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A Genealogist In The Archives

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Staples, Metal Paper Clips and Rubber Bands: Why Archivist Remove Them

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.



        Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide

        "Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist"

        Tuesday, March 13, 2018

        Storing 3-Ring Binders to Protect Your Records

        Recently I was asked about storing 3-ring binders. So, this is a re-post from January 2017 about how to store your 3-ring binders so that your documents are not damaged.

        One aspect of organizing that I would like to address is how to store 3-ring binders. Now, this may seem like a very simple idea and you might be thinking "Everyone knows how to store 3-ring binders", but do you?

        Family Genealogy Binders, Houston County, TN. Archives

        If you use 3-ring binders to organize your genealogical records, do you store them upright on the shelf or do you lay them down on their side? Most of you will say that you store them upright because it takes up less room and that is the conventional way to store 3-ring binders.

        However, the best way to store them so that the records that are contained in them do not get damaged is to store them laying on their side.

        When you store 3-ring binders upright or on their end, it puts pressure on the binding and weakens the strength of that binding. Over time, those binders will become weak and will start to sag and eventually will start to break down. Also, when 3-ring binders are stored upright, the pages that are stored inside will sag. This means that if you have put your genealogy documents into these 3-ring binders, they will also sag and could get damaged by being put in this position for a prolonged period of time.

        The best way to store 3-ring binders is on their side, making sure all the pages are laying flat and not folded or bent in anyway.

        Storing 3-ring binders in this manner will take up more room but in the long run it will keep your family genealogical records safe.



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        Thursday, March 8, 2018

        The Locale Mercantile...Did Your Ancestor Go Shopping and Leave a Paper Trail?

        Have you ever thought about your ancestors and their shopping habits and the records they may have left behind?

        Until the advent of the "superstore", the mall or any larger retail store, there were the Mom and Pop stores that were in almost every community. These stores carried everything a person could ever need to live their daily lives. These stores prided themselves on the variety of products they stocked on their shelves. And a lot of them kept very good records, ledgers of accounts and other accounting records.

        Invoice for Parker's & Richardson Store in Erin, Tennessee for the purchase of goods, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

        Here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have several store ledgers that list the accounts of local persons who kept a tab of purchases and then would come in at some point and pay that tab. The store owner would keep up with these accounts in simple ledgers. To the store owner, these ledgers are how they kept up with what was owed to them. To the genealogy researcher, these ledgers can be a gold mine of information.

        Houston County, Tennessee Store Ledger ( unknown store) account tab for F.L. Goodspeed, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

        Information that can be found in these ledgers is varied but most of the time it will include the shoppers name, what they bought, how much the item cost and the date if was bought and then there would be a running tab with a total. When the shopper paid their bill that would be marked in the ledger with an amount and the date it was paid. Just this small amount of information can tell you a lot about your ancestor's daily life. Looking at the store ledger page pictured above for F.L. Goodspeed you can see that some of the items he bought were, 1/2 gallon of molasses, 1 pound of coffee, etc.

        When trying to locate these types of records in an archive, historical society/genealogical society collection or at a library with genealogical records, the genealogy researcher will usually find them in the Manuscript Collection or the Special Collections part of the archive. For instance, in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have a collection entitled "Parker & Richardson Merchandise Store Records Collection". This collection includes various receipts, invoices, customer correspondence and ledger books detailing the customer's accounts like this document below.

        Parker & Richardson Merchandise Store Letterhead, located in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

        So, think about your ancestors and the Mom and Pop stores they would shop at in their communities, maybe they left a paper trail!



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        Scrap Paper and Orphan Documents in an Archive

        Tuesday, March 6, 2018

        How Were Our Ancestors Entertained?

        As genealogists we collect records, photographs and stories about our ancestors lives. These normally include birth, death and marriage records. The collection could include census records, deed records, court records and tax records. But have you ever thought about what your ancestor's did for entertainment?

        Grand Ole Opry Ticket and Journaling from Evelyn Ellis Scrapbook, Houston County, TN. Archives

        Our ancestor's worked hard and they also took time out to play and entertain themselves. Depending on their financial abilities and what was available to them in the areas where they lived, there could be all kinds of different entertainment opportunities.

        Maybe they had a theater in the area, one that had a great production of Hamlet. Maybe there was a movie theater that showed the latest silent film or Jimmy Stewart movie. Going to the theater or the movies was an event, maybe your ancestor wrote about it in their diary or pasted the handbill in their scrapbook.

        Erin Theater Handbill, ca. 1958, Houston County, TN. Archives

        Did you ancestor go to the fair? Many communities had an annual Agricultural Fair where our ancestors could have entered homemade baked goods, quilts or other items for judging. Also, at these fairs, would be a carnival type atmosphere that would include rides, games and sideshows. The fair would sometimes be the highlight of the year and whole families would attend. Maybe our ancestors were awarded 1st, 2nd and 3rd place ribbons for their entries and we have these ribbons in our genealogical records collections.

        In many towns, the circus would make a visit bringing their animals, big tent shows, games and sideshows. This would have been a big event not only for the town but also for the entire family.

        Newspaper Clipping of "A Class Visit to an Elephant", Houston County, TN. Archives

        So, where can records be found about our ancestors and the entertainment events they may have attended? First and foremost, in our own records collections. Maybe those blue ribbons are among the records in that box we got from Grandma. Maybe our ancestors wrote about their entertainment experiences in their diaries or wrote about them in letters to friends and family. Paying close attention to diaries and correspondence, even transcribing these records could provide great information about their experiences.

        Documenting our ancestor's birth, marriage and death dates is important. But documenting our ancestor's entertainment experiences is also important to add to their life story. Don't overlook these unique records and information.



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        Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

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        Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

        Thursday, March 1, 2018

        Female Ancestors and Women's History Month

        In genealogy, we say that everyone has a story to tell. As genealogists it is our job to document and tell the stories of our ancestors. Each person in our ancestry lived a unique life that only they could have lived. Good or bad, each person’s story should be told. Our female ancestors have a story to tell as well.

        Josephine Annette Curtis and Agnes Marie Curtis, ca. 1920's

        Female ancestors are very important to our genealogy research and should be researched with as much gusto as our male ancestors. You might think that researching your female ancestors is not productive to your genealogy research because they didn’t leave much in the way of records. I would say that they are just as important and in some cases can be more important than our male ancestors.

        Lou Tennessee (Burnaine) Sanders and Lucy (Burnaine) Sanders, undated

        My genealogy friend Gena Philibert-Ortega is well known for her women's genealogy research and starting today she is going to be blogging for the whole month of March about the women in our genealogy research. She does this in honor of Women's History Month and this year is her 5th year of blog posts. Her theme this year is "Records for Researching Her Life". You can check out Gena's blog posts at her blog:

        We all research the male ancestors in our family to find the next generation and to see just how far back we can get. Researching your female ancestors can give you the same satisfaction. Remember, you are directly related to her parents, her grandparents, her great-grandparents, etc. Her ancestry could hold as much or more information than the males in your family. Try to research your female ancestors with the same goals in mind that you have with your male ancestors. You might be surprised at what you find. Female ancestors have a story to tell. Who’s going to tell it? Hopefully YOU!



        Book Recommendation!

        From the Family Kitchen: Discover Your Food Heritage and Preserve Favorite Recipes 
        by Gena Philibert-Ortega

        Tuesday, February 27, 2018

        Scrapbooks...A Genealogist's Gold Mine

        Scrapbooks are one of my favorite record sources to do research in and to also process in the archives. There are all kinds of scrapbooks, each and everyone is unique and one of a kind!

        Scrapbooks at Houston County, TN. Archives

        The origins of scrapbooking is said to go back to the 15th century in England and it is still a hobby enjoyed today. Most archives, libraries, historical and genealogical societies have them in their collections. They will most likely be found in the Manuscript Collection as part of a specifically named collection.

        Scrapbooks could contain any kind of record, clipping, photograph or even candy bar wrappers. One of my favorite scrapbooks that we have here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives is one that Evelyn Ellis compiled in the 1930's-1940's. Among the normal newspaper clippings and event programs are interesting pieces such as a Baby Ruth candy bar wrapper with a caption "Always remember June 11, 1938 at Beach Grove at the Ice Cream Supper".

        This original ticket from the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee where Evelyn Ellis visited and recorded her comments.

        And this Mexican cigarette that she received from a friend.

        There are scrapbooks for just about any subject. Here in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we have several personal scrapbooks but we also have a couple scrapbooks that were compiled during World War II and contain newspaper clippings detailing the war. We also have a couple scrapbooks that contain only obituary clippings from the local newspaper. A lot of these obituaries are unique because the original newspapers did not survive for the time period and so having these obituary clippings is great for genealogists.

        I would encourage genealogists to check with the archives or historical society in the area where your ancestors were from and see if they have any scrapbooks that might contain newspaper clippings about your ancestor. These local scrapbooks could also help tell the story of the area where your ancestor lived and what was going on during the time your ancestor lived there.

        Scrapbooks....A Genealogy Gold Mine!



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        Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

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        Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine

        Wednesday, February 21, 2018

        Finding Family Histories in the Archives

        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 in their collections.

        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!



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        It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives

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        It's Not All Online: Researching in Archives

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