By Kelly Francis-Love, the archivist
There is an old saying that a picture is worth 1,000 words. In many ways, this is true. Photographs can reveal much about a region’s heritage and history. The Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives is host to one of the largest collections of historical photographs in the lower Rio Grande Valley. These photos are used by researchers, genealogists, authors, news networks, government officials and others interested in local heritage. Most of the photographs come from donations, including large donations from local photo studios and newspapers. The museum also occasionally purchases photos deemed to be of historic value. These have included photographs of the region from the Civil War era and images of Mexican War soldiers who served in the area.
Strengths of the collection include:
- Photographs of land excursions from the early 1900s
- Collections from local photo studios including Dodd Mead and the Kerr Studio
- Images of Rio Grande Valley businesses
- McAllen Monitor Photography Laboratory
The MHMMA is one of the caretakers of the valley’s history and will continue to grow, share and strengthen the photograph collection in the future. One of the ways to meet this goal is to obtain more recent photos through donations. In this digital age, many people no longer print physical versions of photos nor see the need to archive them, as they don’t view their photos as having historical significance. It is important to remember that history is being made every moment, and if digital photos are not preserved there may be an extensive gap in the record of the regional story. Another goal is to obtain information about unidentified photos. There are many photographs in the collection that have little to no identification. While this does not lessen the significance of preserving the photos, it does reduce the ways in which they can be used. Without additional supplemental information, these photos can only tell a visual story.
A third goal is to make the photograph collection more accessible. Researchers can view photographs by appointment, but museum staff are gradually adding more photographs from the collection to an online database, that can be accessed from anywhere in the world. The database can be found on the museum’s website at www.mosthistory.pastperfectonline.com. Check it out and explore South Texas heritage!
* The mission of the Margaret H. McAllen Memorial Archives (MHMMA) is to contribute to the preservation and transmission of culture by identifying, collecting, protecting and making available distinctive archival materials of enduring historical value that document life in the borderland region.