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A Genealogist In The Archives: 2017

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Our Ancestors, Christmas and the Archives

We are now only days away from Christmas 2017! Many of us are scrambling to get the grocery shopping done, present shopping completed and completing and mailing out those Christmas cards.

Vintage Postcard

As I work here in the archives, I am reminded of the Christmas items I run across as I process records. The records that are donated to an archive can literally encompass anything and it makes me smile when I am processing a records collection and come across a piece of Christmas cheer!

So, how do you find Christmas in the Archives? Here are some examples:

Local Store Advertisements: Many local stores advertise their Christmas sales and offerings. They will also produce special brochures and advertisements at Christmas time to entice the local shoppers to come into their stores. These types of ephemera, as it is usually called, can be located in the Vertical Files Collection of an archives or in the Manuscript Collection.

Mitchum Drug Co. Advertisement, Houston County, TN. Archives

Scrapbooks: Many archives have scrapbooks as part of their records collections. These scrapbooks are personally put together by an individual and could contain any number of documents, photographs and ephemera. In a few of the scrapbooks we have here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, there are Christmas cards and postcards. Seeing the vintage cards really puts you in the Christmas Spirit!

Christmas Postcard from Evelyn Ellis Scrapbook, Houston County, TN. Archives

Correspondence: A lot of our families were not able to be with each other at Christmas for whatever reason. Maybe it was war time and members of the family were off to war in a foreign country. Maybe our ancestors just lived too far away from each other and couldn't make the trek to meet up with family members for Christmas. If your lucky, possibly you have Christmas letters in your genealogy collection. These types of correspondence exist in the archives too! Most of the time these types of correspondence will be found in specific Manuscript Collections.

Christmas Greeting Letter, Houston County, TN. Archives

This is just a few ways you can "Find Christmas in the Archives"!



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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Archival File Folders: A Must for the Home Archivist

Recently, I was asked "Do you really need to use archival file folders, can't you just use regular file folders?".

Actually, I get this question all the time and I love answering it!

I work in an archives everyday at the Houston County, TN. Archives. We use tons of archival file folders when we are processing records collections. They are a staple archival material for our archives and should be a staple for every Home Archivist.

File of Records, Houston County, TN. Archives

You have been entrusted with your family documents, photographs and ephemera.

Think of all the people that came before you that had these records and have passed them down in the family and now they are your responsibility.

Placing our most precious family records in archival file folders is important for the preservation of those records.

Archival file folders are a great records preservation tool to house original records safely so they are not damaged. Regular file folders that are not archival contain acidic chemicals that will eventually damage your records.

Correspondence Records, Houston County, TN. Archives

Archival filed folders come in different sizes to accommodate the different sizes of documents in our collections. The most frequently used sizes are letter size and legal size.


Example of 1" tab on archival file folder

It is also important to get archival file folders that have a large tab for writing information about the documents inside the folder. I generally recommend genealogists get the archival file folders that have the 1 inch tab which provides ample room for writing dates and descriptions of what is in the folder.

Options of how to file the folders is entirely up to you, the home archivist. Using archival boxes, such as a Hollinger box (shown below), adds an additional layer of protection for your records. Putting the folders in filing cabinets is not ideal but is quite acceptable.


Example of Hollinger Box

So, why use archival file folders? Because we want to preserve our family records so they survive for future generations to enjoy!



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Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

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Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Unusual Archival Boxes for Unique Genealogy Items

Let's face it, many of the items we as genealogists have in our family history collections are unique and even odd shaped. These are usually called family artifacts or family heirlooms. These items help to tell our ancestor's story and also help to remind us of our family members that are no longer with us.

Trying to archive or preserve these items can be a challenge but with the right box it can be done! These items are those 3-dimensional items that we might display on a shelf or bring out at family gatherings to show to our family members.

They are a point of contact with our ancestors and they have true family history meaning to us and are items we cherish.

Just like our paper documents, our family artifacts should be preserved and stored correctly so that they survive for future generations to enjoy.

Do you have your Grandfather's bowler hat? There's a box for that! Check out this hat box

Archival Hat Box from Gaylord Archival 

Do you have an American flag that was draped over your ancestor's casket during the military funeral service? There is a wonderful box just for American flags:

Clamshell Flag Box from Gaylord Archival

Do you have your Grandmother's favorite doll? Or maybe your favorite doll from when you were young? There is a great box for dolls

Doll Preservation Box from Gaylord Archival

 With Christmas almost upon us, are you looking for archival boxes to store your family treasured Christmas ornaments? Check out this box

Christmas Decorations Box from Gaylord Archival

And there is even a box to store Christmas wreaths

One of the best ways to find these wonderful and unique archival boxes is to search the archival stores catalogs. I always encourage genealogists to order a FREE paper catalog and have it delivered to your home so that you can sit down and easily look at all the wonderful archival boxes that are available.

Here is a listing of several archival stores that will send out FREE paper catalogs:

Gaylord Archival:

Hollinger Metal Edge:

University Products:

Light Impressions:

Our family artifacts and heirlooms are very important and mean so much to us. Make sure they are being preserved!



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Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Dragging Genealogy Information Out of Our Family

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving here in the United States! Many of us will travel to be with our families or host our family members at our homes. Getting our family members to talk to us about genealogy and family history can be a daunting task for some of us. Let's face it, they don't make it easy do they?!

Unidentified Family Gathering, Houston County, TN. Archives

There is always that one relative (or more) that just doesn’t understand why you are doing genealogy research. They ask questions like:

            - “Why do you want to know all that stuff about our family?”

            - “I don’t know, that was too long ago to remember”

            - “We just didn’t talk about it”

One of the first things that you have to realize is that not all our relatives have the passion and drive to research family history. It’s just not something they are interested in and so they don’t know why you are interested in doing it. They can be downright uncooperative.

You Have to be Sneaky (But Nice!)

To get any information out of our relatives, we are going to have to be sneaky about it but nice and you can even make it fun! 

            -They know more than they think they know

            -Get them started talking and they may not be able to quit

-As the family genealogist/family historian, it’s your job to coax that information out of them with whatever means you can think of to use

George Washington Stringfield Family, ca. 1901

Family Photographs

Most all of us have family photographs. Why not use these to jog the memories of your family members?

            -Bring photographs with you to the family event and start a discussion

            -Discuss the photographs that are displayed at the family members home

-Talk about the scenery in the photo, objects in the photo and the people, glean any piece of information you can

Unidentified Photograph, Houston County, TN. Archives

Home Movies

If your family has home movies, why not make viewing them part of the family get together. Gather the family members together in one place. Watch the movies and discuss among yourselves the people, places and scenery in the movies.

            -Arrange a special family gathering just to view family home movies

-Make the home movies part of the family event, like Thanksgiving!

-Discuss the people, places and objects in the home movies 

Family Recipes

What is almost always at a family gathering? FOOD! Why not use that to your advantage:

-Ask your family members about family recipes

-Who came up with certain food dishes, who cooked them?

-What does your family members remember about the food and the recipes

Fudge Pie Recipe, Houston County, TN. Archives

Family Traditions

Many of our families have family traditions that they observed during certain holidays, family reunions and other family events.

            -Get your family members talking about those family traditions

            -Ask who started those traditions

            -Find out where those traditions originated

How Do I Record All the Information?

Now that you have your family members talking, how do you record or capture the information they are sharing?

-Write it down. When you go to your family events, take something to write on and something to write with to record any and all tidbits of information that you can get from your family members.

-Use a recording device. Invest in a small recording device or use your cell phone to record your family members telling their stories or any tidbits of information. DO NOT RECORD WITHOUT PERMISSION 

Collect Today for Tomorrow

Most of us as are always looking for the old records, photographs and ephemera for our ancestors. It is also important to collect records, photographs and ephemera from TODAY! One day they will be considered “old records”.

-Take photographs at family events, download them to your computer, identify them, and add metadata

-Collect ephemera, such things as graduation programs, funeral home cards, wedding invitations, baby shower invitations, etc.  

With these tips and tricks, hopefully this Thanksgiving you will get your family members talking!



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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Loose Marriage Records....What Are They?

Marriage records are 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 and much more!

Loose Marriage Records can hold interesting and unique records not found in the bound volumes.  When a genealogist visits an archive 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 your looking for in these 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 an archive researching marriage records, don't forget to ask if they have "Loose Marriage Records", you might surprised by what you find.



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Friday, November 10, 2017

Preserving Our Ancestor's Military Medals and Ribbons

Many of us have military veterans in our families. As we celebrate them on this special day, we should remember them and honor them each and every day throughout the year.

Military medals and ribbons that our ancestor's received during their service may be part of our genealogical records and artifacts. Do you know how to store and preserve them?

Example of Military Medals

The process of archiving military medals and ribbons is quite simple. The materials you will need are:

Take each medal and each ribbon and wrap each one carefully in a piece of archival tissue paper. Then lay the tissue covered medal or ribbon in the archival storage box. Putting more than one medal or ribbon in the box is perfectly okay, just don't stack them on top of each other. To make sure they don't move around in the box, crumple up more archival tissue paper and put around the medals and ribbons. It's that simple!

It would also be a good idea to include a typed or handwritten description of who the medals belonged to, information about their service, what type of medals they are and why they were awarded. 

Many like to display military medals and ribbons in frames or shadow boxes. Displaying them in this manner is perfectly fine. My only caution would be to keep the framed medals and ribbons out of the sunlight, especially the ribbons as they could fade if exposed to sunlight.

Example of Military Medal Display in a Shadow Box

So, as we Remember and Honor Our Veterans, let's also take time to preserve their medals and ribbons.



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Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Preserving Our Ancestor's Military Uniform

Saturday, November 11, 2017 we honor our Military Veterans on Veteran's Day here in the United States.

As genealogists we try to document our ancestors that served in the military. That can include obtaining service records, pension records, old letters and even our ancestor's uniform. Many of us are fortunate enough to have inherited a military uniform or at least the jacket if nothing else. So, what is the best way to archive or preserve a military uniform.

WWII Uniform Donated to Houston County, TN. Archives

Surprisingly, the process of preserving a military uniform is quite easy and something any genealogist can do.

The archival materials that you will need to purchase are:

-Archival tissue paper to layer in the bottom of the archival box and to cover the uniform

-An archival box large enough to hold the military uniform

To start the archiving process, lay a piece of archival tissue paper in the archival box. It's okay if the tissue paper is larger than the box, once the uniform is in the box you can fold the excess tissue paper onto the uniform.

Next, place the uniform on the archival tissue paper in the archival box. If you have more than one piece of the uniform (pants, jacket, etc.), place the first piece in the box, then put a piece of tissue paper on that piece and then lay another piece. Making sure to have layers of archival tissue paper in-between each piece of the uniform. You do not want the uniform pieces to touch but have a layer of tissue paper protecting each piece.

Tissue paper in military jacket. Houston County, TN. Archives

Finally, lay a piece of archival tissue paper on the top of the last uniform piece. If there is excess room in the box and the uniform is moving around in the box, crumple up archival tissue paper and place it around the uniform to make sure the uniform fits snuggly in the box and doesn't move. Do not stuff the box so much that you are crowding the uniform in the box and creasing the uniform. The uniform needs to be flat and not creased as it sits in the box.

Be sure to write up information about the uniform such as what war, who it belonged to and how you received it. Place this information in the box with the uniform. Maybe include a photograph of the person wearing the uniform if you have one.

Store the boxed uniform in a cool, dark and dry place. Do not store in an attic, basement or where it will come in contact with direct sunlight and humidity.

Preserving our ancestor's military history is important and making sure their uniforms are stored properly is also important.




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Vertical Files: What Are They and How To Use Them

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Genealogist/Home Archivist Tool Box to Records Preservation

This is the last day of "31 Days of Tips from an Archivist"! I have had so much fun sharing tips and advice about researching in archives and especially records preservation.

If you have enjoyed my blog post during the month of October, be sure to subscribe to my blog in a feed or by email so you can receive my posts once a week.

In this post I am going to give you a list of tools that you as a genealogist and home archivist should purchase and have on hand in your "Home Archivist Tool Box" so you are ready to preserve your genealogical records, photographs and artifacts.

First, you will need a tool box! Yep, I recommend an actual tool box to keep all your materials in so they are all in one place and don't get lost. I have a tool box just like this one that I use in the Houston County, TN. Archive to put all my archival tools in so I can access them when I am working on records preservation:

Tool Box

The first item to put in your tool box are soft #2 pencils. In the archives, we never use ball point pens on documents or photographs. We always use soft #2 pencils to identify photographs and to source documents:

Soft #2 Pencils

If you find that you have a document or photograph that pencil will not write on, you can use a pen called an Identi Pen. It is preferred that pencil is used all the time but there are some cases where pencil will not show up and this Identi Pen can be used.

Identi Pen

Next, you should obtain some soft bristle brushes. These will be used to brush off dust, dirt and other specs of grime that could be inside of books, scrapbooks and on your documents. I recommend getting make-up brushes, they are fairly cheap and work very well:

Make-Up Brushes

Next, every Home Archivist Tool Kit should have a micro spatula! This tool is used for many jobs in an archives like removing staples. I consider this an essential tool for the home archivist:

Micro Spatula

Gloves! The next item to put in your tool kit are gloves. You can get white cotton gloves or nitrile gloves. These need to be used for handling photographs because the dirt and oils on your hands can damage photographs. There is not need to use gloves when handling documents, nice clean hands will do the trick!

Cotton Gloves 

Another must have for the tool kit is a specialized Dry Cleaning Sponge. This sponge can be used to clean dirty or soot covered documents. This sponge could remove some stains and dirty spots on documents and is great to clean up dusty and dirty documents. CAUTION: do not use on pencil writing! This sponge will erase the pencil writing.

Soot and Dirt Cleaning Sponge

And lastly, Document Repair Tape. In the archives, we don't use "tape" on anything. But there is a particular type of repair tape that is acceptable if used sparingly. If you have small tears or rips in your documents, this repair tape is perfectly fine to use. Just be sure to place the tape on the back of the document where there is no writing. 

Document Repair Tape

If you want to see me talking about the "Home Archivist Tool Kit", you can watch my guest appearance on Dear Myrtle's Wacky Wednesday hangout. It is free to watch and there is much more information talked about on each item covered in this blog post:

Monday, October 30, 2017

Preserving Your Ancestor's War Letters and V-Mail

Many genealogists have letters from their ancestor's during their time in the military and especially letters that was sent to family members during wartime. These letters can include handwritten letters, postcards and V-Mail. Also, among genealogical family papers could be Western Union Messages that was sent by the soldier or by the U.S. Government to advise the family of the death of their family member or other information.

WWII V-Mail Correspondence, Houston County, TN. Archives

So, how do we preserve this correspondence? Whether these letters date back to the Revolutionary War or as recent as last week you received a letter from your son from Afghanistan, the process is the same and very easy for the genealogist to accomplish.

The archival materials you will need purchase:

-Archival document sleeves to put the letters and documents in, these come in all shapes and sizes to accommodate the various sizes of stationary

-Archival file folders, to put the documents that are in archival sleeves

-Archival boxes, to put the file folders full of correspondence

I am asked all the time about whether or not the letters should be taken out of their envelopes and my answer is a resounding YES! Each and every letter should be removed from their envelope, unfolded and flattened. Place the letter AND the envelope in the same archival document sleeve. This keeps the envelope with the letter it belongs to and doesn't get mixed up with other letters. Be sure to fold down the flap on the envelope where the glue part is located. Even if there is no glue remaining, it doesn't need to touch the letter.

Correspondence in Vertical File, Houston County, TN. Archives

Take the letters, postcards and other correspondence that you have put in archival sleeves and place them in archival file folders. You can put more than one letter in a file folder but I wouldn't put more than ten letters in one file folder. It is up to you how your label your file folders, however, a suggestion could be to put the file folders in chronological order.

Once the correspondence has been put in archival sleeves and file folders, the folders then need to be stored in archival Hollinger boxes. Some like to store their file folders in filing cabinets and that is also acceptable. Be sure to label the Hollinger boxes so that it is known what is contained in them.

V-Mail Correspondence, Houston County, TN. Archives

An additional way to preserve military correspondence is to transcribe all the letters and save those transcriptions electronically. So, if you have letters, postcards and V-mail from your ancestors when they were in the military, be sure to properly preserve them.



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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist