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A Genealogist In The Archives: September 2017

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Writing on Photographs: What to Use?

One question about photographs that I am asked a lot as an archivist is:

"What do I use to write on my photographs when identifying them?"

That is a great question!

Family photographs are very precious to us all. Many of us don't have old photographs of our ancestors because they were lost, destroyed or belong to an unknown family member that we hope to discover one day.

Christian Barth Family, Melissa Barker Photograph Collection

Identifying the people, places and objects in photographs is very important and should be done with each and every photograph. But how that information is recorded on the actual photograph is something every genealogist should think about.

Using a soft lead pencil to write on the back of your photographs is the most preferred method. Archives and archivists use soft lead pencils everyday to write on photographs and the genealogist should do the same.

Remember, when handling photographs it is important to wear gloves. Either white cotton gloves or non-latex powder free examination gloves are acceptable. The oil and dirt of our hands can damage photographs, that is why it is always recommended to wear gloves when handling photographs.

Soft lead pencils can be bought at any local office supply store and are fairly inexpensive. Be sure to purchase a pencil sharpener if you don't already have one. As the pencil is used and wears down, you will want to be able to sharpen it.

The most important thing to remember is to identify your photographs if you know who is in the photo. Don't put it off or say to yourself "I will get to that one day". Do it NOW! So many of us have photographs in our collections that have not been identified and now nobody knows who the people are in the photo.

Identifying your photographs today will make your descendants happy in the future!


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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Are Family Histories in the Archives? You Bet They Are!

As the archivist for the Houston County, Tennessee Archives, I am asked all the time if we have Family Histories or Family Genealogies in our collections.  I am always pleased to be able to say "YES".  While we may not have one for every surname known to have lived in Houston County, we do have many in our records collections.

Family histories that have been compiled by genealogy researchers are a great research tool for the genealogist. While they may not be 100% correct, they can be used as a guide to help you find more documents or give you an idea of where to look next for your ancestors.

Vertical File Drawer for the letter "C" containing Surname Files, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Most family histories are part of a larger collection of records that have been donated to the archives. Recently, the Houston County Archives received a records donation of someone's genealogy research that include several 3-ring binders full of information and compiled family histories. Some of these surnames are not native to Houston County but we will archive them anyway. Once this collection is cataloged, it will be open to the public for research and in the Finding Aid it will indicated what family histories are included by surname.

There are times when family histories or family records are donated to an archive, historical society or library that are not native to the area where the facility is located. That is why it is very important that you don't give up looking for your ancestor's records.

Compiled genealogy research in 3-ring binders donated to the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

When visiting an archive, family histories will be in one of two places. First, they could be in the Vertical File Collections, sometimes called Subject File Collections. Ask the archivist if there is an index to the Vertical File Collection. This index will have surnames listed and if a surname of interest is found, ask for that file to be pulled for research.

The other place family histories could be found is in Manuscript Collections. The manuscript collection contains records collections that have been donated to the archive such as the collection mentioned above that the Houston County Archives just received. Also, see my blog post about Manuscript Collections here.

Ask the archivist to view the index of their Manuscript Collection and if a collection is of interest, ask to see the Finding Aid for that collection. Within the finding aid will be a folder by folder listing of what is contained in the entire collection and there should be listed "Family History" or "Family Genealogy".

Unfortunately, most of these types of records are not online and will have be accessed by visiting an archive or contacting them by email, snail mail or phone call.

So, the next time you think to yourself, "Do archives have family histories?", you know the answer is YES!



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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Autograph Books, The Social Media of Yesterday

Many of us enjoy Facebook or Twitter everyday to keep up with our family and friends. Connecting with others by social media has become the norm today.

Autograph books at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Our ancestors used different mediums to connect with friends and family. One of those mediums were autograph books. Many of our ancestors had these types of books and filled them with signatures of friends, family, schoolmates and other people they came in contact with on a daily basis. Sometimes there was just a signature and other times there was a short message of encouragement, a poem or a pleasant greeting.

Inside of Autograph books at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Autograph books come in all shapes and sizes. Some were leather bound and others had different colored pages. These books were a type of "social media" back in the day and were very popular.

Autograph book page for Ruth McAuley dated 1893 at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Autograph books were very popular with school children, especially graduating seniors or college graduates. These students used autograph books to capture their final year of school and to record memories from their school friends.

Autograph book page for Shirley (Unknown) dated 1938 at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives 

Some of you may have an autograph book that belonged to your ancestor in your own personal genealogy collection. If you don't, it's possible there could be one located in a local archive collection, historical society or genealogical society collection.

Autograph book page for Ludelia Marable, Senior at Erin High School 1934-1935 at Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Autograph books are usually located in the Manuscript Collection of an archive. They will probably be part of a larger collection of records. You will need to check the Finding Aid to the individual collection to see if an autograph book is listed as being in the collection.

Next time you are researching in an archive, ask if they have autograph books and maybe they will have one for your ancestor. Or maybe they will have one for someone your ancestor knew and your ancestor signed it. Autograph books are a great genealogical resource to find information or just a signature to document your ancestor's life story.



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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Genealogy and the Local Fair

Next week, September 13-16, 2017, Houston County, Tennessee will have it's annual County Fair!

Stewart and Houston Counties Fair, ca. 1900, Houston County, TN. Archives

I love this time of year because it means Fall is on the way and attending the fair brings back such wonderful childhood memories.

Have you ever thought about your ancestors and if they attended or better yet participated in the county fair?

Another great record source for genealogist are Fair Records!

Many of our wonderful archives have collections of records and memorabilia from the local county fair or the state fair in their records collections. These collections could be archived by themselves or they could be part of a larger manuscript collection.

Houston County Agricultural and School Fair, ca. 1930, Houston County, TN. Archives

So, what can a genealogists find in Fair Records?

  • Information that your ancestor helped organize the fair as a committee member or head of a particular event

  • Information that your ancestor submitted her best canned peaches for judging and even won a blue ribbon.

  • Information that your ancestor put his best cow on display and won a cash prize

  • Information that your ancestor showed her handmade quilt and won "Best in Show"

And this is just to name a few items that can be found in fair records. Maybe your ancestor just attended the fair and wrote about it in their diary. Fair records at an archive can give you more background and details about that particular fair that your ancestor wrote about.

Houston County Agricultural and School Fair Program, ca. 1930, Houston County, TN. Archives

The county fair was usually a major event in our ancestor's towns and lives. Seeking out these records and recording the information found in them can add to our ancestor's life story.

Knowing how our ancestor's lived and what they participated in helps us to know them better.

The next time you are researching at the archives, ask them if they have Fair Records!

Until next time......Remember.......

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