American Board Memorial Book and Personnel Card File

In 1935, the Near East Mission of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) undertook preparation of a memorial book to commemorate and honor those who had served the Board in Turkey, the Middle East, and the Balkans from the early 1800s through the early twentieth century. The initial three-volume work was compiled and edited by Charles Trowbridge Riggs, Near East Mission Secretary from 1910 to 1938, and contained biographical sketches of more than six hundred missionaries. Subsequent to Mr. Riggs’ death in 1953, a fourth volume was prepared to include those members of the Mission who died prior to 1970 but were not included in the earlier volumes. Volume five, the final in the series, contains the biographies of missionaries who have passed away since 1970.

The ABCFM’s Near East Mission also maintained a set of personnel files at its regional office in Istanbul, for Board employees who worked in Turkey and its surroundings. One component of this collection is a series of more than 1,800 index cards that provide basic information about each individual, such as birth and death dates, educational and employment history, and dates and places of work assignments. The card file includes both missionaries and contract workers who served the ABCFM in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, starting with Revs. Levi Parsons and Pliny Fisk, the Board’s first appointees sent to the Middle East in 1819.

Documenting the careers and lives of American Board missionaries and other employees in Turkey, the Middle East, and the Balkans for close to 200 years, the memorial book and personnel card file are invaluable historical sources and two of the most frequently consulted reference works in the archives of the American Board in Istanbul. To preserve these important materials in a contemporary format preparation of electronic versions of the index card file and first of the four memorial volumes (Inez Abbot–John House) was completed at the American Board Library in 2004. The American Research Institute in Turkey, the current caretaker of the American Board’s archival collection, is now adding these resources to its digital library (2012), to make them more readily and widely available to the scholarly community and general public.