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A Genealogist In The Archives: Unprocessed Records Collections in the Archives

Monday, July 10, 2017

Unprocessed Records Collections in the Archives

Last week I presented a webinar for the Ontario Genealogical Society on It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives. One of the questions asked by an attendee was "Are there unprocessed records in an archive?" and my answer was YES!

As an archivist, working in an archive everyday, I get very excited when someone walks through the door with a records donation in hand. Many of our archives would not have the historical records they have without the generosity of others that make records donations. Whether it's documents, photographs, ephemera or artifacts, our archives are constantly accepting records donations.

Parker Surname Vertical File, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many archives have back rooms full of unprocessed and uncatalogued records collections. Sometimes they are even sitting in the original boxes they were donated. These records collections have not been microfilmed, they are not online anywhere but they exist and the genealogist needs to seek them out.

One tip that I like to share with genealogists is to ask the staff at the archives about these unprocessed and uncatalogued records collections. Many times these records collections haven't even been processed yet but the archivist might let you look through a specific collection. Be prepared, sometimes the archivist doesn't allow patrons to view unprocessed collections. But like I always say "It doesn't hurt to ask!" The archivist should know what they have in those collections and should be able to help the genealogist decide what could possibly help them with their research.

Many of our archives and archivists are very busy processing records, helping patrons, answer email, etc. that many records collections could just be sitting waiting to be processed. If you have made a research trip to an archive, it wouldn't hurt to ask about any new record donations or collections. There could very well be records in those boxes about your ancestors.

Houston County Lions Club Records Donation, Houston County, TN. Archives

If you are emailing or talking to the archives by phone, be sure and ask about any new records collections that have been processed or that have recently been donated and are waiting to be processed. Most likely you will have to travel to the facility to see the records but you can get an idea of what is available. 

The next time you are at an archive or communicating with them by email or phone, don't forget to ask the archivist about uncatalogued records or any new records donations that haven't been processed yet.



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  1. I loved your "It's Not All Online" presentation! You inspired me to start small, and I found a museum with records and old newspapers (that aren't digitized yet), as well as the preserved 1832 schoolhouse that was built by my husband's 3rd great-grandfather. No one in the family knew about it, so we're planning to visit this summer. Thank you!

    1. Joanne, that is wonderful! I love it when someone takes what I teach and acts on it! There is so much out there to be discovered if we will just search for it! I hope your trip to the schoolhouse is a wonderful experience! Thank You for reading my blog and attending my presentation.