Thursday, September 22, 2016

Vertical Files vs Manuscript Collections: How Are They Different?

Working in a county archive on a daily basis, I am surrounded by original records, photographs and ephemera. It is my job to organize the records we have in the Houston County (TN) Archives so that they are accessible to the pubic and that includes many of the wonderful genealogists that come through my door everyday.

Houston County, Tennessee Entrance

Recently, I had a wonderful conversation with Pat Richley-Erickson, better known as Dear Myrtle ( about the differences between Vertical Files and Manuscript  Collections and how to help the genealogist know the benefits of both to their research. We both agreed that Vertical Files are a "hodgepodge" of documents and ephemera while Manuscript Collections are distinctively different and are a collection of highly curated groups of records. We also agreed that these two record sources are essential to genealogy research.

Items in the McAuley Surname Vertical File, Houston County, TN. Archives

In my opinion, Vertical Files and Manuscript Collections are two of the most underused and misunderstood record collections that a genealogist has at their disposal. A lot of genealogists don't even know to ask about these specific collections when they are doing research at an archive. One of the reasons for the "mystery" surrounding these record sources is these records are not sitting on shelves in the research area for the researchers to access themselves. These record sources are usually stored in back rooms or vaults and they have to be requested to be seen. Normally, genealogists have to request files be pulled from the Vertical Files Collection and boxes to be pulled from the Manuscript Collections and brought to them in the research room. Genealogists need to know that archivist are there to help them. They stand at the ready to pull records that you request and they are ready to share the fantastic records found in Vertical Files and Manuscript Collections.

Vertical Files Cabinets, Houston County, TN. Archives

Like I mentioned before, Vertical Files are a "hodgepodge" of all different kinds of documents, newspaper clippings, ephemera and memorabilia. These items are normally donated to the archive by patrons piece by piece or they could have been found in a box of "stuff" that was donated to the archives. The archives staff then files the items by either Surname or by Subject. For instance, if there is a newspaper clipping of an obituary for John Brown, it would go in the BROWN file in the Vertical Files Collection. If someone donated a letterhead document from the WISEMAN FUNERAL HOME, that document would be filed in the WISEMAN FUNERAL HOME file. The archivist should have an index available for the researcher to consult to see if there are any surnames or subjects that are of interest to them and then they can request that those files be pulled and brought to them for researching.

The "A-B" Drawer in Vertical Files Collection, Houston County, TN. Archive

Manuscript Collections are a completely different type of record source but one that I believe is essential and should be on every genealogists "To-Do List".

One of the best ways to explain what Manuscript Collections are is to use this visual:

I have been doing my personal genealogy research for my family and my husband's family for the past 26 years. Let's say I have decided that I want to donate everything I have collected to my local archive. This includes all documents, photographs, ephemera, notes and artifacts. I box everything up in cardboard boxes, load them in my car, drive them to the archive and drop them off. Now, the archive will take all those boxes and will give it a collection name like "The Melissa Barker Records Collection" or possibly "The Melissa Barker Genealogical Papers". Then the archivist will organize the records by type, style and date. The records will be organized into file folders and each file folder is given a number like Folder #1. Then all these folders are places in boxes and these boxes are given a number like Box #3. Most importantly a "Finding Aid" is produced to go with the Manuscript Collection. Vertical Files do not have Finding Aids! The Finding Aid is a written guide explaining what is contained in the manuscript collection and includes a box-by-box and folder-by-folder listing of what the boxes and folders have in them. Now the collection is ready for researchers!

The Irish Celebration Manuscript Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

I truly hope that all genealogists will start asking about Vertical Files and Manuscript Collections in our many wonderful archives. They are just sitting there waiting for genealogists to discover their contents. Just because you can't see them on the shelves in the research area doesn't mean they don't exist. Ask the archivist about Vertical Files and Manuscript Collections on your next research trip!



Want to know more about Vertical Files?

Get my Legacy Family Tree Webinar:

"Vertical Files: What Are They and How To Use Them"


Friday, September 16, 2016

Constitution Day, Your Ancestors and Their Signatures

Constitution Day will be celebrated Saturday, September 17, 2016. On September 17, 1787 the Founding Fathers signed this important document in American history, the United States Constitution. The original U.S. Constitution is on display in The Rotunda at the National Archives in Washington D.C. along with the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence.

One of the most significant parts of the Constitution are the 39 signatures that grace the parchment that was signed at Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Each signature was unique and historic.

Signatures on the United States Constitution, ca. 1787

As genealogists, we scour genealogical records to find the signatures of our ancestors. Like the descendants of the signers of the Constitution, documenting our ancestor's signature can be the highlight of our family history research. But sometimes it's hard to find those signatures.

Once you have sifted through your own genealogical records for signatures, where do you go next?

As an archivist, I have seen thousands of signatures on thousands of documents in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives. When I see those signatures, I think to myself "That is someone's ancestor that signed that document."

Letter and Signature of H.H. Hilman of Danville, TN. ca. 1929, Houston County, TN. Archives

The local archives where your ancestor's lived is the best place to start when looking for signatures. Just like the U.S. National Archives where the Constitution is located, our local and state archives are full of documents with signatures on them.

Signatures on a Request to Pardon Morris Dillard, ca. 1919, Houston County, TN. Archives

Maybe the local records are located at the historical society, genealogical society or in the Special Collection department of the local library. Anywhere that historical or genealogical records are stored and preserved is where you will find signatures of your ancestors.

"But my ancestor couldn't write, his signature was only an X". Many of us have ancestors that couldn't read or write and when asked to sign a document they could only mark it with an "X". That "X" is important, your ancestor drew that "X" and stated they agreed with the document that was presented to them.

Whether it's the United States Constitution or the land deed for the family farm, our ancestor's signatures are something to search for and treasure.



Need some tips on researching in libraries and archives, get my Legacy QuickGuide:


"Researching in Libraries and Archives" 

Amazon Kindle EBook 

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Genealogy, Archives and Handwritten Letters

On September 5, 2016, I received an email here in the Houston County (TN) Archives that I am very excited about. The person who sent the email is a genealogist who had been doing research on her ancestors and she came into possession of a wonderful, handwritten letter.

This letter was not found in an archive, at a library or at any records repository. This letter was found in another genealogists personal records collection. Because the letter deals with the Danville School that was once in Houston County, Tennessee, the genealogist thought that I would like a copy of the letter to add to our collection of Danville School Records here in the archives. We do not have very much in the way of records for this particular school, so I was very happy to get a copy of this letter. She was gracious enough to send me very good scans of the 3-page letter that is about her Great Grand Uncle Professor T.B. Loggins.

Danville School Letter, ca. 1887, pg. 1, Houston County, TN. Archives

The letter is dated November 7, 1887. Houston County was formed in 1871 and the Danville School was one of the first schools established in the western part of the county. Part of the letter states: Prof. R.B. Loggins, who has been connected with the schools of our district for some time past, as principal has in the exercise of his judgement, as to what is best to promote his own interests, severed his connection with said schools and where as we, the directors of said district, desire to give some expression to our high appreciation of his worth as a teacher and gentleman.

The letter continues on with a recommendation "To Whom it May Concern" for Prof. R.B. Loggins in his next employment. The letter is signed by W.F. Grafield, Secretary and A.(Archibald) Cathey, President.

Danville School Letter, ca. 1887, pg. 2, Houston County, TN. Archives

Old handwritten letters are an extinct form of communication. With the invention of email and then social media communcations, almost no one sits down and writes letters anymore. Preserving old letters is so very important whether they are in the collections of family genealogists or are housed in a local archive.

I would also like to say that sharing your genealogy records with local archives, libraries, historical societies and genealogical societies is also important. Just like this letter that I received adds to our history of the Danville School. You may have documents or letters that gives historical information about communities, schools, businesses or local events. Sharing these documents with the local archives helps us to save our history and tell the story of our community.

Danville School Letter, ca. 1887, pg. 3, Houston County, TN. Archives

I would encourage you to make copies of those records and photographs that would be important to the history of a community and find a local archive to share them. You may be the only person that has that original document that has information that should be preserved in a local archive.

Many local archives will accept copies of documents or scans of documents so you wouldn't have to give them the original records. However, when and if you decide to donate your records, please contact the archive and ask them about their records donation policies.


"Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist"

Do you have old family letters in boxes, wrapped with rubberbands or stuffed in closets? Preserving your old family letters is an important step in archiving your records for future generations!

Get my new Legacy Family Tree Webinar "Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist" to help you with preserving your old family letters.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

National Grandparents Day and The Anniversary of 9/11...

Sunday, September 11th. is both National Grandparents Day and the 15th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

I had wanted to write a blog post about National Grandparents Day but realized that it falls on the same day as we remember that tragic day in United States history. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that as an archivist and genealogist I could bring these two together in a meaningful blog post.

National Grandparents Day was originated with Marian McQuade, a housewife in Fayette County, West Virginia. Her primary goal for the holiday was to shine a light on the lonely elderly in nursing homes. She also hoped to get grandchildren to tap into the wisdom and heritage their grandparents could provide. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the First Sunday after Labor Day to be Grandparents Day.

Founder of National Grandparents Day

On September 11, 2001 the United States experienced the most horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Center or "Twin Towers" as they were called in New York City, The Pentagon, and in a field in Shanksville, PA. It is said that everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when the 9/11 attacks occurred.

The World Trade Center in New York City

This got me to thinking about the last time people said "Do you remember where you were when...". I thought of events such as "The Bombing of Pearl Harbor", "The Assassination of President John F. Kennedy", "The Assassination of Martin Luther King". These events were all very tragic and very memorable for our Grandparents and maybe even for you.

As a genealogist and archivist, part of my job and joy is to document stories. Family stories, community stories and life event stories. I would like to encourage all of you to talk to your Grandparents and ask them where they were and what they were doing when 9/11 happened, when Pearl Harbor was bombed or when Martin Luther King was assassinated. Spend some time with your Grandparents this weekend, talk to them, document their life stories before it's too late. Use a recording device to record their stories or just use old fashioned pen and paper and write it down.

If you are a Grandparent, sit your grandchildren down and tell them your life experiences. What you saw, what you lived through and your accomplishments. It is said that our family stories can be lost in just two generations if not told and passed down to our children, grandchildren and other descendants.

Maybe your grandchildren are too young or they are not interested right now. Take the time to write down or record your life events for future generations. They may not be interested now but maybe one day they will be interested and they will be grateful that you took the time to write it down.

Here is a great book I found on Amazon that you can use to document your memories as a Grandparent...

If you no longer have the privilege of being able to talk to your Grandparents, maybe they are no longer living. Are you compiling their life story as a genealogist? Possibly they left diaries, journals or old letters that include life events that they wrote about. Are you preserving your Grandparents records, photographs and memorabilia so that the next generation of descendants can enjoy them and know their stories? What about your experiences with your Grandparents, are you recording those?

Here is a great journal from Amazon that will help you record your family traditions, memories, recipes and stories...

Events, tragic or happy, will continue to happen in all of our lives. As genealogists, I believe it is our privilege to document those life events to help tell our ancestor's and Grandparent's story.

This blog post is in memory of my own Grandparents:

Cody Lee LeMaster and Agnes Marie (Curtis) LeMaster


Forrest Cecil Bartram and Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram

And in memory of all those that lost their lives on September 11, 2011...Never Forget!


Remember: It's Not All Online, Contact or Visit An Archive Today!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Next Best Thing to Being There..The 2016 FGS Conference

This past week the Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS) Annual Conference was held in Springfield, Illinois. As much as I wanted to attend, I was not able due to my duties at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives and not having the funds to travel.

In the past, when genealogy or archive conferences took place, I would get depressed about not being able to attend. Being a lecturer, teacher and writer of genealogy research, researching in archives and records preservation, my dream is to one day go to some of these conferences and even be a speaker at them. I can only imagine the joy of meeting my peers and attending their presentations.

Instead of wallowing in my self-pity, this time I decided to do something positive and constructive from home.

First: I downloaded and then printed out the "Program Schedule". The Program Schedule has the complete schedule for the 4-day conference. This schedule includes the title of each and every presentation and the speaker who is giving that presentation. I read each and every presentation title and I also read each every presenters byline that you get to see when you clicked on their name.

Second: I faithfully followed anyone and everyone that I knew was at the FGS Conference on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. It was very easy to catch up on what attendees were posting to their social media accounts because most of them knew to use the "#fgs2016" designation on their social media posts. So, all I had to do was put this hashtag designation in the Facebook and Twitter search bar and all posts that had "#fgs2016" in it, I could see and read. Many attendees even posted short videos of their experiences which added to what I was able to learn vicariously through them.

Third: I read as many blog posts from attendees as I could get my hands on. Attendees would blog about who they met, what they saw in the vendor hall and the wonderful speakers and presentations they were able to attend and enjoy. They also shared what they learned, which was invaluable.

Many times they included selfies with their favorite genealogist in their social media posts or blog posts. Like this one from Julie Tarr.....

Lisa Alzo, Thomas MacEntee and Julie Tarr, Photo Courtesy of Julie Tarr.

And another....
Amy Johnson Crow and Julie Tarr. Photo Courtesy of Julie Tarr.
After studying the Program Schedule, reading everyone's Facebook posts and Tweets and reading everyone's blog posts, what did I do with everything I read and studied from home? A LOT!

I ended up with two full pages of NEW IDEAS for my own blog posts, webinars, magazine articles,etc.

These new ideas, new ways of looking at genealogy subjects that I have learned by watching, reading and listening to those that did attend the 2016 FGS Conference will be an asset to my lecture, teaching and writing career.

So, to those of you that are like me and not able to attend genealogy conferences for whatever reason, don't let that keep you from learning and growing in your genealogy research and genealogy careers.

Learn from others that are there and sharing their experiences with all of us! In this day and age of technology and social media, it's the next best thing!

And to those that were at the 2016 FGS Conference presenting, blogging, posting to Facebook and Twitter, sharing your knowledge and experience, THANK YOU!!

Remember: It's Not All Online, Contact or Visit An Archive Today!!


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Our Ancestors' Daily Lives and What We Can Find in the Archive

As genealogists we are always searching for the basic genealogy records for our ancestors: birth certificates, marriage records, death certificates, census records, etc. But have you given any thought to your ancestor's daily lives, the daily activities and the records that could have been produced?

A local archive is the genealogist's gold mine when it comes to finding records and ephemera about our ancestor's daily lives and activities. Many times these types of records are not online and can only be accessed on site at the archive.

W.V. Pulley Probate File. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

For instance, your female ancestors and maybe even your male ancestors, shopped at the local grocery store. Maybe your curious about the prices of groceries or what was available. Local mercantile and store records can help you tell that story. You could even find store ledgers in the archive that may have your ancestor's account listed by name with the items they purchased and the cost of each item.

Skelton's Supermarket Flyer ca. 1962. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Banking Records. Did your ancestor have a bank account or did their banking at the local bank? Banking records can help us when we are trying to piece together our ancestor's financial matters. Banking ledgers are a great resource and can sometimes be found at local or state archives.

Erin Bank and Trust Notes Left at the Bank, ca. 1898. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Entertainment! Your ancestor's worked hard but they also played when they got the chance. Maybe your ancestor's went dancing, went to the local church social or maybe they saw the latest movie release. Don't think of your ancestors as always putting in a hard days work, when they had the chance they may have attended to the local movie theatre and checked out the latest movie release!

Erin Theatre Handbill, ca. 1958. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

These are just some of the types of records that are in our archives, the possibilities are endless!

It is important that we collect those normal records that give us dates of when our ancestor's lived and the milestones in their lives. But it is just as important to seek out records and ephemera that help to tell our ancestor's full story. Finding records about all aspects of their daily lives will help us to understand our ancestor's better and hopefully bring them to life!

Remember: It's Not All Online, Contact or Visit and Archive Today!

It's Not All Online: Researching In Archives Webinar!

Researching in archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, courthouses and any other repository can be intimidating. This webinar will show you how to plan ahead for a successful research trip and also help you with your "To-Do List" once you get there. Contacting or visiting an archive will help the genealogist be more successful in their genealogy research.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Voting Records and Your Ancestors

"And the next President of the United States is.....". We will once again, for the 45th time in United States history, here these words come November 8, 2016. As a people, the United States will elect a President to govern our country.

Have you ever wondered what your ancestor's thought about politics? Did they vote in the Presidential Elections, state elections or even the local county or community elections? Did they participate in the political process in some way?

City of Erin Election Returns, August 7, 1924, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Voting and election records are available to the genealogist at many of our different archives. Seeking out these types of records adds to our ancestor's life story. If you haven't researched your ancestors in these types of records, you should!

So, just what kinds of voting records can be found, I am highlighting just a few here but there is so much more. Be sure to check with all local archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries and university archives in the areas where your ancestor's lived and voted to see what is available.

The Poll Tax:  One of the first types of records that I always suggest researchers look for are Poll Tax records A poll tax was a prerequisite to the registration for voting in many states. This Poll Tax would have been included on the regular tax records of the area or county where your ancestor lived. So, even if your ancestor didn't own property, you will want to check the tax records for this Poll Tax.

Voting Records: Many archives have voting records. These could be in the form of Election Returns, Voter Registrations, etc. These records are a great place to find your ancestor's names and possible signatures. These records could also have local election officials who worked the elections or were in charge of operating the elections and counting the ballots.

Listing of Voters in the 1924 Erin City Elections, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Election Workers Records: Your ancestors may not have run for office but maybe they were still part of the election process by being an Election Worker. Maybe they worked the polls and registered voters. Maybe they campaigned for a local candidate. Possibly they were an election official or served on the local Election Board. There could be records for your ancestors that showed their service during an election.

Election Worker's Pay Roll, District 7, May 9, 1963, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
Availability of voting/election records will vary from place to place. Be sure to call ahead to the local archives and ask if they have these kinds of records. Or possibly check their website to see if they have their holdings listed. Never travel to an archive without knowing if they have the records you are looking for, this will save you time and disappointment.

The United States has been holding elections since our very founding. It only makes sense to include searching for voting/election records to the genealogists to-do list. As genealogists we want to tell our ancestor's full story and that includes voting/election records.

Remember: It's Not All Online, Contact or Visit an Archive Today!!

Check Out My Legacy Family Tree Webinars:

Researching in Libraries and Archives: The Do's and Don'ts

It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist

Vertical Files: What are They and How To Use Them

Check Out My Legacy Family Tree QuickGuides:

Researching in Libraries and Archives

It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives