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A Genealogist In The Archives: January 2018

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Preserving Our Ancestor's Heirloom Textiles

Some of the most interesting items we have in our own family genealogy collections as well as in archives are items made of some sort of fabric. Things such as a christening gowns, quilts, high school sweaters and doilies are just a few of the items some of us have as part of our family archive.

Preserving and storing these items can be a challenge and if not done properly could result in the destruction of these precious heirlooms.

Hand embroidered handkerchief. Houston County, TN. Archives 

For most fabric items you will need archival tissue paper and the correct size archival box for storage. 

Put a layer of tissue paper in the bottom of the box. Then put your fabric item on the tissue paper. If the item is large, such as a quilt or a piece of clothing, it is okay to fold it but put layers of tissue paper between the folds making sure that none of the fabric touches itself.  I also like to put extra tissue paper as a "filler" in the box so that the item doesn't move around in the box. Just ball the tissue paper up and put it around the item and that will keep it still in the box. Then place the box in a dark, cool and dry storage place. With fabric items I like to take the archival box and place it in another box such as a plastic tote which can be sealed, this is to deter moths and insects which can destroy fabrics.

Be sure to put documentation in the box to explain in detail all pertinent information about the item.  If it was handmade, include the name of the person who made it. Also, if applicable, include the "chain of ownership" of the item and how it has been passed down in the family and which ancestors owned it before it was passed down to you. The more information you include in your description, the better!

Handmade christening gown. Houston County, TN. Archives 
Finding fabric items in an archives can be a challenge but they do exist in collections housed in many of the our wonderful repositories. Most items of this kind will be found in families records collections which are normally part of the archives larger Manuscript Collection or Special Collections. When family records have been donated to an archive, the collection could include fabric items and they would be processed right along with the documents and should be listed in the finding aid.

Another way a fabric item could be cataloged in an archive is in a group collection such as a "Quilt Collection" which could include many quilts by different makers and are housed in one collection. Or maybe these items are cataloged in a local high school collection, such as the letterman sweater in the photo below.

Letterman sweater from Erin High School. Houston County, TN. Archives 
As genealogists we are always searching for that next important document to help tell our ancestor's story.  Don't forget our ancestors are also trying to tell us their story through things that they made, things that they wore and things that they used on a daily basis. The story behind a handmade quilt can be just as interesting as the story behind a document.

Preserving the fabric of our ancestors and the stories that go with them should be part of every genealogists journey to document our families.



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Monday, January 29, 2018

Archival Tissue Paper for the Home Archivist

Archival materials are something that archivists and conservators work with on a daily basis. When we are working on an archival project, we reach for the materials we need to help us preserve documents, photographs and artifacts.

As genealogists and home archivists, you need to be using archival materials to preserve the documents, photographs and artifacts you have in your collections. Knowing the right kinds of archival materials to use is a necessity.

One of the staples of any archive is archival tissue paper. Archival tissue paper is a must for any genealogist and home archivist. We use this archival material to line archival boxes before putting things into them. We crumple it up and put it around items in boxes so that they don't move around in the box and get damaged. There are many uses for archival tissue paper and just like white gloves, the home archivist should have a supply on hand.

There are two kinds of archival tissue paper, buffered and unbuffered.

The difference between these two kinds of archival tissue paper is:

Buffered Archival Tissue Paper: This tissue paper is "buffered" because it contains an alkaline substance, usually calcium carbonate, added as an alkaline reserve or "buffer" to counteract acids that may form in the material.

Unbuffered Archival Tissue Paper: This tissue paper is free of the alkaline substance

Most genealogy records, photographs and artifacts would benefit from being archived in buffered materials like boxes, tissue paper, folders, etc. There are some exceptions:

Dye Transfer Prints or Cyanotypes Photographs: Should only be archived in unbuffered materials. These particular types of photographs and/or blueprints should never be archived in buffered materials due to the reaction of the calcium carbonate that could happen with the photographs.

Protein Based Materials: Materials that come from animals should be stored in unbuffered archival materials or at least should not come in contact with buffered materials. These items could include silk, wool, leather, feathers, animal specimens, horsehair, etc.

Using the right materials to preserve our family documents and heirlooms will help them to last for generations to come!



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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Archived Records Tell the Story of Our Ancestor's Daily Lives

As genealogists we are always searching for the basic genealogy records for our ancestors: birth certificates, marriage records, death certificates, census records, etc. But have you given any thought to your ancestor's daily lives, the daily activities and the records that could have been produced?

A local archive is a genealogist's gold mine when it comes to finding records and ephemera about our ancestor's daily lives and activities. Many times these types of records are not online and can only be accessed on site at the archive.

W.V. Pulley Probate File. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

For instance, your female ancestors and maybe even your male ancestors, shopped at the local grocery store. Maybe your curious about the prices of groceries or what was available. Local mercantile and store records can help you tell that story. You could even find store ledgers in the archive that may have your ancestor's account listed by name with the items they purchased and the cost of each item.

Skelton's Supermarket Flyer ca. 1962. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Banking Records. Did your ancestor have a bank account or did their banking at the local bank? Banking records can help us when we are trying to piece together our ancestor's financial matters. Banking ledgers are a great resource and can sometimes be found at local or state archives.

Erin Bank and Trust Notes Left at the Bank, ca. 1898. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Entertainment! Your ancestor's worked hard but they also played when they got the chance. Maybe your ancestors went dancing, went to the local church social or maybe they saw the latest movie release. Don't think of your ancestors as always putting in a hard days work. When they had the chance, they may have attended to the local movie theatre and checked out the latest movie release!

Erin Theatre Handbill, ca. 1958. Houston County, Tennessee Archives

These are just some of the types of records that are in our archives, the possibilities are endless!

It is important that we collect those normal records that give us dates of when our ancestors lived and the milestones in their lives. But it is just as important to seek out records and ephemera that help to tell our ancestor's full story. Finding records about all aspects of their daily lives will help us to understand our ancestors better and hopefully bring them to life!

Remember: It's Not All Online, Contact or Visit and Archive Today!

It's Not All Online: Researching In Archives Webinar!

Researching in archives, libraries, historical societies, genealogical societies, courthouses and any other repository can be intimidating. This webinar will show you how to plan ahead for a successful research trip and also help you with your "To-Do List" once you get there. Contacting or visiting an archive will help the genealogist be more successful in their genealogy research.

Monday, January 22, 2018

To Remove or Not Remove Tape from Documents

Do you have documents, photographs or ephemera that have been mended with sticky cellophane tape?

Original Land Grant, Houston County, TN. Archives

Many of our ancestors used tape to fix torn documents, ripped photographs and damaged ephemera. Cellophane tape is not archival. It contains damaging chemicals that can damage documents, photographs and ephemera.

So, what is a person to do, remove the tape or leave it alone?

As Judy G. Russell of The Legal Genealogist ( likes to say:

"It Depends"

Many of us want to rip that tape right off our documents and get that sticky stuff off of our precious records. BUT WAIT! How much more damage will you do by ripping off that tape? Probably a lot!

In an archives setting, archivist approach tape on documents with much caution. If the tape has deteriorated itself into brittle pieces, sometimes the pieces will come off when the edge of the tape is lifted up. That would be ideal but not always the case.

In most cases, if the tape is stuck very strongly to the document and if it is deliberately pulled off, damage could be done to the document. In many cases in the archives, we leave the tape on the document. The damage the tape is doing to the document is not near as bad as the damage that could be done if it was ripped off.

Newspaper Clipping with Tape, Houston County, TN. Archives

If the archives is a large enough to have a conservator on staff, the document would be sent to the Conservator to have the tape removed using techniques that they have been trained to use. In most small county archives, like the Houston County, TN. Archives, there is no conservator on staff and we usually choose to leave the tape on the document to keep from any damage.

Now, let's say you have a document that has a piece of tape that extends off the page, like this:

Houston County, TN. Archives

The best practice is to cut the excess tape off and leave the remaining tape on the document. Any home archivist can do this procedure with confidence that they will not harm the document.

Houston County, TN. Archives

Houston County, TN. Archives

My advice to any genealogist/home archivist is to leave the tape alone and on the document. If you really want to get the tape off the documents, seek out a conservator in your area to help with that process. Many state archives have conservators on staff or they can give you a name and contact information of one that they use for their records.

Our genealogical documents are very precious and keeping them preserved and protected so that we can pass them down to the next generation should be our top priority!




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Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Genealogy Research from a Distance

I hear it all the time from genealogists, "I am not able to travel to do research" and "I can't go any further with my research until I can travel to the archives in a different state".

It has been said that only about 5% of the world's genealogical records are online, the rest are sitting in archives waiting for genealogists to find them. Most of our archives just don't have the budgets to digitize all of their records and put them online. This process takes money and staff to accomplish. Here is a great visual from the California Genealogical Society showing the ratio of what is online and what is not.

Not being able to jump in the car or on a plane and travel to the place where your ancestor's records are located is tough. I know this because my ancestors are from Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania and other states. I haven't been able to travel for research these past 28 years I have been doing genealogy research. In spite of that fact, I have done pretty well gathering records that are not online from right here in Tennessee.

How did I do it?

I used my computer, my telephone, my email account and the old fashioned way of writing letters. I found what specific archives, historical society, genealogical society, university archives and libraries and museums that were in the area where specific records could be located. I checked to see if they had a website with a list of records and contact information. I would then contact them by phone, email or writing a letter and make a records request. Usually, if the records were found, copies would be mailed to me. But here recently, I have started receiving more and more scanned records sent by email.

Dickson County, TN. Archives, Shelves of Records Not Online

If the repository does not have their records listed on a website, it will take a little more communication with the facility to find out what they have and make your request.

A couple of places online where you can find listings of repositories are:

Cyndi's List

FamilySearch Wiki

Both of these sites have the repositories organized by state and then by county. There should be links to websites or contact information like a phone number where you can get in touch with the facility.

I always encourage genealogists to not give up just because you can't travel to where your ancestors records are being kept. It might take a little more work to get records this way instead of just being able to click on a link and get a document but I assure you, it is well worth it.

As an archivist, I love to hear from genealogists when they email me, call me or send me requests through the postal mail. My job and my passion is to help others find the records about their ancestors.



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Monday, January 15, 2018

Checking Framed Photographs for Hidden Treasures

Many of us have inherited framed photographs or documents as part of our family genealogy collections. In the Houston County, TN. Archives, we sometimes receive framed photographs and documents as part of a larger records donation.

Many of these framed photographs and documents are in frames that have removable backs. This way the photographs and documents can be changed out if the person wanted to display a different photo or document. My Grandmother, Ida Kathryn (Drummond) Bartram, had framed photographs of all her grandchildren's school pictures and each year she would put the newest photo in the front to be displayed.

Frame with Removable Back

Frame with Removable Back

If you have received framed photographs or documents with removable backs, have you taken the back off to see what secrets could be hiding? Recently, I inherited some framed photographs from my aunt and I found that there was a different photograph hiding behind the one that was showing.

The photograph that was on display was:

William Sherman Bartram (1872-1961)
The photograph that I found, in the same frame, hiding behind the William Sherman Bartram photo was:

Filmore and Mary Drummond

The interesting thing about these two photographs is they are from two different families that are both related to my late aunt and myself.

One of the first things we do in the archives when we have received framed photographs or documents that have removable backs is to remove the back and see if there are any additional hidden documents or photographs that can't be seen from the front.

It is surprising how many people will put more than one photograph or document in a single picture frame. Then, over time, those older photographs and documents are forgotten. There has been many times when people have found long lost photographs and documents in picture frames of their family.

Some might remember back in 1991 when someone purchased a $4.00 painting at a flea market and when the frame was taken apart an original copy of the Declaration of Independence was found which was estimated to be worth $800,000.00 to 1 million dollars at the time. You can read about this event here:

While we may not find an original copy of the Declaration of Independence behind one of our ancestor's photos, it is still a good idea to check those framed photos and documents for anything that might be hiding!



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Topics Are:

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Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Using Archival Boxes for Records Storage

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




Have Your Registered for The Archive Lady Boot Camp? Register and Save Your Seat TODAY!

Early Bird Registration Ends Monday, January 15th

Get $10.00 OFF the registration fee with the PROMO CODE "Archive"

Topics Are:

"That’s in the Archives! Digging Deeper In the Archived Records"

"The Home Archivist: Preserving Family Records and Heirlooms Like A Pro!"

Register Today! Save Your Seat! Click Here!