FARMVILLE — Inside the oldest home in Farmville’s Historic District, the May Museum boasts some 10,000 artifacts and 20,000 photographs to put the town’s history on display. But a significant recent addition to the museum may be found out of view behind a desk in the museum office.
Artist and historian Roger Kammerer, a popular guest lecturer at May Museum, took office in August as its new director. Kammerer, 64, serves a dual role as a genealogy researcher at Farmville Public Library’s Emily Monk Davidson Local History and Genealogy Center.
Town Manager David P. Hodgkins said Farmville is fortunate to have such a noted area historian as head of its museum.
“The May Museum is a historic gem here in town,” Hodgkins said. “We were thrilled that he was interested in coming to work with us. Mr. Kammerer obviously brings to Farmville a wealth of knowledge. I would consider him an expert on Farmville families and genealogy for the Farmville area and probably all of Pitt County.”
So how did a Nebraska native who came to East Carolina University to study art end up with such a knowledge of eastern North Carolina history? Kammerer credits his research skills to his high school mentor, but his love for history dates back even further.
The first-born son of a Marine Corps family, Kammerer moved from California to Swansboro in 1962, where he spent much of his early life with his grandmother while his mother worked and his father served in Vietnam. A quiet child, he was an avid reader who sometimes hid behind a chair to be left alone with an encyclopedia. Even at a young age, he often preferred conversations with grown-ups to childhood games.
“When the adults all got together, all the kids had to leave; all the kids had to go outside and play,” Kammerer recalled. “I’d stand in the doorway and if I was really quiet I could sit in Mama’s lap or Daddy’s lap (to listen).
“I wanted to suck in everything and I remember those stories,” he said. “My siblings who were around at the same time don’t remember so many things because they didn’t care. Luckily, I was a weird child that loved all that stuff and remembered it.”
By the time he was a teenager, Kammerer had a passion for the past that extended beyond family stories to family trees. Historian Tucker Reed Littleton, for whom the Littleton Collection in the North Carolina State Archives is named, introduced Kammerer to genealogy, and the rest is history.
Kammerer, who came to Greenville in 1974 as an art student, spent much of his time drawing information from historical records at ECU, assisting in Littleton’s research. Long before ancestry.com helped to popularize genealogy, the mother of a college friend asked Kammerer to help trace her ancestry, which planted the seed for his interest in Pitt County family trees.
In 1984, he became a founding member of Pitt County Family Researchers, a local genealogical group, later serving as editor of its award-winning quarterly journal. In 2020, Kammerer was inducted into the Servire Society at ECU in honor of his service to the university and the community. He has written about a dozen large genealogies for families of Pitt County, including a Tyson-May book that includes the original owners of the home that later became the May Museum.
“I am very much interested in everybody’s family,” he said. “It’s (like) Sherlock Holmes. You’ve given me a mystery to work on. It’s like people doing their puzzles every day. (If) you give me a new mystery every day, I’ve got something to look forward to. Let me see if I can find the answers, and, generally, I can.”