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A Genealogist In The Archives

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Finding Cemetery Records in an Archive

One of the most requested record collections that I am asked about as a county archivist is cemetery records. Even in my small county we have over 200 individual cemeteries.

Finding cemetery records in an archive will depend on what has been saved by the record keepers, if those records were donated to the archives and if these records even existed in the first place. Unfortunately, with many areas, these records were not kept consistently and they were many times not preserved. But that is no reason not to put "Cemetery Records" on your genealogy to-do list and try to find them.

Sparkman Burial Association Records, ca. 1933, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many local historical or genealogical societies publish cemetery books. These publications are usually compiled by volunteers who have literally walked the cemeteries in their community and recorded the information contained on the surviving headstones. It is not unusual to not find your ancestor listed in the cemetery that other records state they were buried in because there was no stone or the information on the stone was not readable. The volunteers who compiled the information can only record what they see and if there is no stone or the information on the stone has worn away, they can not record anything.

If you are fortunate, you might find that cemetery records have been donated to the archives. These records could include plot maps, lists of those that are interred and even family members that have contributed to the upkeep of the cemetery itself. These records may come to the archives by way of the cemetery organization that no longer have room for the records or there is no one to keep the records, so they are donated to the local archive, historical society or genealogical society. These records can be a gold mine of information for the genealogist who have ancestors buried in that particular cemetery.

Map to the Oak Hill Cemetery, Houston County, TN. Archives 

Another type of collection that could hold information about local cemeteries are funeral home records. Historically, it is the job of the local funeral home or undertaker to arrange for and conduct the burial of the deceased. Among their records they could have references to cemeteries in the area. I have seen some funeral homes that keep plot maps of each cemetery so that they can determine if the cemetery is at capacity or so they can determine where to bury the deceased. I have also seen funeral homes with county or city maps that indicate where all the cemeteries are located that allow current burials. Some funeral homes may have donated their records to the local archive, historical society or genealogical society but they could also still be located at the funeral home office. Also keep in mind that funeral homes merge with other funeral homes and will keep the previous funeral home records as well.

Houston County Historical Society Cemetery Book

When visiting an archive to look for cemetery records, be sure to check the Vertical File Collections, Manuscript Collections and Special Collections of any cemetery records or published cemetery books. Also, ask the archivist, librarian or clerk about what cemetery records they may have in their collections.



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Vertical Files: What Are They and How To Use Them

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Vertical Files: What Are They and How To Use Them

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Trains, Planes and Automobiles: Researching Our Ancestor's Transportation

As genealogists, we should be documenting every aspect of our ancestor's lives. It's just not enough to only document their birth, marriage and death. Researching and documenting the events and aspects of our ancestors lives that come between those vital events is what tells our ancestor's life story.

Have you ever thought about documenting your ancestor's transportation? From the horse driven buckboard to the family station wagon, from the train to the airplane, our ancestors had many avenues of transportation and documenting this part of their lives can add to their life story.

Wilson Averitt and Pearl Adams, ca. 1900, Houston County, TN. Archives

My Grandfather, Cody Lee LeMaster (1909-1972) never learned to drive. He always made sure the family lived near a bus station, bus stop, near a street car or lived close enough to everything so he could just walk. His philosophy when it came to family members wanting him to visit was "If they want me to visit them, they can come get me and bring me back home". He worked each and every day to provide for his family. He walked to work at Hamlin Metal Products, Corp. in Akron, Ohio until his death on November 18, 1972. He was holding the door open for a female worker and died of a heart attack on the spot. Knowing my Grandfather's thoughts and actions when it came to transportation has helped me understand why they lived where they lived.

Cody Lee LeMaster and Agnes Marie (Curtis) LeMaster, My Grandparents

Researching all the different types of transportation for my ancestors has been fun. I am fortunate in that I have photographs dating back to the 1940's of my family members with their vehicles. Talking to family members about the different kinds and makes of those automobiles, especially those that belonged to the person I am talking to has been interesting.

L-R Lanny Barker, Ruth Athalene (Burcham) Barker, Unknown, ca. 1940's

If you are not already researching your ancestor's transportation, consider adding it to the genealogy research to-do list. You just might be surprised by what you find!



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Researching in Libraries and Archives: The Do's and Don'ts

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Staples, Metal Paper Clips and Rubber Bands: Why Archivist Remove Them

Working in an archive on a daily basis, there is a lot of time spent removing staples, metal paper clips and rubber bands from documents. Why do archivists remove these items from documents? Because they cause damage and sometimes so bad that it can not be repaired.

  • Staples: A stapler is a common office supply that every genealogist has and uses. Using staples to fasten multiple pages of documents together has been in use since 1877 when Henry R. Heyl filed the first patent for the stapler. The metal staples, however, can cause damage to genealogical records. The staples will rust and leave stains on documents and that rust can eat away at the paper. It is highly recommended that all genealogists remove all staples from their documents, ephemera and memorabilia. In place of staples, use plastic paper clips.

    Rusty Staple

    • Metal Paper Clips: Another hazard to genealogy records are metal paper clips. Many of our ancestor's records are held together with metal paper clips. The metal will rust over time and stain the documents in such a way that can not be repaired. If the metal paper clips have been attached to the documents for a long time, they may be even be stuck to the documents. Remove all metal paper clips very carefully and replace them with the recommended plastic paper clips. 

      Rusty Metal Paper Clip

      • Rubber Bands: These types of fasteners are not used near as much as staples or metal paper clips but they can be just as destructive, if not more. Rubber bands that are wrapped around stacks of documents, old letters or photographs is a disaster waiting to happen. Over time, rubber bands will deteriorate and actually rot. They will stick to whatever they are touching and cause damage. Also, if rubber bands are wound tightly around a stack of old letters the pressure can cause damage to the letters. Do not use rubber bands under any circumstances. If something is to be wrapped around a stack of documents, old letters or photographs, use soft string or yarn loosely around the stack. Better yet, put the items in an archival box, folder or envelope.

        Rubber Band Stuck to Document

        A lot of time is spent on researching and collecting records on our ancestors. Using items like staples, metal paper clips and rubber bands that can cause damage to these records needs to be avoided at all costs. Future generations will be grateful for the efforts made to preserve those family records.



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        "Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist"

        Tuesday, March 13, 2018

        Storing 3-Ring Binders to Protect Your Records

        Recently I was asked about storing 3-ring binders. So, this is a re-post from January 2017 about how to store your 3-ring binders so that your documents are not damaged.

        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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        Thursday, March 8, 2018

        The Locale Mercantile...Did Your Ancestor Go Shopping and Leave a Paper Trail?

        Have you ever thought about your ancestors and their shopping habits and the records they may have left behind?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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        Scrap Paper and Orphan Documents in an Archive

        Tuesday, March 6, 2018

        How Were Our Ancestors Entertained?

        As genealogists we collect records, photographs and stories about our ancestors lives. These normally include birth, death and marriage records. The collection could include census records, deed records, court records and tax records. But have you ever thought about what your ancestor's did for entertainment?

        Grand Ole Opry Ticket and Journaling from Evelyn Ellis Scrapbook, Houston County, TN. Archives

        Our ancestor's worked hard and they also took time out to play and entertain themselves. Depending on their financial abilities and what was available to them in the areas where they lived, there could be all kinds of different entertainment opportunities.

        Maybe they had a theater in the area, one that had a great production of Hamlet. Maybe there was a movie theater that showed the latest silent film or Jimmy Stewart movie. Going to the theater or the movies was an event, maybe your ancestor wrote about it in their diary or pasted the handbill in their scrapbook.

        Erin Theater Handbill, ca. 1958, Houston County, TN. Archives

        Did you ancestor go to the fair? Many communities had an annual Agricultural Fair where our ancestors could have entered homemade baked goods, quilts or other items for judging. Also, at these fairs, would be a carnival type atmosphere that would include rides, games and sideshows. The fair would sometimes be the highlight of the year and whole families would attend. Maybe our ancestors were awarded 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons for their entries and we have these ribbons in our genealogical records collections.

        In many towns, the circus would make a visit bringing their animals, big tent shows, games and sideshows. This would have been a big event not only for the town but also for the entire family.

        Newspaper Clipping of "A Class Visit to an Elephant", Houston County, TN. Archives

        So, where can records be found about our ancestors and the entertainment events they may have attended? First and foremost, in our own records collections. Maybe those blue ribbons are among the records in that box we got from Grandma. Maybe our ancestors wrote about their entertainment experiences in their diaries or wrote about them in letters to friends and family. Paying close attention to diaries and correspondence, even transcribing these records could provide great information about their experiences.

        Documenting our ancestor's birth, marriage and death dates is important. But documenting our ancestor's entertainment experiences is also important to add to their life story. Don't overlook these unique records and information.



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        Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

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        Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

        Thursday, March 1, 2018

        Female Ancestors and Women's History Month

        In genealogy, we say that everyone has a story to tell. As genealogists it is our job to document and tell the stories of our ancestors. Each person in our ancestry lived a unique life that only they could have lived. Good or bad, each person’s story should be told. Our female ancestors have a story to tell as well.

        Josephine Annette Curtis and Agnes Marie Curtis, ca. 1920's

        Female ancestors are very important to our genealogy research and should be researched with as much gusto as our male ancestors. You might think that researching your female ancestors is not productive to your genealogy research because they didn’t leave much in the way of records. I would say that they are just as important and in some cases can be more important than our male ancestors.

        Lou Tennessee (Burnaine) Sanders and Lucy (Burnaine) Sanders, undated

        My genealogy friend Gena Philibert-Ortega is well known for her women's genealogy research and starting today she is going to be blogging for the whole month of March about the women in our genealogy research. She does this in honor of Women's History Month and this year is her 5th year of blog posts. Her theme this year is "Records for Researching Her Life". You can check out Gena's blog posts at her blog:

        We all research the male ancestors in our family to find the next generation and to see just how far back we can get. Researching your female ancestors can give you the same satisfaction. Remember, you are directly related to her parents, her grandparents, her great-grandparents, etc. Her ancestry could hold as much or more information than the males in your family. Try to research your female ancestors with the same goals in mind that you have with your male ancestors. You might be surprised at what you find. Female ancestors have a story to tell. Who’s going to tell it? Hopefully YOU!



        Book Recommendation!

        From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes 
        by Gena Philibert-Ortega