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A Genealogist In The Archives: 2017

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Genealogical Records Tucked Inside Books

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me a great story about her Grandfather and Grandmother. Unfortunately, her Grandmother passed away recently leaving her Grandfather the task of having to go through his wife's things to pack them up and give away to family members.

While he was going through some drawers, he found an envelope that had a large sum of money in it and a note from his wife letting him know that the money in the envelope was money she had saved for many, many years by collecting and saving all the spare change. In the note, she told him to use it for her funeral. Also in the note, she indicated that there was more money hidden in other places in the house, including inside of books.

This story reminded me of something that I have come to know all too well....

People like to tuck things inside books!

I have found this to be the case in my person genealogy research and from working as a county archivist.

Whether the items are used as books marks, to hide personal documents or another reason, the fact is, people have always tucked things into books.

One book that was used the most often to tuck documents into is the family Bible. I have two family Bibles that I received from both of my Grandmothers and they are full of all kinds of records, photographs, newspaper clippings and other family records. Those items are genealogical treasures for me.

Items found tucked in my Grandmother Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram's Bible

Soon after I started as the archivist for the Houston County, TN. Archives, I was going through the court minute books and I found a interesting and important piece of local history. A folded piece of paper with a note written in pencil and dated April 2, 1873. The note was written by John Hinson or better known in our area as Jack Hinson, Civil War sniper. There was even a book written about him entitled "Jack Hinson's One-Man War" by Col. Tom McKinney.

Handwritten note by John "Jack" Hinson, April 2, 1873, Houston County, TN. Archives

Jack Hinson's One-Man War: A Civil War Sniper


When I found this note tucked in the court minute book, I knew that I had found an important document for our local history in Houston County, Tennessee. That document is now on display in the archives for everyone to enjoy.

When I teach genealogist about searching for family records, I always encourage them to thumb through all the books that belonged to your family members and ancestors. Never get rid of books without going through them thoroughly. You just never know what you might find!



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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Storing 3-Ring Binders to Protect Genealogical Records

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.



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Monday, October 16, 2017

Removing Staples From Genealogical Records

One of the first rules in archiving documents that all archives that archivists follow is: Remove all metal from documents. This includes staples, paper clips, straight pins and any other fasteners keeping documents together that are metal.

Some of you are probably thinking, "I know how to remove staples, what's the big deal?"

As an archivist I have seen many documents damaged by those that thought they knew how to remove staples and yet still damaged their documents.

It is not unusual for all of us to find rusty staples attaching documents together in our genealogical records. Archivist encounter staples on a daily basis and removing them is of utmost importance.

Staples can rust and damage genealogical documents. Over time, with the act of turning the documents over and over, can cause the staples to tear the documents. Removing staples is an easy process and if done properly will not damage genealogical documents.

Do Not Use a claw staple remover that looks like this:

These can cause more damage to documents than helping to remove the staple.

Do Not Use this wand staple remover that looks like this:

These can also cause more damage to documents than helping to remove the staple.

In the archives, we use an archival microspatula to remove staples that looks like this:

The process to remove staples is an easy one:

-Turn the stapled documents over so you are seeing the back of the staple.

-Using the archival microspatula, gently pry up the two prongs

-Turn the stapled documents over to the front and using the archival microspatula, gently lift out the staple from the documents

Viola! The staple is removed!

Admittedly, this process takes more time to do than using a claw staple remover. Keep in mind that the goal is to do the least amount of damage as possible. Using this staple removing process will insure that no damage is done to the document or at least kept to a minimum.

Archivists and Genealogists both know the importance of genealogical records. Preserving these records is important and something we should all do.



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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Manuscript Collections in an Archive

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

In my opinion, Manuscript Collections is one 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 this specific collection 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 the boxes of 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 Manuscript Collections.

Folder from a Manuscript Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

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. 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 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 Manuscript Collections on your next research trip!



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Friday, October 13, 2017

Preserving an Old Black Paper Photo Album


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!



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Thursday, October 12, 2017

5 Steps to Preserving the Family Bible

One of the most precious items genealogists have in their records collection is the Family Bible. This family heirloom is one that is most cherished and can contain the family history. The one-of-a-kind pages with handwritten names and dates help genealogists with their genealogy research but also reminds us of the ancestors that wrote those pages. Preserving the Family Bible is essential to preserving family history.

Family Bible donated to the Houston County, TN. Archives

Preserving a Family Bible Can Be Done in 5 Easy Steps:  

1. Transcribe the information contained on the pages in the Family Bible. This step needs to be done so that once the Bible has been stored away and preserved, it doesn't get handled and risk damage.

2. Digitize all pages that contain any genealogical information.  This can be done by using a flat bed scanner, a hand held scanner or taking digital photographs. If the Bible is fragile, be very careful what technique is used.

Bible Page with Genealogical Information

3. Place archival tissue paper between the pages that have writing on them. This will insure that none of the writing bleeds onto the other pages.

4. Put the Family Bible in an archival box that is lined with archival tissue paper. Be sure the box is not too small and not too big. To make sure the Bible doesn't move around in the box, crumple up archival tissue paper and put it around the Bible. The Bible will fit snuggly and won't move.  

5. Store in a cool, dry and dark place. Handle the Bible as little as possible.

German Bible Donated to the Houston County, TN. Archives

Here is a listing of the archival materials needed to preserve a Family Bible:

Archival Tissue Paper:
Archival Storage Box:




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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

5 Easy Steps to Preserving Scrapbooks

Scrapbooks are a genealogist's gold mine! If you ask anyone that knows me, they will tell you that my favorite record collection to do research in and to process in the archive is Scrapbooks!

Scrapbooks are like time capsules, nobody knows what will be found in them until they are opened. There are all kinds of styles of scrapbooks from newspaper clippings, obituary, diary, sports teams, personal history and many more.

Donated Scrapbooks, Houston County, TN. Archives

Maybe you have some scrapbooks that you have inherited from family members. Are they falling apart? Are the contents falling out? Scrapbooks are usually one of those record sources that are handled a lot over time because they are so interesting.

Preserving scrapbooks is actually fairly easy and any home archivist can do it. Here are 5 easy steps:

    1. Digitize each and every page of the scrapbook. You can use a flat bed scanner or you can use your digital camera. Do not use any kind of self-feeding scanner or a hand held scanner, they can potentially damage the pages or the items pasted to the pages. Make sure to digitize the scrapbook in original order from the first page to the last page. 

      2. Purchase archival tissue paper. Get a size that is about 1/4" to 1/2" larger than the scrapbook page. You want to make sure the tissue paper covers the entire page but there is not too much excess. You can cut the tissue paper to size if needed.

        3. Interweave the tissue paper in-between each and every page of the scrapbook. The tissue paper will act as a shield to protect anything on the pages from bleeding onto or damaging the other page.

        Archival Tissue Paper Interweaved in the Scrapbook, Houston County, TN. Archives

          4. Purchase an archival box that is as close to the size of the scrapbook as possible. Put the scrapbook in the box. If there is still room in the box and the scrapbook is sliding around, crumple up archival tissue paper and tuck it around the scrapbook to secure it in place so that it doesn't move.

          Scrapbook in an Archival Box, Houston County, TN. Archives

            5. Label the box with information about the scrapbook. For instance, "World War II Scrapbook, Belonged to John Jones, 1941-1945". Store in a cool, dry and dark place. Keep away from sunlight and handle the scrapbook as least as possible. Consult with the digital images as much as possible so that damage is not done to the original scrapbook.
              These 5 easy steps to preserve scrapbooks will insure they will survive for many years to come.



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              Tuesday, October 10, 2017

              Removing Tape from Family Documents

              Do you have documents, photographs or ephemera that have been mended with sticky cellophane tape?

              Original Land Grant, Houston County, TN. Archives

              Many of our ancestors used tape to fix torn documents, ripped photographs and damaged ephemera. Cellophane tape is not archival. It contains damaging chemicals that can damage documents, photographs and ephemera.

              So, what is a person to do, remove the tape or leave it alone?

              As Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist ( likes to say:

              "It Depends"

              Many of us want to rip that tape right off our documents and get that sticky stuff off of our precious records. BUT WAIT! How much more damage will you do by ripping off that tape? Probably a lot!

              In an archives setting, archivist approach tape on documents with much caution. If the tape has deteriorated itself into brittle pieces, sometimes the pieces will come off when the edge of the tape is lifted up. That would be ideal but not always the case.

              In most cases, if the tape is stuck very strongly to the document and if it is deliberately pulled off, damage could be done to the document. In many cases in the archives, we leave the tape on the document. The damage the tape is doing to the document is not near as bad as the damage that could be done if it was ripped off.

              Newspaper Clipping with Tape, Houston County, TN. Archives

              If the archives is a large enough to have a conservator on staff, the document would be sent to the conservator to have the tape removed using techniques that they have been trained to use. In most small county archives, like the Houston County, TN. Archives, there is no conservator on staff and we usually choose to leave the tape on the document to keep from inflicting any damage.

              Now, let's say you have a document that has a piece of tape that extends off the page, like this:

              Houston County, TN. Archives

              The best practice is to cut the excess tape off and leave the remaining tape on the document. Any home archivist can do this procedure with confidence that they will not harm the document.

              Houston County, TN. Archives

              Houston County, TN. Archives

              My advice to any genealogist/home archivist is to leave the tape alone and on the document. If you really want to get the tape off the documents, seek out a conservator in your area to help with that process. Many state archives have conservators on staff or they can give you a name and contact information of one that they use for their records.

              Our genealogical documents are very precious and keeping them preserved and protected so that we can pass them down to the next generation should be our top priority!




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              Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine


              Monday, October 9, 2017

              Preserving Whole Newspapers

              Newspapers, a treasure trove of genealogical information for any genealogist. We access them on microfilm, we find clippings in vertical files and we even may have inherited whole newspapers from a family member.

              Bound Newspapers, Houston County, TN. Archives

              Many people saved whole newspapers when there was a national tragedy that called for a bold headline. The entire newspaper was saved because the person understood the significance of the event and thought saving the newspaper would be a good thing. Maybe the entire newspaper wasn't saved but an entire page of the newspaper was saved. Saving the front page of the newspaper to document an event or if there was a story about a family member that was a big article that took up most of one page and carried over to another page.

              WWII Headline, Houston County, TN. Archives

              If you have whole newspapers or whole pages out of the newspaper in your genealogy records collections and you would like to keep them, here is an easy way to preserve them and have them in a form that you can enjoy. This process is what we use in the Houston County, TN. Archives.

              The materials you will need for this preservation project are simple and can be purchased at any of the online archival stores listed below:

              -A Post Bound Over-sized Scrapbook
              -Archival Polyester Page Protectors for a Post Bound Over-sized Scrapbook
              -Scrapbook Post Extenders (these are used to create the binding of the book)

              A Post Bound Over-sized Scrapbook

              Archival Polyester Page Protectors

              Scrapbook Post Extenders
              Take the entire newspaper or newspaper page and put it in the archival polyester page protector. If you have more than one, I would suggest that you put them in date order. Also, two whole newspapers or two pages of the newspaper can be put into one sleeve, back-to-back. The page protectors then go into the over-sized scrapbook with the post extenders being used as the binder. Very simple yet very archival.

              Example of the over-sized scrapbook.

              This process helps to preserve the whole newspaper and newspaper pages. It also allows you to look at the newspapers without fear of damaging them from handling.

              Online Archival Material Stores:

              Gaylord Archival

              Hollinger Metal Edge

              Light Impressions

              University Products



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              Sunday, October 8, 2017

              How to Do Genealogy Research in a "Dry County"

              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 a "Dry County" as it relates to the 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 little or 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.



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