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A Genealogist In The Archives: 2015

Monday, December 21, 2015

Christmas In The Archives!

Yes, you can find Christmas in the Archives!

Record collections in a lot of archives, historical/genealogical societies and libraries have records that celebrate Christmas and they could have your ancestors name on them.

Postcards: One of the most popular forms of Christmas records in the archives are postcards. There were various kinds of postcards that depicted Christmas that our ancestors used to send messages to other family members or friends.

Christmas postcard ca. 1930 from the Bateman Family Records Collection, located in the Manuscript Collection of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Christmas Cards: Every year we send out Christmas cards to our friends, family and neighbors to wish them a "Merry Christmas". Our ancestors did the same thing. Many of our archives have wonderful vintage Christmas cards in their collections.

Inside of a Christmas Card ca. 1941 from Nashville Pure Milk Company from the Bateman Family Records Collection located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Christmas Business Ad: If your ancestor owned a business, there is a possibility they could have put an ad in the local newspaper wishing the community and their patrons a "Merry Christmas". These types of records can be found in archived collections or in microfilmed newspapers.

Christmas business ad with recipes ca. 1991, located in the Vertical File Records Collection in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Letters to Santa: Children writing letters to Santa Claus was popular for our ancestors as well as today. Some newspapers would published these letters and maybe one of your ancestors or one of their children wrote a letter and it was published.

These are just a few of the Christmas records that can be found in an archive. You might have to do some research and dig a little bit but if these records exist you will find them.

These types of records will be found in Vertical File Collections sometimes called Subject File Collections. They can also be found in Manuscript Collections. When researching in Manuscript Collections be sure to read the Finding Aid to see what is specifically in the collection. They can also be found in microfilmed newspapers in various repositories.

I would encourage genealogists to read the month of December in local newspapers where their ancestors lived. There are a lot of advertisements, letters, Christmas greetings, baby's first Christmas photos and more that can be found.

So, YES, Christmas is in the Archives!

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

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Are Family Histories in the Archives?   You Bet They Are!

As the archivist for the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, I am asked all the time if we have Family Histories or Family Genealogies in our collections.  I am always pleased to be able to say "YES".  While we may not have one for every surname known to have lived in Houston County, we do have many in our records collections.

Family histories that have been compiled by genealogy researchers are a great research tool for the genealogist.  While they may not be 100% correct, they can be used as a guide to help the researcher find more documents or give them an idea of where to look next for their ancestors.

Vertical File Drawer for the letter "C" containing Surname Files, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Most family histories are donated as part of a larger collection of records that have been donated to the archives. Recently, the Houston County, Tennessee Archives received a records donation of someone's genealogy research that include several 3-ring binders full of information and compiled family histories. Some of these surnames are not native to Houston County but we will archive them anyway.  Once this collection is cataloged, it will be open to the public for research and in the Finding Aid it will indicated what family histories are included by surname.

There are times when family histories or family records are donated to an archives, historical society or library that are not native to the area where the facility is located. That is why it is very important for researchers to not give up looking for their ancestors records, you just don't know where you are going to find them!

Compiled genealogy research in 3-ring binders donated to the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

When you visit a repository, you will find these family histories in one of two places.  First, you can find them in the Vertical File Collection or sometimes they are called Subject File Collections.  Ask the archivist or clerk if they have an index to their Vertical File Collection. This index will have surnames listed and if you find a surname you are interested in, then ask for that file to be brought to you and hopefully there will be a family history in the file.

Second, the other place family histories could be found are in the Manuscript Collection. The manuscript collection contains the larger records collections that have been donated to the repository such as the collection mentioned above that the Houston County, Tennessee Archives just received.

Ask the archivist or clerk at the repository to see an index of their Manuscript Collection and if you find a collection that catches your attention, ask to see the Finding Aid for that collection.  Within the finding aid will be a folder by folder listing of what is contained in the entire collection and there should be listed "Family History" or "Family Genealogy". You can ask the archivist or clerk to pull that folder that contains these records for you to look through.

Unfortunately, most of these types of records are not online and will have be accessed by visiting an archives or contacting them by email, snail mail or phone call.

So, the next time you think to yourself, "Do archives have family histories?", you know the answer is YES!

Remember: "It's Not All Online, Visit Or Contact An Archives Today!

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Loose Marriage Records....What Are They?

Marriage records is one of those record groups that is a staple in genealogy research.  After census records, birth and death records, we as genealogists always look for marriage records.

Marriage License Certificate, located in the Loose Marriage Records Collection at Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Most marriage records are recorded in large volumes or books and are referenced by Book and Page #.  Did you know there is another set of marriage records called "Loose Marriage Records"? 

"Loose Marriage Records" are a record source that a lot of archives, historical/genealogical societies and libraries who hold Manuscript Collections have on their shelves. These records are called "loose" because they are documents separate from the bound volumes and are considered the "working papers" of the marriage licensing process.  These files can hold just about anything but most of them have a copy of the original marriage license among other records. 

Marriage License located in Loose Marriage Records Collection at Houston County, Tennessee Archives

In the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have these types of records dating from 1871-2010.  Our files have such things as parental permission to marry letters, blood test results, letters from clergy stating the couple went through pre-marriage counseling, etc.

Loose Marriage Records can hold interesting and unique records not found in the bound volumes.  When a genealogists visit a repository they should ask the archivist or clerk if they have "Loose Marriage Records".  Hopefully the repository will have an index that can be quickly checked to find the surname the researcher is looking for in the loose marriage records.

Parental consent form located in Loose Marriage Records at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

This group of records is just another example of hidden treasures in our archives.  Some of these records have been microfilmed but very few are online. 

The next time you are at a repository researching marriage records, don't forget to ask if they have "Loose Marriage Records", you might surprised by what you find.

Always Remember:  "It's Not All Online, Visit An Archives Today!"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Local Mercantile.....Did Your Ancestor Go Shopping And Leave A Paper Trail?

Christmas is almost upon us and as we all start bustling around putting up Christmas decorations, planning the Christmas meal and most of all shopping for Christmas presents, let's think about our ancestors and their shopping habits and what records we can find that help tell that story.

Until the advent of the "superstore", the mall or any larger retail store, there were the Mom and Pop stores that were in almost every community. These stores carried everything a person could ever need to live their daily lives. These stores prided themselves on the variety of products they stocked on their shelves. And a lot of them kept very good records, ledgers of accounts and other accounting records.

Invoice for Parker's & Richardson Store in Erin, Tennessee for the purchase of goods, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have several store ledgers that list the accounts of local persons who kept a tab of purchases and then would come in at some point and pay that tab. The store owner would keep up with these accounts in simple ledgers. To the store owner these ledgers are how they kept up with what was owed to them. To the genealogy researcher, these ledgers can be a gold mine of information.

Houston County, Tennessee Store Ledger ( unknown store) account tab for F.L. Goodspeed, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Information that can be found in these ledgers is varied but most of the time it will include the shoppers name, what they bought, how much the item cost and the date if was bought and then there would be a running tab with a total. When the shopper paid their bill that would be marked in the ledger with an amount and the date it was paid. Just this small amount of information can tell you a lot about your ancestor's daily life. Looking at the store ledger page pictured above for F.L. Goodspeed you can see that some of the items he bought were, 1/2 gallon of molasses, 1 pound of coffee, etc.

When trying to locate these types of records in an archive, historical society/genealogical society collection or at a library with genealogical records, the genealogy researcher will usually find them in the Manuscript Collection or the Special Collections part of the archive. For instance, in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have a collection entitled "Parker & Richardson Merchandise Store Records Collection". This collection includes various receipts, invoices, customer correspondence and ledger books detailing the customer's accounts like this document below.

Parker & Richardson Merchandise Store Letterhead, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

So, while your out shopping this holiday season, think about your ancestors and the Mom and Pop stores they would shop at in their communities, maybe they left a paper trail!

As always, remember, "It's Not All Online, Visit An Archive".

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Archived Records That Are Off The Beaten Path......

Court records, deeds records, scrapbooks, photographs... these are some of the more well known record groups that most researchers access when they visit an archive, historical society or library.  

But did you know that there are numerous other record groups and types that are housed in these repositories that are almost never requested to be viewed by researchers. Why is that?  Maybe it's because the researcher doesn't know these wonderful collections exist.

                          Newspaper clipping from "Wisdom Lodge #300 Records Collection" 
                                         located at Houston County, TN. Archives

Here are 5 tips for genealogy researchers to learn about and view unique records in the repositories where their ancestors lived:

1. Plan, plan, plan!  Every genealogist who visits an archives, historical society or library to do research needs to have a research plan in place before they step foot in the door of the repository.  

2. Ask the archivist or librarian what record collections they have that are unique or unknown to the general public.  Possibly there is an index of what is in the collection or better yet a Finding Aid.

3. Ask the archivist or librarian to allow you to view all of their records indexes or all of their Finding Aids. Most repositories will have these printed and in notebooks or they will be available on patron computers in the facility.

                                           Election worker's payroll request  from 
                     "Houston County, TN. Election Commission Records Collection"                                                                       located at Houston County, TN. Archives

4. Specifically ask to view the Vertical File collection index.  This index will be alphabetical and will include surnames as well as subjects such as "Erin United Methodist Church".  Each file could contain just about anything. Remember...Vertical Files are like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get!

5. Specifically ask to view the index to the Manuscript Collection.  Again, this listing will be alphabetical. The titles could be named anything, some of the more familiar titles will look something like this: "John Doe's Family Papers 1812-1900", "Erin Methodist Church 1848-1920".  These collections could be contained in one box or in multiple boxes, the Finding Aid for the collection will help you decipher what is in the collection.

The next time you visit an archives, historical society or library to dig up those records on your ancestors, try these 5 tips to help you find those unique records, the ones that will tell more of your ancestor's story, the ones that will put "meat on your ancestors's bones"!

And always remember:  It's not all online, so visit an archives!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Preserving the Fabric of Our Ancestor's Lives

Some of the most interesting items we have in our own family genealogy collections as well as in archives are items made of some sort of fabric.  Things such as a christening gown, quilts, high school sweaters and doilies are just a few of the items some of us have as part of our family archive.

Preserving and storing these items can be a challenge and if not done properly could result in the destruction of these precious heirlooms.

        Hand embroidered and laced handkerchief. Located at the Houston County, TN. Archives

For most fabric items you will need archival tissue paper and the correct size archival box for storage. First, put a layer of tissue paper in the bottom of the box. Then put your fabric item on the tissue paper. If the item is large such as a quilt or a piece of clothing, it is okay to fold it but put layers of tissue paper between the folds making sure that none of the fabric touches itself.  I also like to put extra tissue paper as a "filler" in the box so that the item doesn't move around in the box. I just ball the tissue paper up and put it around the item and that will keep it still in the box. Then place the box in a dark, cool and dry storage place. With fabric items I like to take the archival box and place it in another box such as a plastic tote which can be sealed, this is to deter moths and insects which can destroy fabrics.

Be sure to put documentation in the box to explain in detail all pertinent information about the item.  If it was handmade, include the name of the person who made it. Also, if applicable, include the "chain of ownership" of the item and how it has been passed down in the family and which ancestors owned it before it was passed down to you. The more information you include in your description, the better!

             Handmade christening gown. Located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Finding fabric items in an archives can be a challenge but they do exist in collections housed in many of the our wonderful repositories. Most items of this kind will be found in families records collections which are normally part of the archives larger Manuscript Collection or Special Collections. When a families records have been donated to an archive, the collection could include fabric items and they would be processed right along with the documents and should be listed in the finding aid.

Another way a fabric item could be cataloged in an archive is in a group collection such as a "Quilt Collection" which could include many quilts by different makers and are housed in one collection. Or maybe these items are cataloged in a local high school collection, such as the lettermen's sweater in the photo below.

         Letterman sweater from Erin High School. Located in the Houston County, TN. Archives

As genealogists we are always searching for that next important document to help tell our ancestor's story.  Don't forget our ancestors are also trying to tell us their story through things that they made, things that they wore and things that they used on a daily basis. The story behind a handmade quilt can be just as interesting as the story behind a document.

Preserving the fabric of our ancestors and the stories that go with them should be part of every genealogists journey to document our families.


Thursday, November 5, 2015

Old Letters: Preserving a Rare Genealogical Record Source

Stationary, envelopes, postage stamps....what am I describing? Yes, an old fashioned, handwritten letter.

Handwritten letter from Mattie to Miss Alice Reynolds dated October 25, 1903.
Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Today most of us write emails, tweets, Facebook posts and texts to communicate with our family and friends. When was the last time you sat down and wrote an actual handwritten letter and mailed it to someone? This type of genealogy record source is what I call a "rare genealogical record source" because while the old letters still exist there are practically no new records of this type being produced.

As genealogists what do we do with these old letters that we have in our family collections? We preserve and archive them!

Before the actual physical archiving starts, I always encourage genealogists to scan or digitize their letters and to transcribe them word for word, that way once you have physically archived them you don't need to handle them as much. Handling them with your hands can cause damage over time if the items are handled a lot.

Original envelope for letter by Miss Mary Carpenter with post mark of December 17, 1889, Erin, Tennessee.
Located at Houston County, Tennessee Archives

When archiving old letters, it is important to keep the original envelope with the letter if it has been saved. There is valuable genealogical information on the envelope that you want to save. My advice is to remove the letter from the envelope, flatten the letter and put both the letter and the envelope into an archival polyester sleeve or into an archival page protector. Store them in an archival box or in a 3-ring binder and keep in a dry, dark place where it is preferably as cold as possible. Heat and humidity can destroy your documents, so it is always a good idea to store your records in a cold environment.

Now, how do you find old letters in archives, libraries or any of our wonderful repositories that hold genealogical records? This task can be a bit difficult but if you are diligent you might just get rewarded.

Most old letters will be found in Manuscript Collections. These collections of records are usually arranged by subject, surname or with titles such as "John Doe Papers 1871-1922". Once you have identified a collection that interests you, then you need to look at the Finding Aid. The finding aid is a document that is produced by the archivist and is an outline of what the collection is all about and will include a list of what is contained in each box. Most of the time the box list is not detailed by what each piece of paper is in each folder but rather it will say "Folder #1: Correspondence 1871-1888". You will have to open the file and read through the correspondence to see if there is anything of interest to your research.

Greeting card with letter sent to Mrs. W.T. Smith of Erin, Tennessee dated 1919.  Notice how small this letter is next to this cell phone. Located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Lastly, let's not forget postcards! Our ancestors were avid users of postcards of all kinds. The preservation methods described earlier in this blog can be used with postcards. Also, postcards will be found in Manuscript Collections the same as old letters. Postcards come in all shapes, sizes and kinds. There are even postcards made from photographs. If you are looking for a photograph of your ancestor, just maybe there is one out there that is on a postcard. 

      Postcard to Master Marshall W. Wynns in Erin, Tennessee from L.F.J.
        Located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

While the art of letter writing is no longer in fashion, we as genealogists have an opportunity to peer into our ancestors lives by reading their wonderful letters. The information that could be contained on our ancestors letters help us to put "meat on the bones" of the ones we are researching and helps their story come alive!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Care and Preservation of Family Bibles

Family Bibles, genealogists either have them in their collections or they are desperately seeking them.

                   Family Bibles owned by Melissa Barker, Houston County, Tennessee Archivist

The care and preservation of these precious family heirlooms should be taken very seriously so that they will survive for future generations to enjoy.  As an archivist, I have helped many a patron archive and preserve their family Bible.  Depending on the condition of the Bible you may just need to get some archival tissue paper to wrap the Bible in and an archival box to store the Bible.  For Bibles that are in much worse shape, my advice is to not use any kind of tape or glue to put it back together, there is no such thing as true "archival tape" or "archival glue".  First rule of archiving is, Don't do anything to your documents that you can't undo.

If your Bible is falling apart, put it back together as best as you can and then wrap it in archival tissue paper and store in an archival box.  Then store your boxed Bible in a cool dark place where the humidity is low.

                                                       Items found in a Family Bible

You may have a Bible that is chocked full of all kinds of records, newspaper clippings, photos or just about anything.  The best way to deal with these items is to make an inventory of what was found in the Bible. Scan and digitize each item and save them to your computer or hard drive. Take each piece and put it in an archival safe sleeve or envelope and then return all items to the Bible.  This is especially important for original newspaper clippings.  Newspapers are full of chemicals and over time the chemicals can bleed onto the Bible pages or onto other documents and leave a yellow or brown stain.  You don't want this to happen.  I suggest that all newspaper clippings be photocopied and the originals thrown away.  If you choose to keep the original clippings, make sure to put them in archival safe sleeves or envelopes so that they are not touching anything else in the Bible.  By returning the items to the Bible as they were originally found, you keep the integrity of the artifact intact and in original order.

                                          Handwritten family information in a Family Bible

Most family Bibles have places in them to fill out family trees or family information.  If your Bible has this in it, do not take it out.  The best thing to do is scan the pages and also make photocopies of the pages.  If your Bible is in very bad shape and the binding will not allow you to put the Bible on a scanner or a copier, then take a digital photograph of the pages like I did in the photo above.  This family information is important to your genealogy research and you want to make sure it gets preserved in case the Bible gets destroyed or comes up missing for some reason.

Family Bibles are a unique and precious piece of our family history.  There are many organizations online that have collected and digitized family Bibles.  One such place is the Tennessee State Library and Archives Bible Project where you can see actual digitized family Bibles.

If you have a family Bible, please be sure to preserve it properly so that it is still here 100 years from now.  If you are a genealogist searching for your family Bible like I am, don't give up! One day it might just surface.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Photographs In Archives

Are you looking for that photograph of your ancestor?  Or that photograph of your ancestors home, the church they went to, the school they attended?  Why not check out the local archives, historical society or library in the area where your ancestors lived.

          Erin Baptist Church, Summer 1943, Photograph from Houston County, Tennessee Archives 

Most repositories that collect and preserve documents also have collections of photographs.  Whether these photographs are in a collection all to their own or mixed in with other collections, they are there for genealogists and researchers to find.

George Washington Stringfield Family, ca. 1903, Photograph from Houston County, TN. Archives

Many of these repositories place their photograph collections online such as the Tennessee State Library and Archives who has put the Puryear Family Photograph Albums online, among other photograph collections.

Unfortunately, many photographs housed in archives collections are not unidentified. Archivists struggle to identify the people and places in the photographs they have in their collections and are forced to wait until a patron can come along and make the identification.

    E.E. Collision, Jr. Photography Studio, Erin, TN., Unidentified, Houston County, TN. Archives

A recent announcement that a newly identified photograph of Billy The Kid that has surfaced gives us all hope that we too will find the photographs of our ancestors.

If you are searching for your ancestors photographs, check out the local archives, historical society or library where they lived.  These repositories just might have what your looking for!


Thursday, October 8, 2015

Scrapbooks...A Genealogy Gold Mine

Scrapbooks are one of my favorite record sources to do research in and to also process in the archives.  There are all kinds of scrapbooks, each and everyone is unique and one of a kind!

The origins of scrapbooking is said to go back to the 15th century in England and it is still a hobby enjoyed today.  Most archives, libraries, historical and genealogical societies have them in their collections.  They will most likely be found in the Manuscript Collection as part of a specifically named collection.

Scrapbooks could contain any kind of record, clipping, photograph or even candy bar wrappers.  One of my favorite scrapbooks that we have here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives is one that Evelyn Ellis compiled in the 1930's-1940's.  Among the normal newspaper clippings and event programs are interesting pieces such as a Baby Ruth candy bar wrapper with a caption "Always remember June 11, 1938 at Beach Grove at the Ice Cream Supper". 

This original ticket from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee where Evelyn Ellis visited and recorded her comments.

And this Mexican cigarette that she received from a friend.

There are scrapbooks for just about any subject. Here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have several personal scrapbooks but we also have a couple scrapbooks that were compiled during World War II and contain newspaper clippings detailing the war.  We also have a couple scrapbooks that contain only obituary clippings from the local newspaper.  A lot of these obituaries are unique because the original newspapers did not survive for the time period and so having these obituary clippings is great for genealogists.

I would encourage genealogists to check with the archives or historical society in the area where your ancestors were from and see if they have any scrapbooks that might contain newspaper clippings about your ancestor.  These local scrapbooks could also help tell the story of the area where your ancestor lived and what was going on during the time your ancestor lived there.

Scrapbooks....A Genealogy Gold Mine!



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

October Is American Archives Month!

It's that time of year again!  October is American Archives Month!  

Archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies and any other repositories that hold archived records and artifacts should be celebrated in the month of October.  While I believe these places should be celebrated all year round for the hard work they do to save, preserve and archive our historical records, October is normally set aside to put a spotlight on these repositories.

                                     Tools of the trade used at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Since 2006, American Archives Month has given the profession an opportunity to remind the general public the items that are important to our collective history are being preserved, cataloged, indexed and made accessible to the general public.  This event also gives us all the opportunity to champion all of our archivists across the United States.  And let's not forget our many dedicated volunteers that give of their time to help us get our work done.

So, you might be asking yourself, "What can I do to show my appreciate during American Archives Month?" 

I would like to suggest that you visit your local archives, historical society, genealogical society or library, wherever the records are kept in your city, county or state during the month of October.  Let the archivists and volunteers know that you appreciate the work they do. 

Another way everyone can can help is to volunteer your time to help your local repository.  Archives are always needing volunteers to help process records, index completed records and other duties that the archivist needs help with on a daily basis.  

If everyone volunteered one day a month at their local repository, just imagine how much help that would be?!

                              Collection of  family memorabilia for the Lyle and Rye family donated to the 
                                                                          Houston County,Tennessee Archives

If you are on Twitter, the Society of American Archivists is having a one day event on October 1st called #AskAnArchivistDay.  On this one day, archivist from around the world will take to Twitter to respond to tweeted questions from the public. Their website is:  

So, join in the fun!


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Vertical Files Are Like A Box of Chocolates

In the movie Forrest Gump, actor Tom Hanks playing Forrest Gump says "Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get".

In the archives world it can be said "Vertical files are like a box of chocolates, you never know what your going to get".

Vertical files or Subject files as they are sometimes called can be located in most state and local archives, historical society collections, genealogical society collections, libraries and in some museum collections.  What exactly are vertical files? 

Vertical files are a collection of documents and ephemera that are put in file folders which are then put in filing cabinets cataloged by surname or subject.  These files could contain just about anything that can fit into a file folder.  Most repositories will create an index by the title on each folder but most of the time what is inside of each folder is not cataloged.  Vertical files are sometimes seen as a "catch all" for all those documents that don't really go anywhere else but should not be discarded.

                                Vertical file drawer in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Genealogists should be encouraged to ask the archive they are visiting if they have vertical files.  These collections of records could be very valuable to your research and could contain that piece of information you have been searching for all these years.  Some archives don't always advertise that they have such a collection of vertical files so it's important that the researcher ask the archivist about this collection specifically. 

Usually you will have to request the files that you would like to look at and the archivist will retrieve them and bring them to you, sometimes only one or two files at a time.  Then you will be allowed to go through what is contained in the file and make copies of what is important to you.  Once you have finished with the file you give it back to the archivist who will then bring you any other files you have requested one or two at a time.

            Contents of the Parker Surname vertical file in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Please do not think that the archivist doesn't trust you in this process, they are required to carry out this process for everyone.  Sadly, document theft is very prevalent in our archives, libraries and other repositories and so they are forced to institute rules on how records are to be handled by the patron.

Next time you are at your local archives or records repository, ask if they have vertical files "you never know what you are going to get".   

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Deed of Gift: What Is It?

One of the most exciting aspects of being an archivist is when a person walks in the archives with a box of records they wish to donate.  Every archivist will admit that their heart skips a beat when they see someone walk into their archives with records to donate.  

 Houston County, Tennessee Retired Teachers Scrapbooks Donation

A lot of archives would not be an archive without donors and the records they bring to us.  We depend on people to help us save our history by donating family records that are not wanted, finds at garage sales and purchasing records at estate sales.  A lot of small archives like the Houston County, Tennessee Archives does not have the budget to go out and purchase records, photographs and memorabilia at auctions or anywhere else. 

When someone donates anything to an archive, the archivist should present the donor with a document that is called “A Deed of Gift”.  This document is a legally binding document between the donor and the archive that transfers ownership and legal rights of the records from the donor to the archive. 

Houston County, Tennessee Lions Club Records and Memorabilia Donation

Once the archivist has examined the records being donated and determines that the donated material will be a good addition to their collections, the archivist should produce “A Deed of Gift” document to complete the donation process.

Most archives will not accept a records donation without a signed deed of gift. 

Information included in the deed of gift can be:

          -name of the donor and archive

          -description of the materials being donated

          -terms of the transfer of ownership

          -any restrictions imposed by the donor

          -signatures of both the donor and the archivist

For more detailed information on a deed of gift, see the Society of American Archivists “A Guide to Deeds of Gift”

While a lot of genealogists prefer to keep their documents, photographs and artifacts and pass them down to their descendants, it might be that they don’t have any interested descendants to pass them down to.  If you find yourself in this predicament, consider making preparations as to where you would like your records to be donated. You have worked very hard, for many years gathering and researching your family, don’t let it get thrown away.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

This is the first post of “A Genealogist In The Archives” blog.  My goal with this blog is to educate genealogists about the importance of archives and all that they have to offer.  There are thousands of archives in the United States that are full of documents, photographs, artifacts and other ephemera that is just waiting to be discovered by YOU the genealogy researcher!

What Is A Finding Aid?

If you have ever been to a local or state archives doing research in a Manuscript Collection you most likely have come across a “Finding Aid” within a specific collection.  Or maybe you have come across a Finding Aid within an online collection.

              MSS-2, Marie Stockard Estate Collection, Box #1, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives Manuscript Collection

A finding aid is a document containing detailed information about a specific collection of papers or records within an archive.  Finding Aids are used by researchers and genealogists to determine whether information within the collection is relevant to their research.  The Finding Aid for a collection is usually compiled by the archivist or librarian during the archival process.

The information found in a Finding Aid may be different depending on the type of material it is describing.  Included in a Finding Aid is a description of the scope of the collection, biographical and historical information related to the collection and restrictions on the use of the materials if there are any.

Finding Aids also contain a list or inventory of the contents in the collection, these inventories can be vague or they can be very detailed.

The Finding Aid is a research tool that genealogist should pay attention to when researching in Manuscript Collections at an archives.  The Finding Aid should give you information such as how large the collection is, who originally created the collection, the processing history of the collection, the collection citation that should be used, the scope and content of the collection and most importantly an inventory of what is in the collection.

Genealogists should be aware that not all Finding Aids list everything in a collection and we should not depend on them to tell us the whole truth of what is in a collection.  It might still be necessary to view all documents in a collection to make sure something was not missed.

Manuscript Collections housed at local and state archives, genealogical societies, historical societies and other repositories are a gold mine of genealogical information.  But like real gold mines, a genealogist has to sometimes dig through the collections to find those nuggets of genealogy gold.

So, why not visit an archives where your ancestors lived and ask about their Manuscript Collections, you might just be surprised at what you find!