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A Genealogist In The Archives

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Where Are the Genealogy Records?

In November, the Houston County, TN. Archives celebrated it's 8th year of being an established county archives. On November 15, 2010 the Houston County Legislative Body voted to establish a county archive to manage the county government records and to preserve local historical and genealogical records. I still strive today to do the job entrusted to me as the county archivist/records manager and I love my job!

Houston County Highway Department Records, Houston County, TN. Archives


Each year that passes I am amazed all over again by how genealogical and historical records make their way to the archives. Most of the time these records are transferred from local county government offices to the archives for records management or for records preservation. In October 2011, the Houston County, TN. Highway Department was at the beginning stages of building a new facility and was looking to clean out the loft area of their old building where old records had been stored for many decades.

They called me, the county archivist and records manager, to come over to the facility and see what they had. I must say that I love this part of my job! I love digging around in storage buildings, old office buildings, portable school storage buildings and yes the loft area of the highway department!

Houston County Highway Department Loft, Houston County, TN. Archives


This time, however, it was not safe for me to get up into the loft to see what records were being stored. So, the highway department started up their fork lift and it did the work for me. The fork lift, along with help from a few highway department employees, lifted all the boxes of records from the loft area and brought them down to the ground level so that I could assess just what was in those boxes.

Houston County Highway Department Fork Lift, Houston County, TN. Archives


I am proud to say that I had help with this particular project. Members of the Archives Committee joined me at the Highway Department on that day and volunteered their time to go through these records. We had such a great time seeing what wonderful county records we might uncover in these boxes and totes. This type of work never gets old for me!

Archives Committee Volunteers, Houston County, TN. Archives 


At the end of the day, we had been able to sift through all the boxes of records. We first set aside those records that were of no genealogical or historical value and were designated by the Tennessee Code Annotated rules and regulations to be destroyed. This left the "good stuff" as I like to call it, those records that have local historical significance and also genealogical value. These records were transferred to the Archives Office and have been processed and are ready for researchers!

Houston County Highway Department Records, Houston County, TN. Archives


When I am speaking or teaching genealogy researchers, I always tell them to ask themselves the question "Where are the Genealogical Records?" When we ask this question and start looking for the answer, we find ourselves looking in places we would never have thought to find such records. Like the loft area of the local Highway Department.

Remember: It's Not All Online, Contact or Visit an Archive Today!

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Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The Mercantile: Where Our Ancestors Shopped

It's only 28 days until Christmas and the Christmas shopping has begun!

Ever thought about your ancestors and their shopping experience at Christmas or anytime?

The Mercantile or sometimes called The General Store is where many of our ancestors shopped. There would have been so much to see in these kinds of stores. The penny candy on display in the candy jars, a barrel of crackers, the wheel of cheese and of course the caskets. Yes, I said caskets!

Wiseman & Sykes General Merchandise Letterhead, ca. 1933, Houston County, TN. Archives

Today, when we walk into the mall or our favorite grocery store we will most likely not see caskets for sale. But in the local mercantile, in the 1700's-1900's, it was common to see caskets on display and for sale. It was also common for the mercantile to be the local undertaker or funeral director. The mercantile letterhead would list as part of their services and product offerings "Funeral Director" or "Undertaker".

C.C. Cook & Company Letterhead, ca. 1921, Houston County, TN. Archives

This is why it is important to research the local businesses where our ancestors lived, especially the local mercantile or general store. These businesses generated store ledgers, piles of receipts, accounts payable records and even a record of who bought a casket for their dearly departed. These records could be in an archive, historical society, genealogical society, library or local museum.

Records for the local mercantile could list anything purchased at the store, including caskets. There could be invoices or receipts that specifically list fees for embalming, caskets, clothes to dress the deceased, etc. like this account receipt from the Sparkman General Merchandise Store. When searching for death information on an ancestor, these records could prove to be helpful.

E.P. Sparkman General Merchandise/Funeral Director account invoice, ca. 1939, Houston County, TN. Archives

Records for the local mercantile or general store will be located in either the Vertical Files Collections or the Manuscript Collections in an archive. Ask the archivist about the local stores in the area and if there are records available. The records for the local mercantile can be a gold mine for the genealogist.

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

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"Researching in Libraries and Archives"
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"It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives"


Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Genealogists are Home Archivists!


"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #31

Genealogists are Home Archivists!


Today is the last day of "31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady". It has been so much fun sharing tips about researching in archives and preserving family records. I hope what I have shared has helped many of you advance in your genealogy research and now have the knowledge of how to take care of your precious family documents and heirlooms.

On this last day of October 2018, the last day of American Archives Month, I want you to know that as genealogists with original records, photographs and artifacts, You Are The Home Archivist! You are the keeper of the family history and I applaud each and every one of you that has taken on this responsibility.

Bartram Family Bible and Items Found Inside, Owned by Melissa Barker


I also want to remind you there are thousands of archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, university archives and museums are out there and they hold millions of records that are NOT ONLINE. I completely understand that it can be a hardship for many of us to travel to these places to do research. Keep in mind that calling and emailing are very viable tools to use in communicating with these facilities.

My tip for you today is to think outside the box as you are doing your genealogy research. Remember all the unique records I have shared with you over this last month that are not online. Communicate with local archives about your genealogy research. Talk to the archivists about the records they hold in their archives. Ask them about Manuscript Collections, Vertical Files, Loose Records and all the records they have that are not online. Most archivists are ready and willing to be a help to you!

Houston County, TN. Lions Club Records Donation, Located in Houston County, TN. Archives


Even though this series of posts will come to an end as of today, that is not the end of the advice, tips and guidance I hope to continue bring to you. I will continue to blog about wonderful records that are held not only in the Houston County, TN. Archives but in archives all across the United States. I will also continue to blog about records preservation and how to make sure all of us preserve our family records so that future generations can enjoy them.

And best of all, I want to hear from you! If you have questions about how to find records, how to preserve any of your family records, photographs and artifacts, I want you to drop me an email. I love hearing from my readers and helping them anyway I can. Please email me at: melissabarker20@hotmail.com



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



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Tuesday, October 30, 2018


"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #30

Archives Have Books!


When you think of an archive, maybe you think of original documents, vertical files and manuscript collections. But do you think of genealogical or historical books being in archives? You should!

Many of our wonderful archives have a section of historical and genealogical books. These books can be located in the research area where the researcher can access them easily and research in them. Yet some archives keep their books in back rooms on shelves and require the researcher make a request to see them.

Houston County, Tennessee Pictorial History Book, Located in Houston County, TN. Archives


These collection of books could include just about anything. They could include local histories of the area and all the different communities. They could include donated published family histories of various surnames. There could even be pictorial history books of the local area and the surrounding areas.

In order to access these books or an index of what is available, ask the archivist. Many records collections, books and other items are stored in back rooms or vaults and asking the archivist about what is available is a must for every genealogist. Archivists are there to help you!

Books on families are donated to archives all the time. Many genealogists have done the research, compiled the genealogies and then published a book. It is possible the local archive could have a copy of that family book.

The Adams Family Kith and Kin, Located in the Houston County, TN. Archives


Books about local communities is also a popular book found in an archive. These could be a published book on a small area of a county that was once a booming area but today is just a spot in the road. These types of books could have history about the families that lived in the area or founded the area.

Danville, Tennessee: Gone....But Not Forgotten, Located in Houston County, TN. Archives


Libraries are not the only repository that could have published books for your family, the local community or the local area in general. Archives have these types of books too!

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

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Are you intimidated about visiting archives? Maybe you get overwhelmed when you walk through the door?

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Monday, October 29, 2018


"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #29

Oral Histories in the Archives

Oral histories are a great resource for the genealogist. Many local and state archives have oral histories in their collections. Seeking out oral histories is something every genealogist should have on their "To-Do List".

Oral History Program, Battleship New Jersey Museum & Memorial


Oral histories usually consist of voice recordings of people who are telling their life story or recounting their personal experience during a particular event. Oral histories could also be found in printed transcribed interviews. Maybe the person recounted their story to someone and then their story was typed up like a transcribed conversation or Q & A.

In the Houston County, TN. Archives we have oral histories of surviving WWII Veterans on video that were compiled in the 1990's. Sadly, many of these Veterans are now passed on but we have their voices and images on video as they recount their service during the war. These same oral history videos have also been transcribed and available in written format.

Houston County, TN. Archives Entrance


Many oral histories are of local residents telling about their experiences growing up in the area or recounting their personal experiences during The Great Flood, The Big Tornado or The Historic Hurricane. Natural disasters affected our ancestors as they affect us today and some of these stories have been captured on video, audio or in written transcripts.

Newspaper Clipping of Powell's Store During the Flood of 1968, Houston County, TN. Archives


Oral histories are not normally available on the shelves in the research area of an archive. The researcher will have to ask the archivist if they have oral histories. The archivist should be able to supply the researcher with an index of what is available. Once you find what interests you in the index, ask the archivist to bring you the record source. If it is video or audio, the archives should have the specific machine needed to play the recording. If the oral history is in written format, they should bring you the transcription. 

Sadly, there are not a tremendous amount of oral histories available. So, try not to be too disappointed if there isn't one for your ancestor. It is still a good idea to listen to or read oral histories by others in the community that experienced the same events during the same time period that your ancestor did. That way you can get a sense of what your ancestor saw, heard or experienced themselves.

So, add Oral Histories to the "To-Do List" and be sure to ask the archivist about them on the next research trip or contact with the archive.




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


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Statistics say that there are only about 10% of all genealogical records online, the rest are sitting on shelves at the local archive waiting for the genealogist to discover them!

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Sunday, October 28, 2018

Preserving an Old Black Paper Photo Album


"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #28

Preserving an Old Black Paper Photo Album


Photographs!

I love family photographs!

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

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

Wiseman 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.

Wiseman Family Photo Album, 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 barrier 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 to too small of a box. You want the album to fit snuggly so it doesn't move at all.

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

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


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

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Saturday, October 27, 2018

Archival File Folders: A Must for the Genealogist


"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #27

Archival File Folders: A Must for the Genealogist


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. 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 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.

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.

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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.

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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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