Research coordinator navigates Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki projects
BIG CYPRESS — If Mary Beth Rosebrough’s grandmother hadn’t taken her to a museum when she was six-years-old, she might not be working at the one in Big Cypress today.
A trip to the St. Louis Art Museum is still a timeless memory.
“I saw a mummy with a toe that was exposed,” Rosebrough said. “It kindled my love for museums.”
Rosebrough is entering her seventh year working for the Seminole Tribe as research coordinator for the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum. But she’s been associated with the museum for 10 years, first as an intern.
The internship – with Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki collections manager Tara Backhouse – began during the last semester of her pursuit of a second degree in 2009.
The Florida Atlantic University degree was in anthropology, with a focus on archeology. Rosebrough’s first degree at FAU was in humanities.
She’s not one to give up on her goals in education or otherwise.
Rosebrough was 50 when she earned that first degree. She had been raising five children, which at least partly explains why it took 10 years to complete.
Rosebrough had started college classes at 40, slowly earning credits by taking two classes a week, semester after semester. She was 55 when she earned her second degree.
Rosebrough, now 65, stayed on at Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki for another three and a half years as a volunteer after the internship ended. Every Friday, she covered and labeled books in the museum’s research library. The often tedious process took a lot of focus and dedication.
Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki’s research library houses books and resources on many subjects of interest to museum staff – archeology, museums, the environment, the Everglades, wildlife and so on.
Rosebrough has completely organized and streamlined the library over the years, using Library of Congress bar code designations and arranging books by subject.
‘Down the rabbit trail’
Rosebrough, who is from St. Louis, came to South Florida in 1984. She now lives in the village of Wellington near Lake Worth.
Four of her children are now in their 30s and one is 20 and still in college. Rosebrough is widowed and has five grandkids.
She fulfilled her academic goals, but she once had her sights on being a performer, too.
Rosebrough was a dancer in the St. Louis Civic Ballet and at the former St. Louis Dance Theater. She was in theater while enrolled at Palm Beach State College.
Part of her journey at the museum has been to serve as a book editor. Rosebrough is one of the editors of “We Come for Good: Archeology and Tribal Historic Preservation at the Seminole Tribe of Florida,” which was published in 2017 by the Tribe.
Senior director of the Heritage and Environment Resources Office (HERO) and Tribal Historic Preservation Officer, Paul Backhouse, worked with Rosebrough and was an editor of the book.
Being a book editor was another goal fulfilled. Rosebrough said she learned the disciplinary skills of editing from her St. Louis Catholic school days, which she described as “no joke.”
Today, her other tasks and responsibilities at the museum run the gamut.
“Part of my job is to find Seminole resources outside of the research library, such as through the National Anthropological Archives [at the Smithsonian Institution],” she said.
Rosebrough responds to requests from Tribal members and Tribal Historic Preservation Office staff on a variety of subjects.
“That’s what started me down the rabbit trail was someone asked me if I could find the field notes for a book,” she said.
The book was “Big Cypress: A Changing Seminole Community,” by Merwyn S. Garbarino. The rabbit trail began when Rosebrough started searching for field notes and ended up discovering Seminole removal records.
She ordered a disc of the removal records, which were largely on microfilm, and started going through about 1,400. Rosebrough also created a “finding aid” – a tool which essentially makes the search process more streamlined and describes each document.
She’s since gone through the first 900 records and is working on the last 500 now. The records generally span the years from 1839 to 1853, she said. They include personal letters, form letters, muster rolls and letters asking for money.
In essence, the records are of the time when lands were being forcibly taken from Seminoles as many were also being forced to relocate west of the Mississippi River.
“There’s a lot of correspondence between people in the field and the higher ups in the Office of War,” Rosebrough said. “A lot of it is corresponding about money. ‘This is how much I spent; this is how much you owe me. This is how many people came and we gave them this much money. I took land from these people and this is how much money we gave them.’”
During her research, which began about two years ago, she even came across references to Seminole war leader Alligator on one of the records.
Rosebrough has also been immersed in an ongoing Seminole photo project – part of the museum’s collection.
She has been collecting Seminole Tribe-related images from itinerant photographers, postcards and other sources. Rosebrough enlists the help of Tribal members to identify faces and places and then catalogues the photos.
“It’s a way to help reconstruct family histories – almost like a scrapbook,” she said.
She’s got nearly 200,000 photos so far that Tribal members can request access to.
For more information and to contact Rosebrough, call (863) 902-1113 ext. 12252 or email email@example.com.