Grandmother on a Mission

By Jim Faber Premium

If you think one person can’t possibly make a difference in the battle to preserve our past, try telling that to Jacqueline Skinner. A 69-year-old suburban grandmother and genealogist, Skinner turned her concern about Delaware’s endangered public records into a successful push for a new, $18 million, 80,000-square foot building. The new Delaware Public Archives should open late this year.

“The archives were in rather sad shape,” says Delaware Genealogical Society president Jo Thompson. “There was water leaking in and part [of the archives] was under the parking lot and it wasn’t holding up.”

Skinner had spent years going back and forth from her home near Wilmington to the state archives some 50 miles south in Dover, the state capital, researching her three lines of Delawarean descent. Finally, she had enough of the “deplorable” state of the archives. So she did what she says people would have done in the old days — she launched a petition drive.

“If the secretary of state couldn’t do anything about it,” Skinner says, “maybe the people could do something about it.”

In May 1994, Skinner started to put together a statewide committee to collect signatures. She appeared at lunch and dinner meetings of clubs such as the Lions, Rotary and the American Legion and heritage societies such as the Daughters of the American Revolution. “Whenever these groups said I could come, I was ready to go,” Skinner says.

When she’d collected 5,000 signatures, including the support of state supreme court justices and former governors, Skinner set up a meeting with the governor and invited all of the groups that had supported her and the press. By 1996, a new state archive was in the works.

The new building will be one of the most modern in the nation. Research areas will be more than twice as big as in the old building, with room for 37 researchers plus two-dozen microfilm reading stations.

From the June 2000 issue of Family Tree Magazine