Bryan Ogg—Someone You Should Know

May 2017 View more

Naper Settlement’s curator of research holds the only-known photograph of Joseph Naper, a daguerreotype from circa 1857 off of which all likenesses of Naper are based. Shown at right is a book by a well-known nineteenth-century Naperville author and businessman, J.L. Nichols.

For the past twenty-seven years Bryan Ogg has been doing what he loves. Currently he’s curator of research at the award-winning museum, Naper Settlement, and he couldn’t be happier. This may not come as a big surprise to  those who knew Ogg as a boy, growing up outside Peoria in his hometown of Morton, Illinois. With both sides of his family still living in the same area they have farmed for three generations—and having an ancestral history that dates back to the 1600s—there was a treasure trove of stories, artifacts and genealogy that attracted his interest.

“I did like family history,” Ogg recalls. “I was blessed on both sides of the family with grandparents and elderly relatives who had massive old houses full of closets and drawers and attics and basements.” From family heirlooms to little-found objects, everything had a story, a meaning and a purpose. “I think it’s that love of history that carried into my professional life.”

It wasn’t until his undergrad internship working at a heritage house museum for Senator Pettigrew in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, that he found museum work so well-suited to his skills and interests—a career that has often led people to hail him as a “history detective.”

One of the key strategies he has implemented over the years is not to always look at questions point blank. “You have to be able to look around the back door,” Ogg explains. “If I’m looking at a house history, it’s one thing to look at the deed—who owns the house—but I also look at the tax records to see when improvements were made, maybe look at the phone book and newspaper records to see what was written about the house and the family. Just different ways to look at a problem.”

As Naper Settlement’s curator of research, Ogg’s primary work is to manage its collection of paper archives: books, photographs, documents, newspapers, diaries and letters. With the help of a team of about twenty volunteers, documents such as these are routinely indexed, catalogued and preserved. 

One aspect of his job he particularly enjoys is the many opportunities to interact with the public. Whether it’s walking tours, presentations, helping individuals with genealogy, or going out to different service clubs talking about Naperville history, he is—in many ways—the memory keeper of Naperville, helping people understand what has happened in the city.

Ogg also serves as a member of the acquisitions committee. From donations of great-grandmother’s quilt, a husband’s book collection or corporate archiving for groups like the Naperville Woman’s Club, he helps to preserve all things Naperville.

One memorable acquisition, he recalls, that provided incredible insights into Naperville’s earliest years was a journal offered by a rare book dealer filled with discussions and debates on topics of politics, culture, social issues and religion from this area in the 1830s and ‘40s. The journal, written just five years after Joseph Naper arrived, revealed an amazing glimpse into the way people thought, lived and operated during this very early pioneer period.

Donations and acquisitions are certainly one way the museum continues to expand its collection, but Ogg also notes that new technology—namely, the internet over the past ten to twenty years—also helps in the continuing search for information. “It’s a very rewarding treasure hunt. That’s one of the greatest aspects of my job. I tell people all the time I get paid to do what I love. There is no greater blessing than that.”

Act of War
Celebrate Historic Preservation Month by visiting Naper Settlement’s Civil War Days on May 20 and 21, an annual tradition for over twenty-five years. The grounds of Chicagoland’s outdoor history museum are transformed into a Civil War encampment where visitors can meet famous figures of the past and experience first-hand a turbulent time period in our nation’s history. For more info,