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A Genealogist In The Archives

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Tennessee State Library and Archives

One of the things I wanted to do in 2017 was shine a light on many of our wonderful archives across the United States. While I can't talk about them all, I hope that the ones I do highlight in my blog in 2017 will inspire each and everyone of you to contact these archives and use the mountains of resources they painstakingly process and make available to the researching public.

I am starting with an archive that is dear to my heart and in my own backyard:

The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) which is located in our state's capital, Nashville, Tennessee.



If you have Tennessee ancestors, the TSLA is the place to go!

The whole state of Tennessee was originally part of the state of North Carolina until it became its own state on June 1, 1796.

The TSLA is a treasure trove for genealogists researching Tennessee and North Carolina ancestors. This state library and archives takes great pains to collect and preserve records from all 95 counties in Tennessee and has most of the counties records on microfilm and available for researching in one location. Because North Carolina played a huge part in Tennessee history, the TSLA also has a great collection of North Carolina records.

The TSLA website is a wonderful resource: http://sos.tn.gov/tsla



Some of the major collections that the TSLA has online are:

-Maps at the Tennessee State Library and Archives
-Tennessee Supreme Court Records Index
-Tennessee State Library and Archives Photograph Collection
-Looking Back: The Civil War in Tennessee

Just to name a few....

The TSLA also has a section where they list all the local county archives and their contact information. There is a clickable map and directory where you can search by county: http://tnsos.net/TSLA/archives/index.php



At the present time there are 71 active local county archives out of the 95 counties in Tennessee. The goal of the TSLA is to have an active county archive in each and every county. I am pleased to say that Houston County, Tennessee Archives is one of those very active archives.

The "History and Genealogy" page has a whole list of genealogical records for the genealogist to explore: http://sos.tn.gov/tsla/history


Clicking on ""County & Municipal" will give you a drop down menu of great resources to explore for each county in Tennessee.

But don't just use the TSLA website!

If you can travel, I would encourage you to visit the TSLA. They have a wonderful Vertical File Collection, Manuscript Collection, extensive Microfilm Collection of all 95 Tennessee county records and a fantastic reading room with historical and genealogical publications from all 95 Tennessee counties.

Old Card Catalog in the Lobby of the TSLA


If you can not travel, you can still use the resources at the TSLA! Do not let the fact that you are unable to travel deter you from contacting archives and working with them to obtain the records you are seeking.

The staff at TSLA are wonderful and they can be contacted by telephone or email:

Telephone Number: 615-741-2764

Email: reference.tsla@tn.gov

One of the reasons I am highlighting archives in 2017 is because many of them could be facing budget cuts this year and as genealogists we need to USE ARCHIVES! When I say "Archives" I mean, county archives, state archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, university libraries/archives and museums. Any place where historical or genealogical records are being stored, preserved and made available to the public is an archive.

If we don't use these wonderful archives, they could cut staff, cut budgets, cut hours they are open which would effect all genealogists.

So, as I always say at the end of all my blog posts.....

REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVE TODAY!!

******

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Researching in Libraries and Archives

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Autograph Books in the Archives

Many of us enjoy Facebook or Twitter everyday to keep up with our family members, connect with others researching the same surnames we are and to keep up with the latest news and events.

Autograph books at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Our ancestors used different mediums to connect with friends and family. One of those mediums were autograph books. Many of our ancestors had these types of books and filled them with signatures of friends, family, schoolmates and other people they came in contact with on a daily basis. Sometimes there was just a signature and other times there was a short message of encouragement, a poem or just a pleasant greeting.

Inside of Autograph books at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

These autograph books come in all shapes and sizes. Some were leather bound and others had different colored pages. These books were a type of "social media" back in the day and were very popular.

Autograph book page for Ruth McAuley dated 1893 at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

These books were very popular with school children, especially graduating seniors to capture their final year of school and to record memories from their school friends.

Autograph book page for Shirley (Unknown) dated 1938 at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives 

Some of you may have an autograph book that belonged to your ancestor in your own personal genealogy collection. If you don't, it's possible there could be one located in a local archive collection, historical society or genealogical society collection.

Autograph book page for Ludelia Marable, Senior at Erin High School 1934-1935 at Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Autograph books will be located in the Manuscript Collection of a repository. They will probably be part of a larger collection of records. You will need to check the Finding Aid to the individual collection to see if an autograph book is listed as being in the collection.

Next time you are researching in an archives, ask if they have autograph books and maybe they will have one for your ancestor. Or maybe they will have one for someone your ancestor knew and your ancestor signed it. Autograph books are a great genealogical resource to find information or just a signature to document your ancestor's life story.


REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVE TODAY!

*****

Have a stack of old family letters?

Learn from an archivist how to preserve them!

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Thursday, January 12, 2017

Preserving that Old Black Paper Photo Album

Photographs!

I love family photographs!

Looking into the faces of my ancestors in photographs and wandering what they were like, how they lived and what they did on a daily basis is a huge part of my genealogy research journey.

One obstacle that we might face with our photographs are those old black paper photo albums that look like this:

Price Family Photo Album, Houston County, TN. Archives


These were extremely popular back in the late 1800's and throughout the 1900's. The photographs were either pasted onto the pages or they were inserted with photo corners that are pasted into the album.

We have several of these types of black paper photo albums in the Houston County, TN. Archives. It is very important that these types of photo albums be handled with care and preserved properly. Any home archivist can preserve their own black paper photo albums. But I always like to say that if you don't feel comfortable doing this preservation project yourself, then I highly recommend you consult with an archivist or conservator in your area to help you.

First and foremost, the black paper in these albums is not archival. They are not acid free and are full of chemicals. The paste that was used to adhere the photographs is also not archival and can be damaging to photographs.

The first thought would be to remove the photographs from these albums. STOP!!

I would caution you about removing the photos from these types of black paper albums. I will say that if the paste has worn away or deteriorated enough that the photos come off the pages easy, then removing the photographs would be okay. Otherwise, DO NOT REMOVE THE PHOTOS! Dismantling a photograph album like this should be your last resort.

We know that the pages are not archival but you could do much more damage to the photographs trying to remove them than the paper is doing.

Price Family Photograph, Houston County, TN. Archives


Before you even start, put on GLOVES! When working with photographs, archivist always use gloves to keep the oils and dirt from their hands from getting on the photographs and causing damage. You can use white cotton gloves or regular latex gloves. Do not handle any photographs without wearing gloves.

I would suggest that you first digitize the pages in the photo album. Use a flat bed scanner, digital camera or some other device that allows you to lay the pages flat. Do not use any device that requires you to feed the pages through the device, that could cause damage.

Digitizing and documenting each and every photograph from the album is a great archiving tool. If something were to happen to the album, you will still have the digital images.

Use archival tissue paper and interweave the tissue paper between each and every page. This will create a bearer between the photographs and the adjacent black paper pages.

Interweaving Tissue Paper, Houston County, TN. Archives


Place the entire photograph album in an archival box. You will want to purchase a box that fits the album as perfectly as possible. If the album is moving around in the box, crumple up tissue paper and put around the album so it doesn't move. Do not cram the photo album in too small of a box. You want the album to fit snuggly so it doesn't move at all.

Store the box with the album in a cool, dark and dry place. Never store documents, photographs or artifacts in an attic, basement or someplace where it is humid. Always keep out of the sunlight.

If you are fortunate enough to have these wonderful old black paper photo albums with your ancestor's photographs in them, you have a treasure! So, let's preserve and archive that album so that future generations can enjoy those photographs!


REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVE TODAY!!

****

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Vertical Files: What Are They and How To Use Them

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Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Storing 3-Ring Binders

We are in the second week of January and for those of you who have made a commitment to "Get Organized" in 2017, I hope you are still going strong!

One aspect of organizing that I would like to address is how to store 3-ring binders. Now, this may seem like a very simple idea and you might be thinking "Everyone knows how to store 3-ring binders", but do you?

Family Genealogy Binders, Houston County, TN. Archives


If you use 3-ring binders to organize your genealogical records, do you store them upright on the shelf or do you lay them down on their side? Most of you will say that you store them upright because it takes up less room and that is the conventional way to store 3-ring binders.



However, the best way to store them so that the records that are contained in them do not get damaged is to store them laying on their side.

When you store 3-ring binders upright or on their end, it puts pressure on the binding and weakens the strength of that binding. Over time, those binders will become weak and will start to sag and eventually will start to break down. Also, when 3-ring binders are stored upright, the pages that are stored inside will sag. This means that if you have put your genealogy documents into these 3-ring binders, they will also sag and could get damaged by being put in this position for a prolonged period of time.

The best way to store 3-ring binders is on their side, making sure all the pages are laying flat and not folded or bent in anyway.




Storing 3-ring binders in this manner will take up more room but in the long run it will keep your family genealogical records safe.


REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVE TODAY!

*****

Need help organizing and preserving all those old family letters?

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Thursday, January 5, 2017

How to Handle a "Dry County", Tips from an Archivist

Usually when you hear the term "Dry County" it involves the absence of alcohol, not in this blog post.

Today, I want to talk about "Dry Counties" as it relates to absence of genealogical records.

Have you ever been researching in a county and it seems like there are just no genealogical records to be found. Maybe you've been told that the courthouse burned and no records survived or that records have been thrown away and no longer exist. Or maybe you have gotten the run-a-round from different officials in the county as to where the records are located, if they even exist.



This can be very frustrating to us as genealogists but I encourage you to not give up on that
"Dry County"!

Here are some tips that might help you unearth records that seemingly don't exist:

Be Sure to Talk to the Right People:

When making inquiries about genealogical records in a particular county, make sure to seek out people who should know if those records exist or not. Contacting employees at the county courthouse may not be your best answer. While these employees are doing a great job with the records they are producing today and taking care of patrons that walk through their door, many times they have no knowledge of older records that have been transferred to an archives or other facility. Try to talk to the local archivist, librarian, historical/genealogical society officers and members to get the information about records that survive and where they can be located.

Stewart County, TN. Archives

Ask "Who is the Local County Historian":

In just about any county, there is a county historian. Whether or not they have been given that official title or not, there is that one person that "knows everything" about that county. You want to talk to that person. They will know what records survive and where they are located. Many times, these local county historians know about most of the surnames that were in the county and can give you information that may not even be written down on a record which we would call oral history or local folklore. That local county historian's name and contact information may not be listed on any website. You may have to make some phone calls to track down that county historian. Try contacting the local library, Chamber of Commerce, historical or genealogical society or any county office. These people live and work in that county, they will know who the county historian is and should be able to help you get in touch with them. Ask "Who in the county knows about the history of the county, the history of the people and where to find old records?" I bet you will get a name and phone number!



Check with the State Archives: 

Many times local county records are available either on microfilm or in original form at the state archives. It is quite possible that the local county officials don't even know that those records exist and are at the state archives. So, if you get a "Those records don't exist" answer from someone at the county level, contact the state archives in the state where that county is and ask them what they have for that particular county. Many times the old county records have been sent to the state archives and not very many people in the county know where they are or that they were transferred to the state archives. Also, many times genealogists or individuals will donate their family papers to the state archives because there is nowhere in the county to donate them.

Tennessee State Library and Archives


So, don't get stopped in your genealogy tracks when you feel like you have hit a "Dry County". Try these tips and hopefully you can dig up the records you are needing.



REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVE TODAY!!


******

Need more tips and advice on researching in libraries and archives?

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

What's the Difference Between Preservation and Conservation?

These two words, "Preservation" and "Conservation" can be confusing. Many people use them interchangeably but truthfully they are not the same.

Let's Talk About It!

First, let's look at some definitions:

Preservation: n. ~ 1. The professional discipline of protecting materials by minimizing chemical and physical deterioration and damage to minimize the loss of information and to extend the life of cultural property. - 2. The act of keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction, especially through noninvasive treatment. - 3. Law · The obligation to protect records and other materials potentially relevant to litigation and subject to discovery.

Preserved Letters, Houston County, TN. Archives


Conservation: n. ~ 1. The repair or stabilization of materials through chemical or physical treatment to ensure that they survive in their original form as long as possible. - 2. The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future through examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.



Letter in Pieces, Houston County, TN. Archives

Letter Conserved, Houston County, TN. Archives






















(Source: Society of American Archivists Glossary Terms http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms)



My easy definition and explanation I like to give to genealogists for these two terms is "To Preserve something is to protect it, to Conserve something is to fix it".

Right now, many genealogists have made commitments at the beginning of the new year to organize their genealogical records. This could mean filing piles of paper, putting photos in archival sleeves and putting everything in an archival box or filing cabinet.

This is "Preservation" at it's best! You are "keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction" all those wonderful genealogical records that you have in your care. Preserving those records, photographs, memorabilia and family heirlooms for future generations. I encourage all genealogists to actively preserve all the family records and artifacts and use archival materials to achieve that preservation.

Removing Metal Staples is Preservation, Houston County, TN. Archives


Now, let's say you have a photograph that is damaged and you want to "repair or stabilize it...to it's original form", then you would need to Conserve this photograph. Most likely, you will want to seek out a Professional Conservator that specializes in repairing and fixing photographs. Most genealogists don't feel comfortable doing these types of repairs and if you don't have the knowledge of the materials and methods of Conservation, then you need to leave it to the professionals.

But where to find a Conservator?

I suggest contacting the state archive in your state. They will either have an conservator on staff or they will have a name and contact information for one that they use for their archived materials. There could be different conservators for different mediums such as one for only photographs, one for only documents, etc.

I would also suggest going to the website American Institute for Conservation (http://www.conservation-us.org/), they have a section entitled "Find a Conservator" where you can find someone in your area to help you with your conservation problem.

So, hopefully now you know more about the different between Preservation and Conservation.

I encourage all genealogists to actively preserve your genealogy research, documents, photographs and family heirlooms.

If you have any questions about researching in archives or about records preservation, please E-MAIL ME!





REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVES TODAY!

*****

Scrapbooks! How to find scrapbooks in archives and how to preserve the ones you have!

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Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Organizing Your Genealogy, Tips from an Archivist

Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe it's 2017!

I am excited about a New Year for genealogy research and being the archivist at the Houston County, TN. Archives. I am looking forward to meeting all the genealogist that will walk through the archives door, call me on the phone or send me an email with their genealogy research questions. Helping genealogists is the best part of my job as an archivist.

I am also looking forward to the opportunities to speak, teach and write about researching in archives and records preservation. I love teaching others about archives research and the best practices in preserving your genealogy research.

Today, I would like to talk about organizing your genealogy research. Many of you will make New Year's Resolutions that will have something to do with organizing genealogy research and records. Many of you will decide to go totally digital, many of you will try to eliminate piles of papers and many of you have tons of photographs to scan and organize.

Houston County Highway Dept. Records Before Organization


In an archives, organization is very important and something I do on a daily basis as I process the records in my care. If I don't use the proper methods to process records collections, they won't be in a form that can be used by genealogy researchers. Also, using archival safe materials is essential to protecting and preserving original documents so they will be around for the next generations of genealogists to enjoy.

There are all kinds of ways to organize your genealogy research, I will leave the method you choose up to you. I would like to give you three tips to help the organization go more smoothly and hopefully help you to not become overwhelmed during the process:

Choose an Organization Method that Works for You and be Consistent

It's true, there are many methods and ways to organize your genealogy research. You can talk to 10 people and get 10 different methods of organization. I always tell genealogists to figure out the method that works for you and just be consistent in implementing it. An organizational method that works for me may not work for you and that's okay! If you don't like the organization method you are using, most likely you won't stay very organized. So, find what works for you and be consistent in using it everyday.

Take Small Bites

There is a saying that goes something like this "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." This is also true for tackling the job of organizing genealogy research. Don't try to do it all in one day. You will get overwhelmed and discouraged if you try to take on too much at one time. In the archives, when I have a large records collection to process, I take it slow and steady. It might take me a few days or even a few weeks to complete the processing of a large records collection. I have one particular collection right now that has taken me a couple of months and I am still not done. The reason I take my time is because I want to process the collection properly so when genealogists want to use the records collection, it is organized and easy to find what they are looking for. So, don't try to organize everything as fast as possible. Take your time, you will be glad that you did.



Use Archival Materials

As an archivist, I can not emphasis this tip enough. I encourage everyone to use archival file folders, archival sheet protectors and archival boxes for all genealogical documents. Even if you have decided to go totally digital, I am sure there will be some original records that you will want to keep and preserving them should be at the top of your organizational list. Many of the documents we own as genealogists are one-of-a-kind and should be protected for future generations to enjoy.

Archival Materials Used in an Archives, Houston County, TN. Archives


The online archival material business are now advertising their 2017 catalogs. You can access their materials online or you can request that a catalog be mailed to you, here are links to their websites:

Online Archival Supply Stores:

Gaylord Archival

http://www.gaylord.com/

Hollinger Metal Edge

http://www.hollingermetaledge.com/

University Products

https://www.universityproducts.com/

Light Impressions

http://www.lightimpressionsdirect.com/



Following these three tips as you organize your genealogy research will hopefully make the process more enjoyable and you won't get overwhelmed.

For the start of this New Year, I would like to encourage those that follow me and read my blog, writings and watch my webinars to contact me with your questions about researching in archives and preserving records. My email address is just to the right of this blog post at the end of the "About Me" section. I love talking to genealogists about the in's and out's of researching in archives and I love helping them get the right archival materials to preserve and protect their genealogy records, photographs, memorabilia and artifacts. So, please feel free to email me anytime!



Last, in 2017 I encourage everyone to seek out the thousands of archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, university libraries and archives and museums that hold genealogical records. More and more these repositories budgets are being cut because of non-use. We need to keep these facilities OPEN, so.....



REMEMBER: IT'S NOT ALL ONLINE, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVES TODAY!!



****

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

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