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A Genealogist In The Archives

Friday, April 20, 2018

Preserving Spiral Notebooks

Spiral notebooks are a type of record book that could pose a problem for any genealogist. Spiral bound notebooks have been around for many years. 
Originally called a loose–leaf spiral notebook in which the pages are held in position by a spiral or coil of metal wire. The use of these notebooks for all kinds of purposes is still done today. Many genealogists have these types of books in their genealogy records where family members made notes, kept a journal and even recorded their favorite recipe!
Example of Spiral Bound Notebooks, Houston County, TN. Archives


There are actually three options for preserving a spiral bound notebook. If the coiled metal in the notebook is not rusted or damaged in anyway, it would be permissible by records preservation standards to leave the entire notebook intact. Even though archivists strive to remove all metal, in this case, sometimes it is best to leave things as they are. I recommend that the pages in the notebook be digitized completely and then place the entire notebook in an archival file folder and then into an archival box.

The second option is to remove the metal coil but unscrewing it out of the notebook. Some notebooks will allow for this option to be performed with no trouble at all. But if there is any resistance or difficulty trying to unscrew the metal coil out of the notebook, stop immediately. The last thing you want is to damage the pages in the notebook that contain genealogical information.

The third option and one that many archivists choose to implement is to remove the metal coil from the notebook. This is especially true if the metal coil is rusted, damaged or causing damage in any way to the pages inside the notebook. 
In this process, it is recommended that all the pages in the notebook be digitized first. It should be noted that removing the metal coil will make scanning the pages of the notebook much easier. Next, using wire cutters, snip the metal coil in several places along the length of the coiled metal. Slowly and carefully, remove each section of coiled wire. If the wire will not remove easily, make more cuts with the wire cutters to make smaller pieces to make removal easier. If the metal coil is rusted and sticking to the pages, remove the metal very slowly as to not inflict more damage. This process is tedious, but well worth the time taken.

Once the metal coil is removed, make sure to keep the pages in their original order and place the notebook in an archival file folder. If desired, a plastic paper clip can be used to clip the pages of the notebook together but if the notebook is kept in a file folder, a fastener is not needed. The file folder can then be place in an archival box or in a filing cabinet.
As always, if you do not feel comfortable doing the preservation procedures yourself, please consult with a professional conservator.
Preserving our most precious genealogical documents and records is the only way they will survive for our descendants to enjoy.
(This information was originally published in The Archive Lady column at Abundant Genealogy, June 1, 2017 https://abundantgenealogy.com/archive-lady-spiral-notebooks/)

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

When Your Genealogy Has Gone to the Dogs!

As genealogists we are constantly searching for records for our ancestors that we have not seen before. Records that are unique and will fill in those gaps in our ancestor's timeline.

Archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries, University archives and museums are full of these types of records. One such set of records in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives is a "Dog Registration" book.

Houston County, Tennessee Dog Registration Record Book spine, Houston County, Tennessee Archives


This particular "Dog Registration" book dates from 1901-1923. The purpose of this record book was to register dogs who were over 6-months old. The owner had to pay a fee or tax which started out in 1901 to be $1.00 and by 1923 was up to $3.00 per dog.

W.H. Griffin dog registration entry, July 16, 1907, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The fees that were collected were put into what was called the Sheep Fund. The Sheep Fund was there for any farmers who had a sheep killed by a dog or had one damaged by a dog. The owner of the sheep would be able to ask for funds from the Sheep Fund to replace the dead or damaged sheep. At the end of the year, if there was still funds left in the Sheep Fund, it would be given to the local schools to help purchase books and supplies.

W.R. Boone dog registration entry, May 16, 1901, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Information that can be found on the dog registration receipts include the dog owner's name, the owner's address, the name of the dog, the description of the dog and the date of the receipt. Who knew that our ancestor's dogs could help us with genealogy information today!

As genealogists we can get some great information from records sources like this "Dog Registration".


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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Scrap Paper in the Archives

How many of you have scrap paper in your genealogical records?

By that I mean, pieces of paper that have notes, numbers or other information jotted down by an ancestor that makes no sense to you, right now, but nevertheless is part of your genealogical records.

Maybe you have receipts, invoices or other scrap documents that you just can't figure out what they mean or how they fit into your family history.

Well, archives have the same type records and genealogists should be seeking them out.

Misc. Receipts, Houston County, TN. Archives


Most archives are known for their well organized and processed records that are in archival boxes and archival file folders. Most of the time, each document has a place in a larger collection of records that the archivist will catalog and index for their patrons.

But did you know that many of our archives have scrap paper that is discovered on a daily basis that doesn't belong to any particular records collection? Those records are kept too but they may be a little harder to locate in an archive.

So, how can you find genealogical scrap paper in archives? Here are some tips:

Vertical File Collections: The best place to locate scrap paper. Many of the scrap pieces of paper that archives collect can be found in Vertical File Collections. Vertical Files are arranged by surname or subject name. If the scrap piece of paper has a surname on it or is related to a certain subject, they will be filed in Vertical Files.


Vertical File Drawer at Houston County, TN. Archives

Manuscript Collections: Sometimes archivists will include scrap paper documents in a Manuscript Collection if they can determine the family or organization it belongs to. The scrap paper will be cataloged in the finding aid.

Irish Celebration Manuscript Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives


Loose Records: If the scrap paper document has to do with a legal matter, like a court case or probate case, these are called "Loose Records". Archivists will put a folder at the beginning of a collection of Loose Records that will say "Misc. Documents" or "Orphan Documents" and place the scrap paper document in that file.

Misc. Documents Folder, Houston County, TN. Archives


Genealogists need to be aware of scrap paper as they do research in archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries and museums. To anyone else these items may mean nothing but to you they may mean everything!



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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Masonic Records in the Archives

One of the most interesting records collections and one that I get more requests in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives are Masonic Records. The Masonic Lodge has been a staple of a lot of local communities and a lot of genealogists seek out these types of records.

New Providence Lodge, No. 128 F.& A.M. Request for Widow's Aid, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Masonic Records are normally donated by individuals and the collections can contain just about anything from documents, letters, photographs, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings and lodge publications just to name a few. They are a great resource for the genealogist trying to find information about the ancestors who were members of these groups. 

Powder Spring Lodge, No. 579 F. & A.M. Building Fund Help Letter, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

These records could be held locally at a county archive, historical/genealogical societies and libraries. Most of the time they are archived by the name of the lodge, for example New Port Lodge #208 Records Collection. They can also be held at the state level at a state archive or a state historical/genealogical society. The Masonic organizations themselves have websites and archives of their very own that could hold records.

Mineral Springs Lodge, No. 533, F. & A.M., Mortgage Aid Help Letter, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Most of these records will be located in the Manuscript Collections of an archive. When a specific collection of interest is found, be sure and ask to see the Finding Aid. The Finding Aid will have great information about what is in the collection at the folder level. Not every piece of paper will be cataloged but you should be able to get an idea of what is in the collection and then the folders of interest can be requested.

New Portland Lodge No. 208, 100th Anniversary Pamphlet ca. 1951, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

If you have never searched for your ancestors Masonic Records, now might be a good time to seek them out!



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Thursday, March 29, 2018

Finding Unidentified Photographs in Archives

Finding a photograph of our ancestor can be a genealogical accomplishment and a reason to do the "Genealogy Happy Dance". Many genealogists, like myself, are still looking for their ancestor's photograph. Did you know that many archives have photograph collections? This fact may not be known by most genealogists because photograph collections are not in plain site and available in the research room. Photograph collections are usually housed in a records vault or in a back room in cold storage stacks.

Stewart County, TN. Archives Back Room Stacks


Photographs are donated to archives on a regular basis. Recently, the local newspaper in Houston County, Tennessee donated their entire collection of old photographs to the Houston County Archives. All photographs are now taken digitally and never printed. These boxes of photographs included people, buildings, local events and many other subjects. The Houston County Archives is now processing these photographs, inventorying them and will eventually digitize them to be shared online. 

Donated Photo Albums, Houston County, TN. Archives


Photographs of individuals, groups, couples and children are a big part of most photograph collections. Also, photographs of local buildings, houses and business can be part of the collection. There could also be school group photos, church Sunday school classes and the local Garden Club available in archived photograph collections.

Whenever visiting an archive, always ask about their Photograph Collection. The archivist may first give you an index to look through. If you see something of interest, tell the archivist or make a written request that those particular photographs be pulled and brought to you.

When the archivist brings the photographs, do not be surprised if you are asked to wear gloves to handle them. The oils and dirt on hands can damage photographs if handled without gloves. Even though the photographs maybe contained in archival sleeves, gloves may still be required. 

Tools of the Archivist, Including Gloves, Houston County, TN. Archives


Ask about the "Unidentified Photographs" in the collection. Almost all archives have unidentified photographs just waiting for someone to identify them. This group is usually the largest section of the photograph collection. If you know what your ancestor's looked like, please take time to search through the unidentified photographs to see if you can find identify any of the photographs. 

Unidentified Group Photo, Houston County, TN. Archives


It is always so sad when I receive a donation of photographs and most of them are unidentified. I look at the faces in those photographs and I know those people belong to someone who is doing genealogy research. I just wish I could reunite them.

The next time you are visiting an archive, talking with the archivist on the phone or emailing them, ask about their photograph collections. You might be pleasantly surprised!


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Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Preservation of a Lock of Hair

Genealogists love anything they can get their hands on about their ancestors. Whether that is documents, photographs, ephemera or memorabilia, we want to collect it all. Many times family members hand down or bequeath genealogical related records and memorabilia to the next generation.

A lock of hair could be one of those unique items that a genealogist could receive among all the other documents and photos. In some families, it was even customary to clip a lock of hair from the deceased to save the memory of that person.

This lock of hair is housed in an old harmonica box and is tied with a delicate blue ribbon in the Houston County, TN. Archives. On the top of the box is handwritten "N.H. Scholes, Halls Creek, Tenn". You can also see a place where there was once a postage stamp. I estimate that this lock of hair and box are dated to the late 1800's or early 1900's.

Harmonica Box with lock of hair. Located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

First, the lock of hair was photographed, in the box and out of the box, to document the original disposition of the artifact. It is important that the lock of hair in the possession of the genealogist be documented in a similar way.

Photo of artifact inside the box as received. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Photo of artifact outside of the box. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Next, the box was lined with a piece of acid free, archival safe tissue paper.

Harmonica box with acid free tissue paper. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Then the lock of hair was carefully placed in the tissue paper lined box.

Lock of hair in the box with acid free tissue paper. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Last, carefully fold in the sides and ends of the tissue paper so that the lock of hair is entirely covered. Replace the lid back on the box.

Completed preservation of the lock of hair. Located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The box with the lock of hair is then placed in an acid free box for additional protection. If you just have a lock of hair with no original storage container, purchase an archival safe box to preserve the lock of hair.

Locks of hair in the genealogists collections need to be preserved right along with the paper records and treasured for generations to come.




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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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