Washington Township native Sarah Hollins recently started a research project for her master’s degree and discovered much more than she expected.
“My family has had stuff around their house forever,” said Hollins. “I have always had a propensity for saving things and looking through stuff. But my family never threw anything out, so it was kind of crazy to see that much history.”
Hollins is now in an accredited program at the Marshall School of Business, part of the University of Southern California, where she expects to earn a master of management degree in library and information science. Part of Hollins’ class assignment was to write a research paper that has to do with that field of work. So she decided that instead of finding time outside of school to deep dive into her family history, she would use the information she found to write her research paper.
“I wanted to go through my pop pop’s stuff, and I decided I wanted to try to make some sort of exhibit or display,” Hollins explained. “I was kind of doing it on my own, and then I decided to do it for my research project to make my life a little less crazy.”
Hollins knew little about her family history, but she did know that James G. Atkinson Park in Washington Township was named after her relatives and some family members lived in the historic Olde Stone House. She was also aware that her grandfather had attended Grenloch Terrace School and his wife was a teacher at Hurffville Elementary School.
To start her research this month, Hollins visited her pop pop, Roland Atkinson II, whom she had not seen since the start of COVID. While there, she also took time to scour closets, boxes and other places.
“All I knew was that [Roland] was raised by his grandparents, and that they had farm land that was sold to the town,” Hollins noted. “But I really had not visualized it.”
She found more than expected, including pictures from the 1930 and ‘60s and a family farm log.
“Some of the most interesting things are the pictures of him, because I have never seen him that young,” Hollins recalled. “To see him out and about just living his life … It was cool to see him being a kid, because when you think of grandparents, you always think of them as being older, and it was really a mind trip to see them that young and see how much you look like them.”
Although Hollins is getting ready to head back to school to write her research paper — her newfound historical photos in hand — she hopes to next year create a physical collection of the things she found, with the help of the local historical association and library.
“My goal is to do a digital archive of everything,” Hollins said. “That will be the easiest way for people to access it, and I am hoping to be done that in August.”
Hollins also wants her work to inspire family history searches.
“There is some really deep history in this town, and I hope we keep working to preserve it,” she added. “I hope this inspires other people in township to either look into their own history in the town or better understand how the town came to be the way it is today. Because that is just as important.”