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A Genealogist In The Archives: December 2016

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Family Records Tucked in Books

Recently, a friend of mine was telling me a great story about her Grandfather and Grandmother. Unfortunately, her Grandmother passed away just a few weeks ago leaving her Grandfather the task of having to go through his wife's things to pack them up and give away to family members.

While he was going through some drawers, he found an envelope that had a large sum of money in it and a note from his wife letting him know that the money in the envelope was money she had saved for many, many years by collecting and saving all the spare change. In the note, she told him to use it for her funeral. Also in the note, she indicated that there was more money hidden in other places in the house, including inside of books.

This story reminded me of something that I have come to know all too well....

People like to tuck things inside books!

I have found this to be the case in my person genealogy research and from working as a county archivist.

Whether the items are used as books marks, to hide personal documents or another reason, the fact is, people have always tucked things into books.

One book that was used the most often to tuck documents into is the family Bible. I have two family Bibles that I received from both of my Grandmothers and they are full of all kinds of records, photographs, newspaper clippings and other family records. Those items are genealogical treasures for me.

Items found tucked in my Grandmother Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram's Bible

Soon after I started as the archivist for the Houston County, TN. Archives, I was going through the court minute books and I found a interesting and important piece of local history. A folded piece of paper with a note written in pencil and dated April 2, 1873. The note was written by John Hinson or better known in our area as Jack Hinson, Civil War sniper. There was even a book written about him entitled "Jack Hinson's One-Man War" by Col. Tom McKinney.

Handwritten note by John "Jack" Hinson, April 2, 1873, Houston County, TN. Archives

Jack Hinson's One-Man War: A Civil War Sniper


When I found this note tucked in the court minute book, I knew that I had found an important document for our local history in Houston County, Tennessee. That document is now on display in the archives for everyone to enjoy.

When I teach genealogist about searching for family records, I always encourage them to thumb through all the books that belonged to your family members and ancestors. Never get rid of books without going through them thoroughly. You just never know what you might find!



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Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What Are "Born Digital" Genealogy Records?

Most people know that I am a Certified Archives Manager and I am the archivist for the Houston County, Tennessee Archives. I am also an avid genealogist and have been researching my own family history for the past 26 years.

I love discovering new record sources that I can research in for my ancestors. As an archivist, I get very excited when a patron walks in to donate records to the archives because I never know just what wonderful records they are handing over to us.

Lyle Family Records Donation, Houston County, TN. Archives

There is a relatively new type of record source that is being archived in many of our archives and libraries. This record source is called "born digital" records.

"Born Digital" refers to materials and records that originate in a digital form. Most often this term is used in relation to digital libraries and archives and digital preservation. These types of records, most of the time, were never in a paper format but were produced originally in a digital format and saved as such.

Some types of records that are considered "born digital" are:

Digital Photographs: Many archives accept donations of digital photographs and have compiled a database of such photographs that is either on their website or available at the archives on in-house computers.

Digital Photograph of CCC Group Donated to Houston County, TN. Archives

Digital Documents: More and more documents of all kinds are being produced digitally. Many local county offices such as the Register of Deeds and County Court Clerk have done away with paper forms and records and do everything digitally. These born digital records will eventually make their way to the county archives.

Digital Manuscripts: Archives are now receiving personal paper donations that include records and documents that are digital. Just think of all the downloaded records you have in your genealogy database that are not on paper. Well, archives are now receiving the very same type digital records in donated personal paper donations.

Digitized Newspaper Clipping Donated to Houston County, TN. Archives

So, how does a genealogist find these born digital records? A few libraries and archives have put them online on their website. But most of them have them at the facility on in-house computers that you can only access at the facility. Some archives do have an index of what is available on their website and the genealogist can contact the archives and make a records request.

The most important step a genealogist can take is to talk to the archives where you think born digital records could be located. Ask them what they have available for research. Many archivists are ready to be of help and tell you about their records collections. When making a records request, it is very important to be as specific as possible with your request. If the request is too vague or sounds like "I want everything for the Smith family", you may be asked to be more specific.

Born digital records is something that is going to become more and more prevalent in our archives and libraries. Knowing what these records are and how to find them is something every genealogist should keep in mind.



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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Researching from a Distance

I hear it all the time from genealogists, "I am not able to travel to do research" and "I can't go any further with my research until I can travel to the archives in a different state".

It has been said that only about 5% of the world's genealogical records are online, the rest are sitting in archives waiting for genealogists to find them. Most of our archives just don't have the budgets to digitize all of their records and put them online. This process takes money and staff to accomplish. Here is a great visual from the California Genealogical Society showing the ratio of what is online and what is not.

Not being able to jump in the car or on a plane and travel to the place where your ancestor's records are located is tough. I know this because my ancestors are from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and other states. I haven't been able to travel for research these past 26 years I have been doing genealogy research. In spite of that fact, I have done pretty well gathering records that are not online from right here in Tennessee.

How did I do it?

I used my computer, my telephone, my email account and the old fashioned way of writing letters. I found what specific archives, historical society, genealogical society, university archives and libraries and museums that were in the area where specific records could be located. I checked to see if they had a website with a list of records and contact information. I would then contact them by phone, email or writing a letter and make a records request. Usually, if the records were found, copies would be mailed to me. But here recently, I have started receiving more and more scanned records sent by email.

Dickson County, TN. Archives, Shelves of Records Not Online

If the repository does not have their records listed on a website, it will take a little more communication with the facility to find out what they have and make your request.

A couple of places online where you can find listings of repositories are:

Cyndi's List

FamilySearch Wiki

Both of these sites have the repositories organized by state and then by county. There should be links to websites or contact information like a phone number where you can get in touch with the facility.

I always encourage genealogists to not give up just because you can't travel to where your ancestors records are being kept. It might take a little more work to get records this way instead of just being able to click on a link and get a document but I assure you, it is well worth it.

As an archivist, I love to hear from genealogists when they email me, call me or send me requests through the postal mail. My job and my passion is to help others find the records about their ancestors.



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Monday, December 26, 2016

Preserving Christmas and Other Greeting Cards

Christmas 2016 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 Day, etc.

Christmas Card, Houston County, TN. Archives

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

If you are like me and you have kept greeting cards from various events, holidays and special occasions and you intend on keeping them, it is important that they are archivally preserved just like the other documents in your genealogical records 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, a Hollinger box is recommended

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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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Last Minute Christmas Gifts!

Only 3 more days until Christmas! Do you need one more gift to give to that certain someone or maybe you would like to treat yourself to a Christmas gift?

I love teaching others about researching in archives and records preservation, that's why they call me "The Archive Lady". I have produced several Legacy QuickGuides about specific subjects that can be purchased at Just click on the link and it will take you right to the item.

Best of all, these Legacy QuickGuides are ONLY $2.99 each!

Researching in Libraries and Archives 

It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist 

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine 

Vertical Files: What Are They and How To Use Them 


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

My First Blog Caroling!

Looks like in the Blogging World at this time of the year, there is what is called Blog Caroling!

This is where a blogger (myself) posts a blog post with my favorite Christmas carol, including the verses and even a YouTube video if desired.

So, here goes......

My favorite Christmas carols is......"Hark! The Herald Angels Sing"

This carol was written by Charles Wesley, a Methodist minister in 1739.

Here are the lyrics:

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King
Peace on earth and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled

Joyful, all ye nations, rise
Join the triumph of the skies
With angelic host proclaim
Christ is born in Bethlehem
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King

Christ, by highest heaven adored
Christ, the everlasting Lord
Late in time behold him come
Offspring of the Virgin's womb

Hail the Flesh, the God Head see
Hail the incarnate Deity
Pleased as man with man to dwell
Jesus, our Emmanuel!
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King

Hail the Heaven-born Prince of Peace
Hail the Son of Righteousness
Light and life to all He brings
Risen with healing in His wings

Mild He lays His Glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! the herald angels sing
Glory to the new-born King

Here is a modern rendition of the song by the group Pentatonix, an acapella group.



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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Finding Christmas in the Archives

We are now only days away from Christmas 2016! Many of us are scrambling to get the grocery shopping done, present shopping completed and completing and mailing out those Christmas cards.

Vintage Postcard

As I work here in the archives, I am reminded of the Christmas items I run across as I process records. The records that are donated to an archive can literally encompass anything and it makes me smile when I am processing a records collection and come across a piece of Christmas cheer!

So, how do you find Christmas in the Archives? Here are some examples:

Local Store Advertisements: Many local stores advertise their Christmas sales and offerings. They will also produce special brochures and advertisements at Christmas time to entice the local shoppers to come into their stores. These types of ephemera, as it is usually called, can be located in the Vertical Files Collection of an archives or in the Manuscript Collection.

Mitchum Drug Co. Advertisement, Houston County, TN. Archives

Scrapbooks: Many archives have scrapbooks as part of their records collections. These scrapbooks are personally put together by an individual and could contain any number of documents, photographs and ephemera. In a few of the scrapbooks we have here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, there are Christmas cards and postcards. Seeing the vintage cards really puts you in the Christmas Spirit!

Christmas Postcard from Evelyn Ellis Scrapbook, Houston County, TN. Archives

Correspondence: A lot of our families were not able to be with each other at Christmas for whatever reason. Maybe it was war time and members of the family were off to war in a foreign country. Maybe our ancestors just lived too far away from each other and couldn't make the trek to meet up with family members for Christmas. If your lucky, possibly you have Christmas letters in your genealogy collection. These types of correspondence exist in the archives too! Most of the time these types of correspondence will be found in specific Manuscript Collections.

Christmas Greeting Letter, Houston County, TN. Archives

This is just a few ways you can "Find Christmas in the Archives"!



Old Family Letters! Do you have them? Are you preserving them properly? Find out how to preserve your old family letters from an archivist!

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist

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Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist 

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Preserving Family Christmas Ornaments

It's getting closer to Christmas! Many of us are putting up our Christmas trees like we do every year. Placing the Christmas lights just so on the tree limbs and making sure we have just the right amount of tinsel.

Unwrapping Christmas ornaments and placing them strategically on the tree so that we don't leave any holes. Many of these ornaments bring back so many memories. Handmade ornaments made by my daughter when she was growing up. Christmas ornaments that I inherited from my Grandmother after her passing, they remind me that she always had one of those silver metal trees. And ornaments that my husband and I purchased at monumental times in our married life like the one that says "Our First Christmas".

As a county archivist, I work every day to archive and preserve my county's historical records. Using the right archival materials like file folders, boxes, tissue paper, etc. to make sure these records, ephemera and artifacts are preserved for future researchers.

Preserving our families precious and one-of-a-kind Christmas ornaments is something that I find most genealogists don't think about, not like they do their genealogical documents. The fact is, these handmade ornaments have meaning and tell a story just like our family documents do. Preserving these ornaments properly is something that any genealogist can do quite easily.

Archival Items You Will Need:

-Archival Tissue Paper, to wrap handmade and unique ornaments with for protection

-Archival Divided Compartment Box, to store the wrapped ornaments

Wrap up each ornament very carefully in the tissue paper and then lay them in the compartments in the archival box. If needed, crumple up additional tissue paper and put around the wrapped ornament so that it won't move around in the box.

Store these ornaments in a cool, dry and dark place. Do not store in an an attic, basement or in direct sunlight. It might be a good idea to put these family ornaments where genealogical records are stored since they are considered family artifacts.

So, as you are putting your Christmas tree up this year and you are seeing the handmade and unique family ornaments, think about preserving them like I have discussed instead of putting them back in the garage or attic where they could be deteriorating.



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Monday, December 12, 2016

Recording Christmas Traditions

With less than 2 weeks until Christmas, I started thinking about how my family has celebrated Christmas my entire life. Then I thought about how my husband's family has celebrated Christmas all of his life. Comparing the two over the years, I have found that for the most part we celebrate the season pretty much the same with the exception of one BIG event, when Santa Clause makes his arrival. 

Seems my husband's family has always celebrated Christmas on Christmas Eve. He explained to me that he would visit his Grandparents house early in the evening on Christmas Eve and then return to his own home later in the evening to find Santa Clause had come and there were presents under the tree.

Mitchum Drug Co. Christmas Advertisement, Houston County ,TN. Archives

In my own family, the tradition we followed was that Santa Clause wouldn't come until everyone was snug in their beds. So, when Christmas morning came, we all jumped up and headed to the living room to see what Santa had brought us. Sure enough, every year, Santa had visited the LeMaster home and left presents under the tree while we were sleeping.

Have you ever thought about your own Christmas traditions? How about your ancestor's traditions? Are you recording these traditions so that future generations will know why and how Christmas was celebrated in your family?

Christmas Greeting, Houston County, TN. Archives

In whatever way your ancestors celebrated Christmas, it should be recorded. If this yearly event was part of your ancestor's lives, you want to be careful to document it as much as possible just like you do a birth, marriage or death.

There are so many Christmas traditions from so many different cultures. Many of these traditions are being forgotten because they are not carried forward and practiced today by the descendants of those that started them in the first place. Whether you "believe" in Santa Clause or not, practice Christmas traditions or not, documenting and recording what your ancestors did at Christmas can help tell their life story and tell you more about the people you come from.

T.E. Bateman Christmas Business Letterhead, Houston County, TN. Archives

So, as you gather this Christmas with your family and friends, talk about why you celebrate Christmas the way you do. Ask family members if they remember any other traditions that were once practiced but no longer done today.



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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Preserving War Correspondence and V-Mail

This week, as we Remember Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt's saying "A date which will live in infamy". I will be share some preservation tips on preserving various military artifacts and memorabilia.

Many genealogists have correspondence from their ancestor's during their time in the military and especially correspondence that was sent to family members during wartime. This correspondence can include handwritten letters, postcards and V-Mail. Also, among genealogical family papers could be Western Union Messages that was sent by the soldier or by the U.S. Government to advise the family of the death of their family member or other information.

WWII V-Mail Correspondence, Houston County, TN. Archives

So, how do we preserve this correspondence? Whether these letters date back to the Revolutionary War or as recent as last week you received a letter from your son from Afghanistan, the process is the same and very easy for the genealogist to accomplish.

The archival materials you will need purchase:

-Archival document sleeves to put the letters and documents in, these come in all shapes and sizes to accommodate the various sizes of stationary

-Archival file folders, to put the documents that are in archival sleeves

-Archival boxes, to put the file folders full of correspondence

I am asked all the time about whether or not the letters should be taken out of their envelopes and my answer is a resounding YES! Each and every letter should be removed from their envelope, unfolded and flattened. Place the letter AND the envelope in the same archival document sleeve. This keeps the envelope with the letter it belongs to and doesn't get mixed up with other letters. Be sure to fold down the flap on the envelope where the glue part is located. Even if there is no glue remaining, it doesn't need to touch the letter.

Correspondence in Vertical File, Houston County, TN. Archives

Take the letters, postcards and other correspondence that you have put in archival sleeves and place them in archival file folders. You can put more than one letter in a file folder but I wouldn't put more than ten letters in one file folder. It is up to you how your label your file folders, however, a suggestion could be to put the file folders in chronological order.

Once the correspondence has been put in archival sleeves and file folders, the folders then need to be stored in archival Hollinger boxes. Some like to store their file folders in filing cabinets and that is also acceptable. Be sure to label the Hollinger boxes so that it is known what is contained in them.

V-Mail Correspondence, Houston County, TN. Archives

An additional way to preserve military correspondence is to transcribe all the letters and save those transcriptions electronically. So, if you have letters, postcards and V-mail from your ancestors when they were in the military, be sure to properly preserve them.



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Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Remembering with Oral Histories

Today, December 7, 2016, we remember the 75th Anniversary of the Attack on Pearl Harbor.....

One way Pearl Harbor and all of WWII has been remembered is through oral histories. Many archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, university archives and museums have collected and preserved oral histories of the survivors of Pearl Harbor and other veterans of WWII.

As genealogist we search for paper records but are you seeking out oral histories? They can come in the form of audio, video or transcriptions or a combination of any of these. Many local communities took it upon themselves to record the recollections of local war veterans to preserve for future generations.

WWII Oral History Transcription of William Halon Cobb, Houston County, TN. Archives 

Finding oral histories is not that difficult but actually finding one for your ancestor might be a bit daunting. It is quite possible your ancestor never did an oral history but it's always a good idea to check repositories for the possibility of finding your ancestor recorded.

WWII Oral History DVD of Leslie Roland Roby, Houston County, TN. Archives

Start at the local level where your veteran or ancestor lived. Possibly the local historical society asked them to tell their story of their service in the military and any experiences they had during wartime. Check online catalogs for local genealogical societies, county archives and libraries. Then move to the state level and the State Archives. Many of the states have their catalogs online and will list what they have as far as oral histories go. Many times oral histories were recorded at the time of an anniversary of a certain war or possibly an archives received grant money to do an oral history project.

After you have tried the local level then the state level, next would be the national level. Check with the U.S. National Archives, the Smithsonian Institute just to name a couple of possibilities.

WWII Oral History DVD of Wayne R. Richardson, Houston County, TN. Archives

Don't think that oral histories were done just for WWII. Other wars and conflicts were also remembered and documented by oral histories. If you ancestor was in the Korean War, Vietnam War, etc. there could possibly be an oral history archived somewhere.

Also, if you have living family members that served in the military and especially if they served during war time, sit them down and record their recollections and remembrances of their service. This is great for your own genealogy research and family but I would suggest that you donate a copy to the local archives, historical or genealogical society so their voice and stories can be remembered.




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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Preserving a Military Uniform

This week, as we Remember Pearl Harbor and President Roosevelt's saying "A date which will live in infamy". I will be share some preservation tips on preserving various military artifacts and memorabilia.

As genealogists we try to document our ancestors that served in the military. That can include obtaining service records, pension records, old letters and even our ancestor's uniform. Many of us are fortunate enough to have inherited a military uniform or at least the jacket if nothing else. So, what is the best way to archive or preserve a military uniform.

WWII Uniform Donated to Houston County, TN. Archives

Surprisingly, the process of preserving a military uniform is quite easy and something any genealogist can do.

The archival materials that you will need to purchase are:

-Archival tissue paper to layer in the bottom of the archival box and to cover the uniform

-An archival box large enough to hold the military uniform

To start the archiving process, lay a piece of archival tissue paper in the archival box. It's okay if the tissue paper is larger than the box, once the uniform is in the box you can fold the excess tissue paper onto the uniform.

Next, place the uniform on the archival tissue paper in the archival box. If you have more than one piece of the uniform (pants, jacket, etc.), place the first piece in the box, then put a piece of tissue paper on that piece and then lay another piece. Making sure to have layers of archival tissue paper inbetween each piece of the uniform. You do not want the uniform pieces to touch but have a layer of tissue paper protecting each piece.

Finally, lay a piece of archival tissue paper on the top of the last uniform piece. If there is excess room in the box and the uniform is moving around in the box, crumple up archival tissue paper and place it around the uniform to make sure the uniform fits snuggly in the box and doesn't move. Do not stuff the box so much that you are crowding the uniform in the box and creasing the uniform. The uniform needs to be flat and not creased as it sits in the box.

Be sure to write up information about the uniform such as what war, who it belonged to and how you received it. Place this information in the box with the uniform. Maybe include a photograph of the person wearing the uniform if you have one.

Store the boxed uniform in a cool, dark and dry place. Do not store in an attic, basement or where it will come in contact with direct sunlight and humidity.

Preserving our ancestor's military history is important and making sure their uniforms are stored properly is also important.




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