Jacob Evans sat surrounded by history books and artifacts Wednesday.
In front of him was a giant map of Forsyth County, broken down into tiny sections by a grid. He looked from several open books to the map before using a highlighter to fill in one of the tiny spaces.
The senior at the University of North Georgia has been working on the mapping project since August, when he accepted an internship with the Forsyth County Historical Society.
As a history major and member of a family that has lived in the county for generations, the internship was perfect for Evans.
“I just wanted to learn more about the history of this county,” he said. “And when I found out North Georgia did internships for the Historical Society here, I wanted to do this.”
Through his map project, Evans said he is seeking to find out where the county’s most prominent Cherokee Indian settlements were prior to their removal to Oklahoma along the Trail of Tears in 1838.
Myra Reidy, the society’s vice president, said the map is part of a larger project being conducted by the Trail of Tears Association.
The association, which has chapters in nine states from Georgia to Oklahoma, hopes to eventually put all the local maps together into a large one.
“I’m pretty much just digging through books and old letters, really anything I can, to find out where [Cherokees] might have been,” Evans said. “Learning about the Indian history, there’s so much that I never knew about, so it’s been a good experience so far.”
Evans is one of several interns from the University of North Georgia that have helped the volunteer group in recent years.
Historical Society co-president Martha McConnell said the interns have been a huge help to the group, working on a number of projects over the years.
“Our first intern came to us when we had just moved into our headquarters, so she did some research on how to organize things,” McConnell said. “She came up with ideas about acid-free sleeves to put things in and the shelving system. She had a lot of read good ideas.”
A couple of years later, leaders of the group met with history professors at the Dahlonega-based University of North Georgia to start a partnership with them.
“Since then, whenever they’ve had students that were interested they would send them to us, so we’ve had maybe a dozen or so. We usually have about two a year,” McConnell said.
While much of their work is research based, other projects are more hands-on. In recent years students have helped with renovations at the Sherrill House in northwest Forsyth County and cemetery clean-ups at several locations.
“We had one girl that did a walking tour of Cumming and she was real interested in the ghost stories around town so she incorporated that,” McConnell said.
Since the organization is a nonprofit, volunteer group, the students’ work has been invaluable, McConnell said.
“They have the hours that we don’t have to just sit down and study the materials,” she said.
Eugene Van Sickle, a history professor at the University of North Georgia who coordinates history students’ internships, said the partnership with the local group has been a win-win for everyone involved. His students benefit from “practical experience that they might not get in a classroom.”
“The nature of projects [the historical society] has going on right now, these are unique opportunities that don’t normally come along every day for students,” he said.
“They also get to improve their skills in terms of researching, writing and they get exposed to things such as archival preservation and managing cultural resources that are important to local communities.”
In addition, he said, since most history students go on to graduate work, the experience helps them decide what area to pursue after earning their undergraduate degree.
“Do they want to teach or work in a museum? Do they want to go into public history? They have these kinds of questions in their minds and [internships] give them a good chance to feel these things out,” he said. “They get their feet wet without a large investment.”
Some of the students interested in helping the group are younger than many may think.
Recently, members of the South Forsyth High School’s Social Studies Honor Society have gotten involved.
One of the society’s advisers, Tom Wolff, said his students manned several of the historic structures at the Cumming Fairgrounds’ Indian Village during the Cumming Country Fair & Festival in October.
He’s also looking for more activities for them since the society, which just formed at South in February, encourages students to complete a certain number of community service hours in social studies areas.
“I’ve been in touch with the McConnells and they’ve suggested several things that the kids might help with like organizing some of the archives and some tax receipt work,” Wolff said. “We’re trying to encourage more local history research projects and things too.”
According to McConnell, some of the high school students have also gotten their hands dirty as they helped out with renovation of the Sherrill House and Diana’s Chapel cemetery.
“It’s just nice to have extra sets of hands for all of these projects,” she said.
She added that it’s wonderful to see so many young people — especially in today’s fast-paced world focused on the here and now —who are interested in learning about the ways of those who came before them.
“It sort of seems like there’s a certain age when you start getting really interested in history … most people are in their 30s or 40s before that happens,” she said. “It’s just so good to know that there’s another generation coming on that care about the history of our county, and that when we’re gone there’s going to be people here who’ll take up the flag and carry on.”