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A Genealogist In The Archives

Monday, May 20, 2019

I'm Back! New Archives Room!

I'm Back! I have been on a bit of a hiatus and not blogging because I have been moving the archives!

We were fortunate enough to be given an office across the hall from our original archives office to expand our archives last year. After some refurbishments to that room (drop ceiling installed with LED lighting, painting, carpet cleaning) we started the big move!

This new room will be our "Patrons Research Room" where genealogists, historians, students and anyone else doing research about their ancestors or our local area can come and have a nice place to do that research. The old archives room will be our records storage room. This is going to give us more room to store our local government records as well as genealogical and historical records. We still have the records vault that was built with the courthouse in 1956 that houses our oldest and most fragile records.

New Patrons Research Room, Houston County, TN. Archives

So, during the past few months we have been making the Houston County Archives larger and better! This is why I have not been able to blog because all my time was spent moving!

I should be back on my regular schedule blogging once a week and bringing to YOU great tips, advice and helps about researching in archives and records preservation.

The Summer months are just around the corner and many of you will be traveling to do genealogy research. Be sure to call ahead and talk to the archives where you want to visit to see if they are moving, redecorating or for some other reason will be closed when you want to visit. You do not want to show up and find the doors locked.

Map Cabinets, Houston County, TN. Archives

If you happen to be in the area of Erin, Tennessee, stop by and say "Hi" to me, The Archive Lady, at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives and see our new space!

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


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Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY!

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Genealogy Research Behind Closed Doors

Genealogists are always looking for new, unique or unknown record sources to research in to find their ancestors. One of the best places to find these types of records is in an archive. An archive could be a county archive, a state archive, historical society, genealogical society, university archive or even a museum. Anywhere genealogical and historical records are stored and preserved is considered an archive.

"The Stacks" in an Archive

A popular phrase that a genealogist might hear in an archive is “The Stacks”. According to the Society of American Archivists Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (, the word stacks is defined as “an area where materials are stored, especially an area furnished principally with shelving”. The area where the stacks are located is usually behind closed doors and not visible by the genealogist in the research area of the archive.

So, what kind genealogy records can be found in the stacks?

·      Manuscript Collections: These collections of records are some of the most valuable and useful records to the genealogist. The archive should have an index of their Manuscript Collections either in paper form, on their website or on an in-house computer. Once you have found a specific collection that you want to look at, for instance maybe the collection is entitled “The John Smith Papers 1648-1772”, ask to see the Finding Aid. The Finding Aid is a document that is a box-by-box, folder-by-folder description of what is contained in the specifically named collection. Be aware that each and every document, photograph or record is not individually named in the Finding Aid. You will probably have listings that look something like, “Box #1, Folder #3: Correspondence 1762-1772”. If you feel that there could be something in this folder of interest to your research, then you can request that the folder be pulled so you can examine it. 

Houston County Irish Celebration Manuscript Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

·       Vertical Files: This collection of records, sometimes called Subject Files, are a hodge-podge of individual documents stored in file folders and then in filing cabinets. These filing cabinets are sometimes found in the research area of the archive but many times they are located in back rooms among the stacks. Vertical Files can include obituary clippings, family genealogies, family group sheets and other various unique documents. The records found in vertical files are normally donated records or records found during the archiving process that do not belong to any other larger collection of records. There should be an index to the vertical files that could include surnames, subject names or location names. This collection is a great place to find records that are not microfilmed or digitized.

Vertical Files, Houston County, TN. Archives

·       Loose Records: Loose records are considered the “working papers” or “accompanying paper work” to records that are in bound volumes. Loose records, many times, can hold additional information and fantastic discoveries for the genealogist. It is always a good idea to ask the archivist about loose records in their collections. Some examples of record collections that could have loose records associated with them are court records, marriage records and probate records.

Loose Court Records, Houston County, TN. Archives

These three types of records that are found in the stacks is just the tip of the genealogy iceberg when it comes to records stored behind closed doors. The best way to find out about what records are available is to talk to the archivist and staff at the archives. Ask them about the records that are housed in the stacks and see if they have an index or finding aid that will help you know if the records are important to your research.

The next time you are visiting or contacting an archive, ask about “The Stacks”.



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Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Removing Metal Staples, Paper Clips and Rubber Bands from Genealogy Records

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"

        Wednesday, January 2, 2019

        Organizing Your Genealogy Research, Tips from an Archivist

        Happy New Year!

        It's hard to believe it's 2019!

        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 2019 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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        Wednesday, December 26, 2018

        Preserving Christmas and Other Greeting Cards

        Christmas 2018 is over! It's time to get back to genealogy and finding those ancestors.

        But wait....

        Did you get Christmas cards sent to you this season? What are you going to do with them?

        I have a confession to make, I have kept every single Christmas card that I have ever received. Yes, I know, I have a problem. Maybe you have a stack of Christmas cards from this Christmas and from Christmases past. Maybe you also keep other greeting cards from Birthdays, Valentine's Day, etc.

        Christmas Card, Houston County, TN. Archives

        Most importantly, if you have old greeting cards that are in your genealogical record collections, are you preserving them properly?

        If you are like me and have kept greeting cards from various events, holidays and special occasions and you intend on keeping them, it is important that they are preserved just like the other documents in your collection.

        Preserving greeting cards is very easy, it's really a matter of obtaining the right materials and being consistent in the archiving process.

        Archival Materials You Will Need and can be purchased at any online archival materials store:

        -Archival plastic sleeves in the size that fits the greeting card

        -Archival Box, like this one from Gaylord Archival

        Before the preservation process can take place, it is important to document each greeting card and digitize it. Placing a note in your family genealogy software that says something like "Christmas 2016, received Christmas card from Aunt Marie, she signed the card". If the person put a note in the card, you might want to transcribe that into the notes field as well. Also, make notes about the senders mailing address too.

        Easter Card, Houston County, TN. Archives

        Digitizing greeting cards can be very tedious and time consuming. However, if you want to insure that these records are preserved in case of a disaster that destroys the cards, this is what needs to be done.

        I normally scan the entire card; the front, inside and back. I place those scans in the computer file of the ancestor who sent me the card in a separate folder entitled "Greeting Cards".

        I also take a soft #2 pencil and on the back of the card I write the year I received the card. Hopefully, the card's subject will tell what the occasion was but if not, you might want to make a note of the occasion.

        Take the greeting card and put it in an archival plastic sleeve that is the right size for the card. The archival supply stores have all kinds of sizes to choose from.

        Next, put the cards in the Hollinger box. I normally organize the greeting cards by surname and then within that surname I put the cards in date order by year.

        Hollinger Box

        If you have a lot of greeting cards, like I do, you might want to dedicate a Hollinger box to one surname.

        The process is quite simple and gets the greeting cards in order so that they can be enjoyed and if you are looking for a certain card, they are easy to find.

        Online Archival Supply Stores:

        Gaylord Archival

        Hollinger Metal Edge

        University Products

        Light Impressions


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        Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist

        Tuesday, December 18, 2018

        A Genealogy Gift Idea "My Family History Kit"

        (Disclaimer: I received a complimentary kit for this review. I do not receive any affiliate income from Gaylord Archival.)

        From time to time I am privileged to be asked to try out new products from Gaylord Archival. As an archivist and genealogist, I am always on the look out for new archival products to use in the archives where I work and for preserving my own family records.

        This time it is the "My Family History Kit".

        According to Gaylord Archival, the purpose of this kit is to "help you answer questions and create a family history you can pass down through the generations".

        The kit itself comes in an archival document case like this one:

        Included in the kit are the following items:

        -5 long side opening buffered 8" x 10" envelopes
        -10 edge seal, 3 mil archival polyester 8 1/2" x 11" sleeves
        -10 letter-size cream colored archival file folders with 1" full tab
        -1 pair disposable white cotton gloves for handling photos and delicate items
        -1 black All-Stabilo marking pencil
        -1 self-adhesive label holder with insert for box exterior
        -20 PermaPlus labels (1" x 3") for folders, envelopes and sleeves
        -15-generation pedigree chart
        -Instructional brochure

        The 15-generation pedigree chart is a large poster sized chart and is very easy to follow when adding the names and information of each generation.Once the chart is filled in, it could even be framed for display. I have seen many family tree charts in my 28 years of genealogy research and this one is very easy to follow adding family information for each generation.

        The archival file folders and sleeves included in the kit will help to preserve and protect important family documents and photographs. Remember to use the white cotton gloves included in the kit when you are handling photographs. The dirt and oils on our hands can damage photographs over time and using gloves can protect our precious photographs.

        There is also a handy black All-Stablio Marking Pencil that is archival and safe to use when writing on your genealogical documents and identifying family members in old photographs.

        One of my favorite parts of the kit is the "Interview Questions" that Gaylord Archival has included on the back of the "Instructional Brochure". There are "50 questions from to get family members talking about their past."

        I can highly recommend the Gaylord Archival's "My Family History Kit" for not only the beginning genealogist and home archivist but the seasoned genealogist who is just getting started with records preservation.

        So, head over to Gaylord Archival and order a kit for yourself or your favorite genealogist/home archivist today!


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        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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