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Museum names curator of collections

by Merrie Leininger

Cindy Southerland loves learning about the people who make up Carson Valley history, so her job fits her like a glove.

As curator of collections at the Carson Valley Museum, Southerland has rooms full of historical clothing, furniture, Douglas High School letter jackets and binders of browned photographs at her fingertips.

She got the job full-time in January after working as an intern during the last two years of her education in the University of Nevada, Reno history and museology program.

While an intern, Southerland was given the job of cataloging the historic photo collection and making a database of the photos. She also worked as an archivist on the Van Sickle Collection of historic documents.

Southerland, 43, has always been interested in history. She grew up in California and moved to Nevada in 1980.

She worked for the state for a while, but decided to leave her steady job behind in 1989 to return to school and what she loves.

“I like to see an old photo and connect the people in it to lives and who they were and how they lived. I like to look at an old trunk and then find out who owned it and what they kept in it,” Southerland said. “Finding out who wore a piece of clothing gives it a real meaning. It’s exciting.”

Even when she was a child, she would rather go to old mining camps on family vacations than anything else, she said.

“I’ve been interested in history ever since I was a little girl. Every vacation, I would make my parents take me to the ’49er mining camps. That’s when I first learned about the symbolism of the artwork on the stones in the mining cemeteries,” she said.

While that interest may seem useless, Southerland turned it into a book when she was commissioned to research the history of the Lone Mountain Cemetery in Carson City in 1995.

She did biographies of 63 people for information that went into a walking tour brochure of the cemetery.

“I went through newspapers, looking mostly for obituaries, and tracked down events in the news and marriage licenses and city records,” Southerland said, describing how she took a name on a gravestone and found who those people were. “I also read books on what the fraternal society symbols on the stones meant.”

History even brought her a husband. Southerland met her husband, Nevada State Museum exhibit director Doug Southerland, while they both were working on restoration of the Fourth Ward School in Storey County when they both were married to other people. Years later, after they were both divorced, they began dating when she worked as a volunteer in the state museum.

Now, she manages all the items used in displays at the Gardnerville museum and also at the Genoa Museum.

The items are kept in a vault on the bottom floor of the museum, which used to be the custodian’s room when the building was used as the Douglas County High School.

Some of her favorite displays in the museum are of the Basque sheepherders, country doctors and the agriculture room.