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A Genealogist In The Archives

Thursday, May 23, 2024

Preserving Our Ancestor's Military Medals and Ribbons

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 preserving military medals and ribbons is quite simple. The materials you will need are:







Wrap each medal or ribbon 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. 

You may want to display the 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 direct 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 those who gave all this Memorial Day, let's also take time to preserve their medals and ribbons.


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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Our Ancestors and Their Gardens

We are at the beginning of the Summer months and many are planning and planting their home gardens. Cucumbers, squash, watermelon, corn, green beans and other vegetables are being planted to be eaten by family and friends. Have you thought about your ancestors and the gardens they planted?

Many of our ancestors were farmers and had fields and fields of crops. Then there are those of us that have ancestors that lived in the city and were lucky to have a potted plant.

Whatever our ancestors planted, harvested or just enjoyed, are we documenting it?

Mrs. P.L. Cook with canned garden vegetables, ca. 1946

During this Summer, why not take the time to add to your genealogy the types of crops your ancestors raised, the different flowers that were in their home gardens and all the different kinds of vegetables and fruits they grew for the family table. Did they grow prize winning roses or beautiful tulips?

Maybe your ancestors planted "Victory Gardens" also called "War Gardens" during World War I or World War II. Victory Gardens were vegetable, fruit and herb gardens planted at homes and public parks in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. These gardens were used to relieve the strain on the public food supply. These gardens were also considered a morale booster for those on the home front, especially those that had family members off fighting the war.

Victory Garden Poster, ca. 1945


My Mother grew up in Ohio and she often told me about the cherry trees that her father, Forrest Cecil Bartram, grew in their yard. I have documented this fact in my genealogy research. This same Grandfather retired from Goodyear Tire after over 40 years of service and moved with his wife and my Grandmother, Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram, to Cocoa Beach, Florida where they raised all kinds of fruit trees. This was the first time I had ever heard of and tasted a kumquat. For the record, I don't like kumquats! LOL!

Kumquat Tree

So, as you are harvesting your bumper crops, take time to document your ancestors gardens!


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


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Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Archival File Folders: A Genealogists Best Friend

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 archive everyday at the Houston County, TN. Archives & Museum. We use tons of archival file folders when we are processing record. They are a staple archival material for our archives and should be a staple for every genealogist.


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 and the information contained in 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.

These can be purchased at any online archival materials store or on Amazon.

Letter Size Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/44EaUS1
Legal Size Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/4bCY20J
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. 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.

Archival Hollinger Box Amazon Link: https://amzn.to/4dDnntk 

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!


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


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Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

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Thursday, May 2, 2024

Preservation Week 2024!

The week April 28-May 4, 2024, is Preservation Week!

Many libraries and archives are having programs and events highlighting how we can preserve our documents, photographs and artifacts and our history. If we don't save and preserve our family records, they will not be there for our descendants. 

This years theme for Preservation Week is Preserving Identities. You can read all about it at the Preservation Week webpage: https://preservationweek.org/





What can you as a genealogist do during Preservation Week and all year long to extend the life of your most precious documents? Here are some tips:

  • Store genealogical and historical records in areas where the temperature and humidity do not fluctuate to extreme. Keeping records at a regular temperature and low humidity will prolong the life of genealogical records.
  • Minimize handling of genealogy records. Digitizing as many records as possible will allow you to safely store the records and not handle them.
  • Store all records in archival safe document sleeves, file folders and boxes. 
  • Do not store records or display them in direct sunlight. The sunlight will fade any documents or photographs to the point they can not longer be read or seen.
These are just a few tips to get you started with preserving your most precious genealogical and historical records. If we take the steps to preserve our records, our descendants will be very grateful.



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


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Thursday, April 25, 2024

How To Do 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 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 archive 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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Thursday, April 18, 2024

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

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

As the archivist for the Houston County, Tennessee Archives & Museum, 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 part of a larger collection of records that have been donated to the archives. Recently, the Houston County Archives & Museum 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 archive, 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.

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

When visiting an archive, family histories will be in one of two places.  First, they could be in the Vertical File Collections, sometimes called Subject File Collections. Ask the archivist if there is an index to the Vertical File Collection. This index will have surnames listed and if a surname of interest is found, ask for that file to be pulled for research.

Second, family histories could be found in Manuscript Collections. 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 Archives just received. Also, see my blog post about Manuscript Collections here.

Ask the archivist to view the index of their Manuscript Collection and if a collection is of interest, 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".

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

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, CONTACT OR VISIT AN ARCHIVE TODAY!



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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

3 Tips to Organizing Your Genealogy Research

Today, I would like to talk about organizing your genealogy research. Many of you make New Year's Resolutions every year 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. Well, it's April and how are you doing with that New Year's Resolution? That's what I thought!


In an archive, 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 record 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 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 Organizational 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.

One of the best books out there to help you organize your genealogy records and one that I highly recommend is Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher.

Here are the links to get it at Amazon:

Paperback: https://amzn.to/2R81HyL
Kindle Version: https://amzn.to/2Asv4Sh



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


You can access archival materials stores 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.

I would like to encourage those that follow me and read my blog, writings and watch my webinars and 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!



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. If you can't visit these archives, reach out to them by email or telephone, they are there to help! We need to keep these facilities OPEN, so.....



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