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A Genealogist In The Archives: 2017

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Using Archival Boxes

A box is just a box, or is it?

Organizing and preserving family documents, photographs and artifacts is something that all genealogists have to contend with. In the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we work on processing and preserving county records and local historical records everyday.

Tools of the trade, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Part of the preservation process is having the right tools for the job. I am asked all the time by genealogists about the boxes, file folders and other materials that we use here in the archives to preserve records. Many times I am asked the question, "A box is just a box, right?" and my answer is always NO!

Storing documents, photographs and artifacts in archival storage boxes is the only way to properly preserve these items so that future generations can enjoy them.

Flip Top Style Hollinger Box

The most popular boxes used in an archive setting and perfect for any genealogist to use with their own records is a Flip-Top Archival Storage Box, also called a Hollinger Box. These boxes are used the most in archives. They are durable, sturdy and will repel moisture. They come in different sizes to accommodate documents of all sizes.

Record Storage Carton with shallow lids, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Another type of archival storage box that can be used is a Record Storage Carton with a Shallow Lid. These types of boxes are great for a large amount of records as well as to store 3-dimensional objects or artifacts.

Irish Celebration Records Collection 1963-Present Day, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Whichever box you choose to use for your genealogical records and artifacts, make sure it has "Passed the P.A.T." test. This is the Photographic Activity Test and is a worldwide standard for archival quality.

So, the next time you start thinking "A box is just a box, right?". Thank again and make sure you get archival safe and archival quality boxes to store your precious family records and artifacts.

Online Archival Material Stores:

Gaylord Archival

Hollinger Metal Edge

Light Impressions

University Products




NEW! at Legacy Family Tree Webinars

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

NEW! Legacy QuickGuide

Scrap Paper and Orphan Documents in Archives

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Photographs in the Archives

Photographs of our ancestors is a great find!

If your like me and don't have very many photographs of the people you are researching, have you thought about checking at the local archives?

Archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries and museums could have photograph collections. I have talked about photographs in the archives on this blog before, see my previous post:

These photograph collections will not be on the shelf in the research room. Most likely they will be located in the back room and will have to be requested.

Many times there is an index of what photographs are available and that index is usually arranged by surnames and subject names. The index can usually be accessed by asking the archivist for it or it could be on the in-house computer.

Archives have photographs of people, local homes, local businesses, churches and other buildings that your ancestor may have been associated with. So, when looking for photographs, don't forget to locate those photographs of the church your ancestor went to or the local mercantile they frequented.
Did you know that within these photograph collections are most likely a collection of "Unidentified Photographs". The Houston County, Tennessee Archives has a collection of these types of photographs. We are always putting these photos on display and asking anyone that is interested to take a look at them and see if they recognize anyone in the photo or the places they were taken.

Unidentified photograph taken in Dawson Springs, Kentucky. Houston County, Tennessee Archives.

These unidentified photographs could include photos of people and also places. The fact that they are unidentified can mean that the people who work in the archives don't know who or what is in the photograph and there is nothing written on the back of the photograph to help in the identification. They simple came to the archives unidentified.

When record collections are donated to the archives by patrons, they sometimes include photographs that not even the patron knows where they came from or who they depict. While it's not a high priority for the archivist to research the photographs and try to determine who or what is in them, we do love it when we have researchers come to our archives and want to look at them to try to find their ancestors or the places where their ancestors lived.

Unidentified photograph. Donated photograph located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives.

I am always encouraging genealogists to visit the archives where your ancestors lived and look through their photograph collections, if they have them. You might just find a long lost photograph of your ancestor or a photograph of the school where they attended.

When you visit a archive, please take your own photographs with you of the ancestors from that area and even photographs of any buildings or anything from the area so that you can compare them to the "unidentified photographs" in the collections. You might just make a connection and be able to identify some of the photos that have been lying in collections for years.

Most photograph collections are processed in the Manuscript Collections section of the archives. Either the archives has put all their photographs in one big collection or most likely the photographs are included in the many separate records collections that the archives house. The Finding Aid from the various Manuscript Collections would be helpful to you when researching in these archives. Be prepared to be asked to put on gloves when you handle photographs. The oils and dirt on our hands can transfer to the photographs and cause damage over time.

Henry Marion Turner and wife Anna Elizabeth (West) Turner (second couple on the right in the back row), rest are unidentified. Houston County, Tennessee Archives.

Some archives have even digitized their photographs and put them online on their websites, so be sure to check out the website of the archives you are interested in researching. Also, before you travel to the archives, give them a phone call and ask them if they have photographs in their collections, this might save you some disappointment.

Most importantly, remember that archives and record repositories that do have photographs, ones that are clearly identified and ones that are not. It is always beneficial to the genealogists to check out these collections.



Legacy Family Tree Webinar

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist

Legacy QuickGuide

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist

PDF Version:
Kindle Version:

Monday, May 8, 2017

Your Ancestor's Military Story

On this day, May 8th, in 1945, the United States and Great Britain celebrated "Victory in Europe" or VE Day. Cities in both nations displayed flags and banners celebrating the end of the war in Europe.

Many of our ancestors participated in this war and hopefully they left documents, photographs and stories of their time spent engaged in this terrible war.

As genealogists, we try to document every aspect of our ancestor's lives. Events that happened during our ancestor's lives and that affected our ancestor's directly, help to tell their story.

Documenting our ancestor's time in the military, especially during a wartime, can help us tell a more complete story.

Whether your family member served during the Revolutionary War, WWI, WWI, Vietnam or is serving today, their time in the service is part of their life story and should be documented.

Our service personnel, no matter how they served or where they served, is important and genealogists should do what we can to locate records and document that service.

Many of our archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, university archives and even museums have documents, photographs and ephemera that could help you tell your ancestor's military service story.



Legacy Family Tree Webinar
Scrapbooks! A Genealogist's Gold Mine

Legacy QuickGuide

Scrapbooks! A Genealogist's Gold Mine

PDF Version:
Kindle Version:


Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Can You Find Family Histories in the Archives? Yes You Can!

As an archivist, I am asked all the time if we have Family Histories or Family Genealogies in our records collections. I am always pleased to be able to say "YES". Many of the archives across the United States and in other countries have compiled family histories.

Family histories that have been compiled by genealogy researchers are a great research tool for genealogists. While they may not be 100% correct, they can be used as a guide to help the researcher find more documents or give them an idea of where to look next for their ancestors.

Vertical Files, Houston County, TN. Archives

Most family histories are donated by genealogists to the archives. Many times genealogists who donate their family histories to archives are doing it for "cousin bait". They are hoping that other genealogists come along that are researching the same surnames and make a connection.

Recently, the Houston County, Tennessee Archives received a records donation of someone's genealogy research that included several 3-ring binders full of information and compiled family histories. This records donation represents a lifetime of genealogy research and we were so fortunate the records were donated to our archives.

Compiled genealogy research in 3-ring binders Houston County, TN. Archives

When you visit an archive, you will find these family histories in one of two places.

First, you can find them in the Vertical File Collections. Ask the archivist if they have an index to their Vertical File Collections. This index will have surnames listed and if you find a surname you are interested in, then ask for that file to be brought to you and hopefully there will be a family history in the file.

The other place family histories could be found are in Manuscript Collections. When working with manuscript collections, be sure to consult the Finding Aid. The finding aid contains a box-by-box, folder-by-folder listing of what is in the collection. Family histories should be indicated in the finding aid.

Ask the archivist to see an index of their Manuscript Collection and if you find a collection that catches your attention, ask to see the Finding Aid for that collection.

Unfortunately, many vertical file collections and manuscript collections are not online and will have be accessed by visiting an archive or contacting them by email, snail mail or by phone.

So, the next time you think to yourself, "Do archives have family histories?", you know the answer is YES!



Legacy Family Tree Webinar

It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives

Legacy QuickGuide

It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives

PDF Version:
Kindle Version:

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Deciphering Archivist Terminology

Have you ever heard an archivist say things like:

"Let me go get that box of records from the stacks"

"We have vertical files full of ephemera"

Did you find yourself wondering what does "stacks", "vertical files" and "ephemera" mean but were afraid to ask?

Wouldn't it be great to have a handy glossary of terms at your disposal to look up those words that archivist are always using?

Look no further than the Society of American Archivist.

They have a wonderful Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology right on their website. Here is the link:

Now you will know that the term "stacks" refers to "An area where materials are stored, especially an area furnished principally with shelving."

The "stacks" at the Stewart County, TN. Archives

This glossary of terms is a great free resource to all genealogists. Be sure you bookmark it so you can come back to it often.



Legacy Family Tree Webinar

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

Legacy QuickGuide

Scrap Paper and Orphan Documents in Archives

Monday, May 1, 2017

May Day 2017 in the Archives is Here!

May 1st in the archives world is "MayDay"!

MayDay is a time when archivists and other preservation professionals take time out of their day to review disaster plans, review preservation guidelines and look at the overall archives preservation.

Individuals can also take steps on this MayDay! Genealogists, who have original records to preserve, can devise their own disaster plan, review preservation guidelines and look at their genealogy records to see if they are doing all they can do to preserve their records.

The Society of American Archives has always been at the forefront of MayDay and this year is no different.

They have provided Ideas for MayDay Activities at this link:

Also, MayDay Quick Tips at this link

So, on this May 1, 2017, remember it's MayDay and let's take care of our genealogical records which will SAVE OUR HISTORY!

Lola Knight School Records Donation, Houston County, TN Archives



Join me for an All-Day Seminar with the Tennessee Genealogical Society

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Register Today!!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

National DNA Day 2017!

Today is the day!

April 25, 2017 is National DNA Day!

Thomas MacEntee's brand new website for National DNA Day will help us learn more about DNA testing, resources for DNA research and so much more, go check it out!

Also, some great books that have come out recently on DNA will help any genealogist find their way through the DNA lingo and what it all means to you.

Blaine T. Bettinger has published two new books in the past year that are a must have for any genealogist that has done their DNA:


Also, this one that he co-wrote with Debbie Parker Wayne:

So, celebrate the first ever National DNA 2017!



Legacy QuickGuide

Monday, April 24, 2017

Preservation Week 2017!

This week, April 23-29, 2017, is Preservation Week!

This event is an initiative of ALCTS, a division of the American Library Association. Visit the American Library Association's Preservation Week website at:

What can you as a genealogist do during preservation to extend the life of your most precious documents? Here are some tips:

  • Store genealogical and historical records in areas where the temperature and humidity do not fluctuate to extreme. Keeping records at a regular temperature and low humidity will prolong the life of genealogical records.
  •  Minimize handling of genealogy records. Digitizing as many records as possible will allow you to safely store the records and not handle them.
  • Store all records in archival safe document sleeves, file folders and boxes. 
  • Do not store records or display them in direct sunlight. The sunlight will fade any documents or photographs to the point they can not longer be read or seen.
 These are just a few tips to get you started with preserving your most precious genealogical and historical records. If we take the steps to preserve our records, out descendants will be very grateful.




Legacy QuickGuide

Scrap Paper and Orphan Documents in Archives 

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Unprecedented Access to Legacy Family Tree Webinars!

On Monday, April 10, 2017, Legacy Family Tree Webinars announced they will be airing their 500th Webinar on Friday, April 14, 2017. They also announced that starting Friday, April 14, 2017 and extending through Sunday, April 16, 2017, they are going to unlock the membership key of the webinar library and allow FREE ACCESS to all 500 webinars!

This FREE access is the first time Legacy Family Tree Webinars has opened up all of it's webinars for FREE viewing. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this FREE viewing and watch as many webinars as you can!

You can read all about the history of Legacy Family Tree Webinars here:

Among the 500 webinars on their site, I have 6 very educational webinars about researching in archives and records preservation. They are:

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

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

It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives 

Vertical Files: What Are They and How To Use Them 

Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist 

Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine 



Monday, April 10, 2017

Scrap Paper Found in 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!




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

Monday, April 3, 2017

Why Your Research is Never Done

I have heard it from genealogists before:

"My research is done. I have checked everywhere and there are no more records that exist"

How I wish this statement could be true and we could come to the conclusion that "our research is done". The truth is, our research will never be done.

Our genealogy research will never be done as long as records are being discovered, like this story from the University of Rochester in New York.

"Trove of Susan B. Anthony Letters Found in Man's Barn"

Susan B. Anthony 1820-1906

The records found date from 1869-1880 and include a trove of letters from the famed Susan B. Anthony, among others.

Now, maybe your ancestor isn't Susan B. Anthony but maybe your ancestor is mentioned in her letters or in some of the other letters and documents found in this man's barn. The point is, there are records being found everywhere and all the time.

And what about those records that haven't been discovered yet?

What about those records sitting in someone's basement, attic or barn that will hopefully be discovered and turned over to an archive and then made available to the researching public?

There is so much more to be discovered! Don't be one of those that says your research is done! Maybe, just maybe, there will be a discovery that will include records for your ancestor!

Are you looking for a photograph of your ancestor?

Did you know recently there was a very large photograph collection donated to the Library of Congress?

"Library of Congress Acquires Massive Archive of Civil Rights Photos by Bob Adelman"

March on Washington

This photograph donation contains 575,000 images that include 50,000 prints and hundreds of thousands of negatives and slides.

The collection was donated by an anonymous donor to the Library of Congress which will make the entire collection available to the public.

And what about all those records at the archives, library, historical society, genealogical society, university archives or museum that are just sitting on the shelves?

As an archivist I know all too well the amount of original records sitting on archives shelves waiting to be processed. These records have not been microfilmed, digitized or even seen by the public. While archivists know about the records that sit on their shelves, they are doing all they can do to process each record collection as they have the time.

As a genealogist working as an archivist, I now know that my research will never be done. Not as long as there are records discoveries in barns and as long as archives still have records on their shelves that have not been processed.

You may have to wait but hopefully one day there will be a discovery made that includes records for your ancestor! Don't Give Up!




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

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