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A Genealogist In The Archives

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Organizing Your Genealogy Research, Tips from an Archivist

Happy New Year!

It's hard to believe it's 2021!

I am excited about a New Year for genealogy research and being the archivist at the Houston County, TN. Archives. I am looking forward to meeting all the genealogist that will walk through the archives door, call me on the phone or send me an email with their genealogy research questions. Helping genealogists is the best part of my job as an archivist.

I am also looking forward to the opportunities to speak, teach and write about researching in archives and records preservation. I love teaching others about archives research and the best practices in preserving your genealogy research.

Today, I would like to talk about organizing your genealogy research. Many of you will make New Year's Resolutions 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.

Houston County Highway Dept. Records Before Organization

In an archives, 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 will leave the method you choose up to you. 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 Organization 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 Organize Your Genealogy: Strategies and Solutions for Every Researcher. It's actually on SALE at Amazon TODAY!

Here are the links:

Kindle Version:

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

The online archival material business are now advertising their 2019 catalogs. You can access their materials online or you can request that a catalog be mailed to you, here are links to their websites:

Online Archival Supply Stores:

Gaylord Archival

Hollinger Metal Edge

University Products

Light Impressions

Following these three tips as you organize your genealogy research will hopefully make the process more enjoyable and you won't get overwhelmed.

For the start of this New Year, I would like to encourage those that follow me and read my blog, writings and watch my webinars to 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!

Lastly, in 2021 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. We need to keep these facilities OPEN, so.....



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


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

General Mills Archives, Food and Your Ancestors

It's that time of year when we celebrate the Holidays. Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Celebrations abound and a common denominator is food. Many of us have family traditions we practice during this time. We prepare certain recipes and share them with our friends and family. 

General Mills Archives Website

As genealogists we have a great opportunity to document this aspect of our family's history. During the holidays when our family members are more willing to share their memories, we should be collecting those memories and preserving them. Almost all of us have memories related to food. Whether that is Aunt Linda's fruit cake or that Jell-O mold that was at every Christmas dinner table, we remember these dishes and they generate stories that we should be recording. 

Along with the stories, we should also be trying to document the recipes so they are not forgotten. I inherited my Grandmother's recipe boxes and they are a true treasure. However, these recipe boxes do not include many of the recipes that I remember because my Grandmother kept those in her head and didn't write them down. I so regret not having her write them down or writing them down as she made each dish. Now they are lost and all that remains are the memories me and my other family members have to cherish.

Agnes Marie (Curtis) LeMaster Chess Pie Recipe, Melissa Barker Records

I recently read a great book about the history of Betty Crocker. The book is Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America's First Lady Of Food by Susan Marks and can be found on Amazon at this link: . This was an interesting look at the history of Betty Crocker (who, by the way, was not a real person, which I did not know until I read this book!) and introduced me to the General Mills Archives. While this archives is not open to the general public, they are available to answer questions from the public by email and through their website.

So, during the holidays when you are with your family, whether that is in person or virtually, talk about the food traditions and recipes. Write them down and document them so they are not forgotten. Preserve your family's food history for the next generations!


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Family Gatherings: Dragging Genealogy Information Out of Your Family

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Stirring Up the Past: Revolutions in Tennessee Cooking Virtual Exhibit

So many of us are really missing visiting our favorite libraries, archives and museums. But wait, there are online exhibits that many of these archives are adding to their websites for us to enjoy.

One such archive is the Tennessee State Library and Archives. The TSLA has several online exhibits to explore and now they have a NEW one. 

Stirring Up the Past: Revolutions in Tennessee Cooking Virtual Exhibit was added to their website this week. The TSLA describes this virtual exhibit as: 

Prior to the current age, food preparation took months of planning and dedication.  Putting meals together was more than scanning directions on the back of the box; it required hard-earned wisdom and a lot of time.  For example, a vinegar recipe from the 1800s states, “It should be made in May to be ready for the fall pickling.”  The exhibit covers not only how food was prepared but also how the latest technology has transformed the face of modern day cooking.  The exhibit delves into Native American cooking, Pioneer/Civil War cooking, Victorian cooking and cooking in the Modern Age.  Join us for a nostalgic view of the way the original Betty Crockers got it done! Whether you eat fitness bars or indulge in Ben and Jerry’s, our exhibit will satisfy your hunger to know how food preparation originated.  Bring your intellectual appetite!

The topics covered in the exhibit are:

Native Americans
Pioneer Food Preparations
Civil War Era
Victorian Era
Modern Era

There is even a link in the exhibit where you can download old recipes from 1767-1985.

No exhibit would be complete without photos and documents and this virtual exhibit has both. 

Virtual exhibits are starting to become very popular with archives. They can reach a wider audience virtually than in-person visits, especially with this time of the coronavirus. The next time you are visiting an archives website, check and see if they have any virtual exhibits.


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It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives

Friday, November 13, 2020

Book Review: "The Psychology of Searching" by Dr. Penny Walters

The Psychology of Searching by Dr. Penny Walters is a self-published book about looking at the psychology of why we do genealogy research. Why are we interested in our family tree and our ancestor’s past. This look at the reasons why we genealogists do genealogy intrigued me because I am always asking “Why?” about my ancestors and part of that “why” is why do we do genealogy.

This book has only 163 pages with 22 pages dedicated to a robust reference section. The chapter headings themselves will no doubt interest any genealogist:

Chapter 1: Why do we ‘do’ genealogy?

Chapter 2: What is a relative?

Chapter 3: Reconstructing the past

Chapter 4: The psychology of naming

Chapter 5: How do you visually present your family?

Chapter 6: Death and dying

The author digs right in with Chapter 1: Why do we ‘do’ genealogy? She asks the question “What is your motivation to start compiling your family history?” which made me stop and think what my answer to that question would be. I think all genealogists can remember what it was that started them on their journey of researching their family history. Whatever the reason, Walters goes into the psychology of why genealogists do what they do. I appreciated the fact that on Page 8 the author says “Genealogy is not like other pastimes. In fact, it is not really a pastime at all. Genealogy is a field of study that is integral to the human condition.” I would completely agree with this quote.

Chapter 3 was probably my favorite chapter of this book. Dr. Penny Walters dedicates this chapter to genealogists reconstructing the past, their ancestor’s past. What I liked about this chapter is the fact that Walters emphasized the need to know everything about our ancestors. More than just dates of birth, marriage, and death. As the very beginning of the chapter, Walters asks “What did my ancestors do all day?” This is exactly the question I ask myself as I research my ancestors. I want to know everything there is to know about each ancestor. I want to know what they had for breakfast, what were their hobbies, what did they do daily. Walters quotes Bob Brooke on page 63 as stating “Tracing a family’s emotional behaviour patterns over the last few generations can shed light on present day problems.” This statement is so true and one that I have researched myself and have seen the correlation.

I must say that Chapter 6 addresses the question that I suspect all genealogists get “Why are you looking for dead people?” I have gotten this question from several of my family members who don’t understand why I want to know information about our ancestors who are dead and gone. Walters covers different religions and their beliefs about death. She then talks about genealogy records relating to death that the genealogists can seek online and at various archives.

The reference section starting on page 141 is quite extensive and I was pleased to see such a healthy reference section. As an archivist, when I read a book I usually go directly to the reference, notes or bibliography section just to see what the author used as reference for what they have written. Dr. Penny Walters has a variety of references, everything from academic psychology reference works to well known genealogists such as Lisa Louise Cooke owner of Genealogy Gems. I found myself highlighting and taking notes while reading through the reference section of this book so that I could do further reading.

Dr. Penny Walters has done a wonderful job with this most recent work and I recommend it to my genealogy friends. I can also recommend her previously published book Ethical Dilemmas in Genealogy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Preserving Your Ancestor's American Flag

Today we honor our military veterans with Veteran's Day in the United States. 

Many genealogists, for whatever reason, have in their possession an American flag. Maybe it was handed down from generation to generation and now it belongs to you. Maybe the flag you have was once draped over a casket of a deceased soldier or veteran from your family.

Whatever the reason, if you have an American flag among your genealogical records and artifacts, it is important that you know how to fold it and preserve it so that it will survive for generations to come.

First, the American flag must be folded property. Here is a great website to show you how to fold the flag and it includes visuals:

Once the American flag has been folded properly, it's time to archive is properly. To do this, you will only need to purchase two items.

You Will Need:

-Archival Tissue Paper to wrap the folded flag in before it is put in an archival box

-A special archival box specifically for folded flags

These items can be purchased at any online archival materials store:

Online Archival Supply Stores:

Gaylord Archival:
Hollinger Metal Edge:
University Products:
Light Impressions:

Take the folded flag and wrap it in archival tissue paper. Place the wrapped flag into the archival flag box. It would be a good idea to add a note in the box stating how you obtained the flag, the significance of the flag to your family and who it belonged to.

Store the boxed flag in a cool, dry and dark place. Do not store in an attic, basement on in direct sunlight. If you decide to frame the American flag, that is perfectly fine. I do suggest that you take it to a framing company that is experienced in archival framing with archival matting and UV protective glass. You can frame the flag yourself by purchasing a memorial flag case from an online archival materials store. They have one that you can hang on the wall or set on a table.

Memorial Flag Case for the Table

Memorial Flag Case for the Wall

It is important to preserve and archive our most precious family heirlooms and if we are fortunate enough to have an American flag in our collection, be sure to take care of it in a proper and archival way.



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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist

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Sunday, November 1, 2020

Genealogists are Home Archivists!


"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #31

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 2020, 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:



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

Friday, October 30, 2020

Ask the Archivist! We are Here to Help!


"31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady"

DAY #30

It is day #30 of "31 Days of Tips from an Archivist"! We are almost at the end!

One question I get from genealogists is "How can I work with an archive when I can't actually go there?" This is especially true right now during our current situation.

Houston County, TN. Archives

If you can not travel to the archives, make a phone call or email them to make your requests. The records that are sitting on the shelves are just waiting for YOU to discover them! 

Today's tip is an important one for each and every genealogist. If you walk into an archive or find yourself needing to call or email them, please don't be afraid to talk to the archivist, make a request or ask what records are available. We are here to help you! We can't be of help if we don't tell us what you need. Our archivists, librarians, clerks and volunteers are there to help the genealogist locate records on their ancestors.

Here are a some guidelines to help the genealogist when asking questions of the archivist:

  • Be as specific with your request as possible. The more specific your question is, the better the archivist will be able to help you. 
  • Please don't ask "I want everything for the Smith family". This question will not be beneficial to you or the archivist. It will only serve to make the process of searching for records more difficult. 
  • Call Ahead! Ask the archivist about specific records such as vital records, deed records, court records, etc. and what the archive has available. Understanding if the archive has the records you are looking for before you even step foot in the facility will save you precious research time.
  • Ask the archivist about Vertical Files. This records collections is one that I find many genealogists just don't know about or know to ask for
  • Ask the archivist about Manuscript Collections. Remember that these records are stored in back rooms and will need to be requested. Be sure to study the Finding Aids of the collections that interest you.

The next time you are visiting an archive, talking with an archivist on the phone or sending an email, communicate your needs to the archivist.



Learn More About Researching in Archives, In-Person or From A Distance!

It's Not All Online, Researching in Archives