Bell Library Awarded $25K Grant to Digitize Blucher Family Papers

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – The Texas State Library & Archives Commission (TSLAC) recently awarded funding to The Special Collections and Archives Department at Mary and Jeff Bell Library at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi under its Texas Reads grant program. Bell Library began work on a project to survey, process and create catalog records for the Charles F.H. von Blucher Family Papers on Sept. 1. Patrons will be able to access the papers via the internet upon completion of the project.     

The award provides $25,000 to hire a part-time graduate assistant (GA) who will work 17 hours a week between Sept. 1, 2020 and Aug. 31, 2021 on the Family Papers project, which consists of 149 linear feet of paperwork. The collection represents the history and contributions of three generations of a prominent German-American family from 1840 to 1940, according to Lori Atkins, the principal investigator who wrote the grant with Processing Archivist Eric Christensen and Library Specialist II Phebe Leach.

“The Blucher Collection is divided into two parts: the maps in the Conrad Blucher Surveying Collection (CBSC) and the family’s historical papers in the Charles F.H. von Blucher Family Papers (Family Papers),” Atkins said. “Baron Anton Felix Hans von Blücher was a German immigrant who came to Corpus Christi tin the 1840s; he served as Nueces County’s first elected surveyor. His son Charles F.H. von Blucher and grandson Conrad M. Blucher followed him in this position.” 

Work on the Family Papers project will be divided into three phases.

  • Phase I: The GA will survey the existing collection to gauge the current state and preservation issues of the collection.
  • Phase II: The GA will prepare a processing plan that outlines the proposed hierarchy of the collection, preservation activities and the level cataloging needed.
  • Phase III: The GA will process the papers and create cataloging records for the collection and write a Finding Aid, or guide that describes the contents of a collection, that will be loaded onto three portals.

The Family Papers include a broad range of items, including historic photographs dating to 1860, family trees and genealogy of the Blucher family, personal and business correspondence, diaries, financial, legal documents, and personal drawings, Atkins said.   

“The letters of Maria von Blucher are included in these files. She was a young German bride in 1849 who came with Felix von Blucher to Corpus Christi Bay to establish their home in the new frontier town. For thirty years, she wrote letters home describing her life, the living conditions, droughts, Indian and bandit raids, the American Civil War, and the development of Corpus Christi,” Atkins said. “These letters open a window into a time gone by and the building of a city.”

Atkins said while the von Blucher Family Papers are available to the public today, researchers must visit the Special Collections Reading Room at Bell Library to read them. The goal of the project is to digitize and upload all photographs, slides, and Maria von Blucher’s letters to the library’s repository website to make the papers available to all via the internet. The full scope of the project will take two years, she said, and the team plans to reapply for the grant next fiscal year.

In a previous project, Conrad Blucher Institute (CBI) digitized 9,123 CBSC maps, 4,267 field books and 1,481 map page indices, which available on Bell Library’s repository. The current project will add the Family Papers to the repository.

“Special Collections and Archives preserves and shares huge collections of primary and secondary historical materials pertaining to South Texas and particularly Corpus Christi with our students, faculty, and the community – these are unique items not found anywhere else,” Atkins said. “To make them digitally available involves labor intensive, hands-on work by a team of archivists and workers. By creating an online inventory, digitizing photographs, correspondence, maps and surveying documents and making them available online, they are more widely accessible to all.” 

This project is just one of 44 made possible this year by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission under the provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act.

“Communities in every corner of Texas will benefit from the resources that have been made available through this list of forward-thinking grant proposals,” said TSLAC Director and Librarian Mark Smith.

TSLAC awards competitive grants annually, as funding allows. For the 2020 fiscal year, which runs from Sept. 1, 2019, to Aug. 31, 2020, TSLAC has awarded approximately $1.23 million in competitive grants. The TexTreasures Grant will provide assistance and encouragement to 12 libraries to provide access to their special or unique collections and to make information about those collections available to library users across the state, including Bell Library’s project to survey, process, and create catalog records for the von Blucher Family Papers.

Q: What is the history of the von Blucher Family Papers at Bell Library?

A: The Charles F.H. von Blucher Family Papers were generously donated to Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi by the descendants of Charles von Blucher, son of Felix Anton von Blucher (1819-1879) and Maria Augusta Imme von Blucher (1827-1893), a pioneer German couple to Corpus Christi in the late 1840s.  Foremost among these donors were Conrad Blucher and his wife Zula Blucher, George A. Blucher, Jr. and his wife Medora Blucher, Claudia Blucher Harrell, and Mary Julia Blucher Jordan.

The Blucher materials began to be transferred to Special Collections & Archives of Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi in the early 1980s. Included in these initial acquisitions were business papers as well as some of the most important, beautifully hand-drawn surveying maps of South Texas by Felix Blucher and Charles Blucher, leading surveyors of the region. Of great significance to the study of surveying and coastal studies by the university, the transfer to campus of the remaining massive Conrad Blucher Surveying Collection (CBSC), part of the Blucher Papers, was completed in 1994. 

Simultaneously, the personal and remaining business papers of the Blucher family were largely transferred to Special Collections during the 1990s but culminated in 2012 with the final significant addition. Complementing the CBSC, these items comprise one of the most important sources in Texas for studying the acculturation and contributions of German-Americans and span from the 1840s-1950s.

Drawing from the personal papers, the award-winning book of correspondence entitled “Maria von Blucher’s Corpus Christi:  Letters from the South Texas Frontier, 1849-1879” edited by Bruce S. Cheeseman was published in 2002. Other publications have emanated from the Blucher Papers as well. Many more works will doubtless be produced as access to the collection expands and scholars increasingly focus their attention to the vast range of ethnic diversity in South Texas.

- Dr. Tom Kreneck, Past Director of Special Collections and Archives at Bell Library