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A Genealogist In The Archives: November 2016

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Preserving Diaries and Journals

Diaries and journals are some of the most unique records that can be found in family records. Many genealogists can only hope that they will receive or inherit diaries or journals from their deceased family members or ancestors. These very personal record sources have helped many genealogy researchers by supplying dates of events, family secrets, family tragedies and family successes.

Preserving diaries and journals can prolong the life of the record. The process is quite simple and only takes purchasing a couple of archival items.

You will need:

An Archival Box: In the Houston County, TN. Archives we like to use this Adjustable 1-Piece Rare Book Box OR the Clamshell Custom Rare Book Box, which can be purchased at any online archival supply store.

Adjustable 1-Piece Rare Book Box

Clamshell Rare Book Box


Archival Tissue Paper: Tissue paper is not always necessary in this process but in an archive setting we like to use archival tissue paper to wrap the diary or journal for additional protection before the book is placed in the book box. Also, if there are pasted items in the diary or journal such as newspaper clippings, it is suggested that archival tissue paper be placed between the pages where these items are located to deter ink transfer or other damage. Feel free to insert archival tissue paper anywhere in the diary or journal that you feel necessary, it will be an additional layer of protection.

Wrap the diary or journal in the tissue paper. Do not use any tape or adhesive to secure the tissue paper, just fold the ends neatly. Place the diary or journal in the book box. If the diary or journal doesn't fix snuggly, crumple up some archival tissue paper and put around the book so that it does fit snuggly in the book box.

It's as simple as that!

When storing diaries and journals or any rare books, be sure to lay them down on their sides and do not stand them up on their ends. The pressure on the spine when they are stored on their ends on shelves can be damaging to the books. Store in a cool, dark and dry place. Do not store in an attic, basement or where the humidity levels are too high.

So, if you have your ancestor's diaries and journals, use these simple steps to preserve them for your descendants.

Online Archival Supply Stores:

Gaylord Archival:
Hollinger Metal Edge:
University Products:
Light Impressions:



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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Documenting Your Ancestor's Transportation

As genealogists, we should be documenting every aspect of our ancestor's lives. It's just not enough to only document their birth, marriage and death. Researching and documenting the events and aspects of our ancestors lives that come between those vital events is what tells our ancestor's life story.

Have you ever thought about documenting your ancestor's transportation? From the horse driven buckboard to the family station wagon, from the train to the airplane, our ancestors had many avenues of transportation and documenting this part of their lives can add to their life story.

Wilson Averitt and Pearl Adams, ca. 1900, Houston County, TN. Archives

My Grandfather, Cody Lee LeMaster (1909-1972) never learned to drive. He always made sure the family lived near a bus station, bus stop, near a street car or lived close enough to everything so he could just walk. His philosophy when it came to family members wanting him to visit was "If they want me to visit them, they can come get me and bring me back home". He worked each and every day to provide for his family. He walked to work at Hamlin Metal Products, Corp. in Akron, Ohio until his death on November 18, 1972. He was holding the door open for a female worker and died of a heart attack on the spot. Knowing my Grandfather's thoughts and actions when it came to transportation has helped me understand why they lived where they lived.

Cody Lee LeMaster and Agnes Marie (Curtis) LeMaster, My Grandparents

Researching all the different types of transportation for my ancestors has been fun. I am fortunate in that I have photographs dating back to the 1940's of my family members with their vehicles. Talking to family members about the different kinds and makes of those automobiles, especially those that belonged to the person I am talking to has been interesting.

L-R Lanny Barker, Ruth Athalene (Burcham) Barker, Unknown, ca. 1940's

If you are not already researching your ancestor's transportation, consider adding it to the genealogy research to-do list. You just might be surprised by what you find!



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Monday, November 28, 2016

Are Your Ancestors on Exhibit?

Genealogists look in every record source for their ancestors. Microfilm, vertical files, manuscript collections are some of the record sources that are staples of genealogy research. Have you ever thought of checking out the exhibits and displays at the archives?

Vertical File Drawer, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many archives, even large state archives, have prominent exhibits and displays at their facilities that are constantly changing. These exhibits and displays are filled with documents, photographs, ephemera and artifacts about the local area and the local residents.

Archives put out exhibits and displays in order to showcase the many records collections that they have stored in vaults and cold storage. Many times these exhibits and displays have original documents and photographs that rarely see the light of day. Do you walk past these exhibits and displays without checking to see if your ancestor is listed in the documents, depicted in the photographs or included in the ephemera?

Local Business Exhibit, Houston County, TN. Archives

When visiting an archive, historical society, genealogical society, university archive and especially a museum, it is always a good idea to take the time to stroll through the exhibit and display areas and check out the documents, photographs and ephemera on display. You might just find your ancestor on exhibit!



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Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Thanksgiving Checklist for the Genealogist

Thanksgiving 2016 is this week! Many of us will be busy preparing meals, preparing to receive traveling family members and friends or traveling ourselves. I hope the genealogists of the family is also preparing. Here is a handy checklist of items to help you get the most genealogical or family information out of your family members at Thanksgiving:

George Washington Stringfield family, ca. 1902

-Pen and Paper: To take notes while family members are telling family stories, sharing family recipes, etc.

-Voice Recording Device or Video Camera: To record family members during the holiday and capture old family stories as well as the new ones being made on Thanksgiving. Remember it's always a good idea to get your family's permission to record their conversations.

-Camera: To take a million photographs of family members. Just remember to download the photographs from your camera or phone immediately after Thanksgiving, identify them and organize them on your computer and backup devises.

-Family Group Sheets: Passing out family group sheets to family members might jog their memories about your shared ancestors and maybe more information can be gleaned. It might also get them interested in the family if they can see names and information right in front of them.

-Unidentified Photographs: Bring out the unidentified photographs so family members can take a look and hopefully identify those in the photos.

Unidentified Photograph, Houston County, TN. Archives

It's not everyday that our families get together and as genealogist we need to be prepared to take full advantage of the situation. We should never miss an opportunity to engage our family members and pick their brains for family information. Even if they roll their eyes and say under their breath "Here she/he comes again, the genealogist in the family"

So, enjoy your families, get as much genealogy information out of them that you can and:

    Happy Thanksgiving!



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Monday, November 21, 2016

Preserving Whole Newspapers and Newspaper Pages

Newspapers, a treasure trove of genealogical information for any genealogist. We access them on microfilm, we find clippings in vertical files and we even may have inherited whole newspapers from a family member.

Bound Newspapers, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many people saved whole newspapers when there was a national tragedy that called for a bold headline. The entire newspaper was saved because the person understood the significance of the event and thought saving the newspaper would be a good thing. Maybe the entire newspaper wasn't saved but an entire page of the newspaper was saved. Saving the front page of the newspaper to document an event or if there was a story about a family member that was a big article that took up most of one page and carried over to another page.

WWII Headline, Houston County, TN. Archives

If you have whole newspapers or whole pages out of the newspaper in your genealogy records collections and you would like to keep them, here is an easy way to preserve them and have them in a form that you can enjoy. This process is what we use in the Houston County, TN. Archives.

The materials you will need for this preservation project are simple and can be purchased at any of the online archival stores listed below:

-A Post Bound Over-sized Scrapbook
-Archival Polyester Page Protectors for a Post Bound Over-sized Scrapbook
-Scrapbook Post Extenders (these are used to create the binding of the book)

A Post Bound Over-sized Scrapbook

Archival Polyester Page Protectors

Scrapbook Post Extenders
Take the entire newspaper or newspaper page and put it in the archival polyester page protector. If you have more than one, I would suggest that you put them in date order. Also, two whole newspapers or two pages of the newspaper can be put into one sleeve, back-to-back. The page protectors then go into the over-sized scrapbook with the post extenders being used as the binder. Very simple yet very archival.

Example of the over-sized scrapbook.
This process helps to preserve the whole newspaper and newspaper pages. It also allows you to look at the newspapers without fear of damaging them from handling.

Online Archival Material Stores:

Gaylord Archival

Hollinger Metal Edge

Light Impressions

University Products




My Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide

"Scrapbooks: A Genealogist's Gold Mine"

Friday, November 18, 2016

Donated Collections Not In The Index

Genealogists are always on the look out for "What's New" at the archives. The archives are constantly receiving and processing new records donations.

But did you know that it is possible that an archive has processed a new records collection but they have not added it to their in-house index, their online index or to their Finding Aid index? Sometimes there is a period of time between when the processing of a records collections has been completed and when the archivists actually enters it into the indexes.

Lyle Family Records Collection Donation, Houston County, TN. Archives

When visiting an archive, contacting them by email or phone, it is always a good idea to ask the archivist what has been newly processed but not yet listed in the indexes. Most archivist will gladly share with you the new collections that are ready for researchers but have not yet been added to their indexes.

Houston County Irish Celebration Records Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

Archives are receiving donated records collections almost on a daily basis. There are so many duties to be handled in an archive that sometimes when the records collection processing has been completed they are not listed in the online index, in-house index or in the Finding Aid index immediately.

Houston County, Tennessee Archives Records Vault

To be sure that you have a complete picture of what is available at an archive that you are doing research, either by email and phone or in person. Ask about processed collections that have not be listed in the indexes. There could be genealogy treasures just waiting to be found in those unindexed but completed records collections.




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Thursday, November 17, 2016

Thumbing Through the Books, A Genealogy Tip!

Today in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives we received a donation of various books from a local resident. She had been cleaning out her attic and found them and brought them to the archives to be donated.

This collection of books includes mostly music books but there was also a couple of other books of interest. One of those books was actually a composition notebook where one of her family members copied stories from a history book when he was in school. Not tremendously historical but it was in someone's own handwriting and was dated 1928.

Donated Composition Book, Houston County, TN. Archives

One action that I always take when I receive any kind of book in the archives is to thumb through it's pages. "Why?" you ask. The reason is because it's amazing what people will put inside of books for a place holder, bookmark or to stash for safe keeping.

In this donated composition book was a small card that has the name John L. Emery and the address Summers St, Cohasset, Mass.

Card Found in Composition Book, Houston County, TN. Archives

What a find! This card will be documented and processed with the book as it was found.

Have you received or inherited a collection of books from your ancestors? Make sure you take the time to thumb through each book to see if there are any scraps of paper, ephemera or other items that have been tucked into those books. What you find just might have information that could help you with your genealogy research.




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Thursday, November 10, 2016

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 productions 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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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Disaster Preparedness for Genealogists

On November 9, 1872, The  Great Boston Fire started in a dry-goods warehouse that spread fast in windy weather, destroying nearly 800 buildings. Damage was estimated at more than $75 million. The fire could be seen in the sky as far away as 100 miles.

Ruins after the Great Boston Fire of 1872

Disaster preparedness is something that every archive plans for and reviews on a yearly basis. If archives are preparing their facility and records for a disaster, should genealogists do the same?

I have long lamented that genealogists are also "home archivists". Most genealogists don't work as archivists but they do have some of the same responsibilities that archivists have, which are:

  • Collect original records
  • Collect original photographs
  • Receiving donated records (from family and distant, new found, cousins)
  • Organizing and preserving records

Would it not be pertinent to preserve these original records and have a disaster plan in place in case the unthinkable happens? It would be difficult to explain an entire disaster plan in this blog post, so here is an example of a Disaster Preparedness Plan from the New York State Archives that the genealogists can use as a guide:

This plan describes the steps necessary to anticipate, prevent, plan for, and recover from a disaster affecting records in any format.

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

Many of the steps in this plan are ones that the genealogist or "home archivist" can implement to protect and preserve original records, photographs and artifacts in their possession. The main idea is to be prepared and keep your records in a state of preparedness in case of a disaster.

None of us know when the next fire, tornado, earthquake or flood may happen to us or our home. But we can prepare and plan ahead to save and preserve our genealogical records.



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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Voting and Our Ancestors

Today, we will make history and elect a new President of the United States for the 45th time in our nations history. Have you ever thought about how the Presidential elections effected your ancestor's? Did your ancestor's participate in the election process?

As an archivist, I find that election and voting records are one of the least accessed records collections in the archives. Many genealogists just don't think about these records collections as being pertinent to their genealogy research. If you are committed to doing Reasonably Exhaustive Research, you must include election and voting records.

Whether you are political or not, why overlook a whole record source that could add documents and information to your ancestor's life story?

So, just what kind of election and voting records are available, here are just a few:

The Poll Tax:  One of the first types of records that I always suggest researchers look for are Poll Tax records A poll tax was a prerequisite to the registration for voting in many states. This Poll Tax would have been included on the regular tax records of the area or county where your ancestor lived. So, even if your ancestor didn't own property, you will want to check the tax records for this Poll Tax.

Voting Records: Many archives have voting records. These could be in the form of Election Returns, Voter Registrations, etc. These records are a great place to find your ancestor's names and possible signatures. These records could also have local election officials who worked the elections or were in charge of operating the elections and counting the ballots.

Listing of Voters in the 1924 Erin City Elections, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Election Workers Records: Your ancestors may not have run for office but maybe they were still part of the election process by being an Election Worker. Maybe they worked the polls and registered voters. Maybe they campaigned for a local candidate. Possibly they were an election official or served on the local Election Board. There could be records for your ancestors that showed their service during an election.

Election Worker's Pay Roll, District 7, May 9, 1963, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Availability of voting/election records will vary from place to place. Be sure to call ahead to the local archives and ask if they have these kinds of records. Or possibly check their website to see if they have their holdings listed. Never travel to an archive without knowing if they have the records you are looking for, this will save you time and disappointment.

The United States has been holding elections since our very founding. It only makes sense to include searching for voting/election records to the genealogists to-do list. As genealogists we want to tell our ancestor's full story and that includes voting/election records.


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Monday, November 7, 2016

Overwhelmed at the Archives

Since I became an archivist six years ago, I have had the pleasure of meeting genealogists, historians and other types of researchers. I have met them in person at the Houston County (TN) Archives, by telephone while they are making records requests and by email while doing the same. I always stand at the ready to help each and very researcher anyway I can and to find the records they are seeking.

Inside the stacks at the Stewart County, TN. Archives

One emotion that I encounter more times than not when a genealogist walks in the archives door is that feeling of being overwhelmed. They don't even have to say a word, I can see it on their face and feel it when they speak. I can truly relate to this emotion because years ago when I was a beginning genealogist, I would get so overwhelmed when I walked into an archive. I truly have empathy for those that are intimidated and overwhelmed by entering an archive.

Irish Celebration Manuscript Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

Since 2015, I have been actively educating the genealogist through webinars, lectures, writing quickguides and just talking to genealogists on Facebook, Twitter and by email about researching in libraries and archives. The most important tip I can give anyone is to plan ahead before actually traveling to an archive.

  • Call the archive and make sure they are going to be open on the day of your visit. Ask them about the availability of parking. These seem like simple steps but they will help the genealogist know what to expect and to not be caught off guard which could cause you to become overwhelmed.

  • If the archives has a website, check it to see if they list what records they have available. Search their website for any indexes that might have records of interest and make notes about what is found in the index to take with you to the archive.

  • Make a "To-Do List". This tip is highly recommended. If you have your to-do list in front of you and stick to it, becoming overwhelmed may not occur. Address each item on the to-do list, one at a time, moving through the list methodically.

  • When you walk into the archive, stay focused, try not to let the enormity of the facility overtake you. You are there on a mission and you want to accomplish that mission.

  • Talk to the archivist, tell them what you are looking for. Do not say "I want everything for the Smith family", rather, ask for specific records for your ancestors.

  • Don't me upset if you don't finish your to-do list. Some items take more time to research and we need to spend that time to research completely and properly.

These are just a few tips to help you not become overwhelmed when you walk into an archive. If you would like more tips and helps on visiting libraries and archives, you can get these great resources:

Legacy Family Tree Webinar:

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

Legacy QuickGuide on Amazon Kindle

"Researching in Libraries and Archives"

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

What's New in the Archives? A Question Every Genealogist Should Ask.

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

One tip that I like to share with the genealogist is to ask the staff at the archives about their new records donations. 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!" Many times these records that are new to the archives are ready for patrons but they may not be listed in the index.

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.

The next time you are at an archive or communicating with them by email or phone, don't forget to ask "What's New in the Archives?"



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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

2016 National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair Replay Available

The U.S. National Archives presented "2016 Virtual Genealogy Fair" on October 26th & 27th. This was a live event that was streamed on YouTube.

If you were not able to attend the live event, don't worry, you can still catch the recordings anytime!

October 26th YouTube Link:

October 27th YouTube Link:

The staff at the U.S. National Archives had some wonderful presentations and shared with the audience many of their record collections that are NOT ONLINE.

Be sure to have a pad of paper and a pencil with you as you watch these recordings, you will want to take notes of all the different records that are available and not widely known.

Many times in the recordings the staff states that if a patron wants to know more about the collections they can contact them. I would highly suggest that if a record collection is of interest to you, contact the particular U.S. National Archives branch that it is located and request an index or finding aid be sent to you.

These records are a treasure trove for the genealogist and it is fantastic that the U.S. National Archives took the time to share with us, through these recordings, just what unique records they have.

So, put on your jammies and your fuzzy slippers, pour yourself a cup of coffee or hot tea and ENJOY!!



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