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A Genealogist In The Archives: February 2016

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Preserving the Past, Collecting the Present, For the Future

What is an archive? What is the purpose of an archive? What do you do all day in an archive?

I am asked these questions all the time and I love to share my passion for archives and tell others what archives are all about.

The #1 job of any archive is "Preserving the Past". The past can come in many different forms such as documents, photographs, artifacts and even oral histories. The goal is to collect items about the past and preserve them for future generations. We are working everyday to preserve the past for genealogists, historians, family researchers and others who have an interest in the past. Without archives, where would our collections of the past be?

Photo of Unknowns located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

An archive also engages in "Collecting the Present". You might ask, what does that mean? That means as an archive we collect items that are produced today that one day will be part of our past. As people live their lives and as counties, cities and states conduct their business and as numerous organizations hold events and celebrate milestones and as our country experiences disasters and celebrates accomplishments, archives try to collect documents, artifacts and memorabilia to record these events because one day they will be part of the past.

Houston County Leadership Visit February 18, 2016 located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

And finally, I am asked "Why do you do this?" and I answer "For the Future". Preserving the past, collecting the present, for the future! Our descendants and future citizens of our cities, counties, states and our country will never know about the past if it isn't preserved and made available to them.

When looking for an archive where your ancestors lived, remember that they may not be named "archive". The records of your ancestors could be housed in a county archive, at a historical society, at a genealogical society, at university special collections, at a library or at a courthouse. Historical and genealogical records can be stored in any of these places.

Houston County, Tennessee Archives Office Door Graphic

Remember: It's Not All Online! And this becomes very evident when you realize just how much of our documents and records are sitting in archives just waiting to be processed, indexed and digitized. That is why it is important for the genealogist to contact and visit local repositories in search of records.

So, while you are doing your family history research, please remember to check with local archives to see what they have been doing to "Preserving the Past, Collecting the Present, For the Future"!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

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 when they find out their ancestor was a member.

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

These types of 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. They are a great resource for the genealogist trying to find information about their ancestors that were part of these groups. They can shed light on activities that your ancestor was involved with in their community. 

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 archives, historical/genealogical society 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 archives or a state historical/genealogical societies. The Masonic organization themselves have websites and archives of their very own that could hold records for your ancestor.

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 you find a specific collection of interest to you, be sure and ask to see the Finding Aid. The Finding Aid will give you 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 you can request to see the folders that are of interest to you.

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!

Remember: It's Not All Online, Contact or Visit An Archives Today!!