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A Genealogist In The Archives: May 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




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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.



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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.



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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!



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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.



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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



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