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A Genealogist In The Archives

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"!


  1. I have no clue where Houston Co. TN is. But I would LOVE to pick your brain. New England has so many records back to the 1600s.... It is difficult to find anything in TN. Coffee, Cannon and Bedford Counties mostly. I must be doing something wrong.... because people keep saying the information is out there. I certainly am having a difficult time finding things. The spelling is so bad on names.... drives me crazy on the census. It is just one brick wall after the other.

    1. Hello! I understand your frustration. I would love to talk to you about Tennessee records, please email me at