Stewart Bell Jr. Archives wins award

Posted: May 25, 2013

The Winchester Star

Rebecca Ebert

Winchester — As soon as she walked into the auditorium at Handley Library, archivist Rebecca Ebert suspected something wasn’t quite right.

Gathered in the room for a scheduled talk on genealogy were not only people interested in the subject but also friends, colleagues, former volunteers her and mother and sister.

“Seeing those two is when I knew something was up,” she said.

She was right. What almost everyone in the room but Ebert knew was that the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives at Handley was being awarded the 2013 Commonwealth Award from the Virginia Genealogical Society. The award recognizes societies or organizations statewide for performing outstanding service in the promotion of genealogical study.

Ebert said she “was totally surprised that we received this statewide recognition” when the news was sprung on her April 4 at Handley. She was much more prepared at the formal presentation of the award April 20 at the Virginia Genealogical Society’s annual spring conference in Mechanicsville.

“It was a big deal to be recognized by a state organization for the work we have done in our corner of the state,” she said.

The VGS board of governors created the award and two others in 1995 as a way to recognize individuals and organizations making significant contributions to the genealogical community, according to its website. The other two awards are the Fellow of the Virginia Genealogical Society Award and the Virginia Records Award.

“It is wonderful for Becky Ebert and the staff and volunteers of the archives to be recognized for the remarkable resources and services of the Stewart Bell Jr. Archives,” said library Director Trish Ridgeway. “They certainly deserve this tribute.”

The local archives was nominated for the Commonwealth Award by former Handley employee and VGS board member Kathryn Parker of Frederick County. She worked as an assistant in the archives from 2001 to 2012.

During her time at Handley, Parker said, she saw first-hand how Ebert, who is also archivist for the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society, developed the archives. She thought more people in Virginia should know about it, and the other VGS board members agreed.

Parker pointed to Ebert’s dedication to preserving local history not only at the archives but also in people’s homes if they do not want to donate their items.

The archivist talks to researchers and interested groups about education and using the archives, offers basic genealogy and specialty workshops, and conducts tours, Parker said. She also diligently works to preserve local history through programs such as an extensive online photograph collection of local people and history.

“One of the most exciting things the archives has done this year is put all those photographs on the website. Becky has figured out how to do it with almost no money,” she said.

Considering the number of people who knew about the award, it was amazing they kept it a secret from Ebert, Parker said.

Ebert said she was proud of the award and considers it a testament to the volunteers and staff at the archives and what they offer to visitors. In 2012, 2,758 visitors from 46 states and one foreign country came to Winchester to conduct research.

Handley Regional Library and the Winchester-Frederick County Historical Society own and operate the archives as a nonprofit organization. Ebert directs the day-to-day operations and has been the archivist since it was established in 1979.

Today, the archives houses more than 1,600 collections dealing with the people, places and events of the Lower Shenandoah Valley from 1732 to the present, Ebert said.

Those materials take up about 700 linear feet — “archivists measure things by how much space it takes up.”


For more information about the archives, contact 540-662-9041 ext. 22 or


— Contact Laura McFarland at