rock Hill
• “Passing on the street. Can’t wait to come back.” — Tabor City, N.C.
• “Thank you. Enjoyed it.” — Tecumseh, Michigan
• “Well done.” — Anderson, S.C.
• “This is so beautiful.” — Detroit, Michigan
• “This is the best thing I did all summer.” — Pauline
Kelly said the visitor from Colombia wrote ‘Greetings from Colombia, South America’ in the guest book.
In addition to the main floor which houses most of the artifacts on display, the museum has a meeting room in its basement that is available for use by local and area organizations. In August, the room was used by the Dow-Wat-Chers Investment Club.
The museum also offers genealogical records and research services and some participants in a family reunion took advantage of those services in August.
“A number of people attending the Jeter Family Reunion visited the museum and they registered as a group so we were not able to determine their places of residence,” Kelly said. “We were able to assist some of them with genealogical research. Requests for such assistance continue to come in from all over the country.”
Kelly added that the researchers from Rock Hill were also doing genealogical research.
The museum’s genealogy archives includes military records, will abstracts, deeds, death and birth certificates, and high school and college yearbooks. The archives fill 10 drawers in three large cabinets and take up most of the shelf space in the museum’s library.
The Internet age is also having an impact on the museum and its operations.
“We’re getting more activity in our online gift shop than in the one in the museum and our Facebook page, set up by Director Jim Stepp, is getting some attention,” Kelly said. “Of course the gift shop does real well, in fact we’re at the point of having to restock the shelves.”
Kelly said the most popular items sought by customers at the gift shop and online are genealogical materials such as the Union County Heritage Book published in 1981 by the Union County Historical Society.
Land grant maps are also popular, and Kelly said in one instance a book of land grant maps was sought by a customer overseas.
“We even sent one to the U.S. embassy in Seoul, South Korea,” she said. “They bought it through PayPal. They sent us the money and the address and we sent them the book of land grant maps.”
Another popular item of historical significance sold by the museum is “Voices Of The Past” by Caldwell Sims.
Kelly said Sims was one of the writers hired under the New Deal in the 1930s to seek out and record the memories of residents of their communities of the Civil War era. She said Caldwell interviewed a number of Union County residents and wrote down their reminiscences of life in Union County before, during and after the war. Some of those memories were compiled by two local college professors in the book now on sale at the museum.
For more information about the Union County Museum, its displays, genealogical research facilities, meeting room and other services, call (864) 429-5081 or visit www.unioncountymuseum.com. The museum is located at 127 W. Main St. in Union, and is open Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.