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A Genealogist In The Archives: April 2018

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Preservation and Conservation, What's the Difference?

These two words, "Preservation" and "Conservation" can be confusing. Many people use them interchangeably but truthfully they are not the same.

Let's Talk About It!

First, let's look at some definitions:

Preservation: n. ~ 1. The professional discipline of protecting materials by minimizing chemical and physical deterioration and damage to minimize the loss of information and to extend the life of cultural property. - 2. The act of keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction, especially through noninvasive treatment. - 3. Law · The obligation to protect records and other materials potentially relevant to litigation and subject to discovery.

Preserved Letters, Houston County, TN. Archives

Conservation: n. ~ 1. The repair or stabilization of materials through chemical or physical treatment to ensure that they survive in their original form as long as possible. - 2. The profession devoted to the preservation of cultural property for the future through examination, documentation, treatment, and preventive care, supported by research and education.

Letter in Pieces, Houston County, TN. Archives

Letter Conserved, Houston County, TN. Archives

(Source: Society of American Archivists Glossary Terms

My easy definition and explanation I like to give to genealogists for these two terms is:

"To Preserve something is to protect it, to Conserve something is to fix it".

Many genealogists have made commitments to organize their genealogical records. This could mean filing piles of paper, putting photos in archival sleeves and putting everything in an archival box or filing cabinet.

This is "Preservation" at it's best! You are "keeping from harm, injury, decay, or destruction" all those wonderful genealogical records that you have in your care. Preserving those records, photographs, memorabilia and family heirlooms for future generations. I encourage all genealogists to actively preserve all the family records and artifacts and use archival materials to achieve that preservation.

Removing Metal Staples is Preservation, Houston County, TN. Archives

Now, let's say you have a photograph that is damaged and you want to "repair or stabilize it's original form", then you would need to Conserve this photograph. Most likely, you will want to seek out a Professional Conservator that specializes in repairing and fixing photographs. Most genealogists don't feel comfortable doing these types of repairs and if you don't have the knowledge of the materials and methods of Conservation, then you need to leave it to the professionals.

But where to find a Conservator?

I suggest contacting the state archive in your state. They will either have an conservator on staff or they will have a name and contact information for one that they use for their archived materials. There could be different conservators for different mediums such as one for only photographs, one for only documents, etc.

I would also suggest going to the website:

American Institute for Conservation (, they have a section entitled "Find a Conservator" where you can find someone in your area to help you with your conservation problem.

So, hopefully now you know more about the different between Preservation and Conservation.

I encourage all genealogists to actively preserve your genealogy research, documents, photographs and family heirlooms.

If you have any questions about researching in archives or about records preservation, please E-MAIL ME!



Scrapbooks! How to find scrapbooks in archives and how to preserve the ones you have!

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Tuesday, April 24, 2018

A Deed of Gift? What is it?

One of the most exciting aspects of being an archivist is when a person walks in the archives with a box of records they wish to donate.  Every archivist will admit that their heart skips a beat when they see someone walk into their archives with records to donate.  

 Houston County, Tennessee Retired Teachers Scrapbooks Donation

A lot of archives would not be an archive without donors and the records they bring to us.  We depend on people to help us save our history by donating family records that are not wanted, finds at garage sales and purchasing records at estate sales.  A lot of small archives like the Houston County, Tennessee Archives does not have the budget to go out and purchase records, photographs and memorabilia at auctions or anywhere else. 

When someone donates anything to an archive, the archivist should present the donor with a document that is called “A Deed of Gift”.  This document is a legally binding document between the donor and the archive that transfers ownership and legal rights of the records from the donor to the archive. 

Houston County, Tennessee Lions Club Records and Memorabilia Donation

Once the archivist has examined the records being donated and determines that the donated material will be a good addition to their collections, the archivist should produce “A Deed of Gift” document to complete the donation process.

Most archives will not accept a records donation without a signed deed of gift. 

Information included in the deed of gift can be:

          -name of the donor and archive

          -description of the materials being donated

          -terms of the transfer of ownership

          -any restrictions imposed by the donor

          -signatures of both the donor and the archivist

For more detailed information on a deed of gift, see the Society of American Archivists “A Guide to Deeds of Gift”

While a lot of genealogists prefer to keep their documents, photographs and artifacts and pass them down to their descendants, it might be that they don’t have any interested descendants to pass them down to.  If you find yourself in this predicament, consider making preparations as to where you would like your records to be donated. You have worked very hard, for many years gathering and researching your family, don’t let it get thrown away.

Saving your family's history for future generations is a good thing!

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


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Friday, April 20, 2018

Preserving Spiral Notebooks

Spiral notebooks are a type of record book that could pose a problem for any genealogist. Spiral bound notebooks have been around for many years. 
Originally called a loose–leaf spiral notebook in which the pages are held in position by a spiral or coil of metal wire. The use of these notebooks for all kinds of purposes is still done today. Many genealogists have these types of books in their genealogy records where family members made notes, kept a journal and even recorded their favorite recipe!
Example of Spiral Bound Notebooks, Houston County, TN. Archives

There are actually three options for preserving a spiral bound notebook. If the coiled metal in the notebook is not rusted or damaged in anyway, it would be permissible by records preservation standards to leave the entire notebook intact. Even though archivists strive to remove all metal, in this case, sometimes it is best to leave things as they are. I recommend that the pages in the notebook be digitized completely and then place the entire notebook in an archival file folder and then into an archival box.

The second option is to remove the metal coil but unscrewing it out of the notebook. Some notebooks will allow for this option to be performed with no trouble at all. But if there is any resistance or difficulty trying to unscrew the metal coil out of the notebook, stop immediately. The last thing you want is to damage the pages in the notebook that contain genealogical information.

The third option and one that many archivists choose to implement is to remove the metal coil from the notebook. This is especially true if the metal coil is rusted, damaged or causing damage in any way to the pages inside the notebook. 
In this process, it is recommended that all the pages in the notebook be digitized first. It should be noted that removing the metal coil will make scanning the pages of the notebook much easier. Next, using wire cutters, snip the metal coil in several places along the length of the coiled metal. Slowly and carefully, remove each section of coiled wire. If the wire will not remove easily, make more cuts with the wire cutters to make smaller pieces to make removal easier. If the metal coil is rusted and sticking to the pages, remove the metal very slowly as to not inflict more damage. This process is tedious, but well worth the time taken.

Once the metal coil is removed, make sure to keep the pages in their original order and place the notebook in an archival file folder. If desired, a plastic paper clip can be used to clip the pages of the notebook together but if the notebook is kept in a file folder, a fastener is not needed. The file folder can then be place in an archival box or in a filing cabinet.
As always, if you do not feel comfortable doing the preservation procedures yourself, please consult with a professional conservator.
Preserving our most precious genealogical documents and records is the only way they will survive for our descendants to enjoy.
(This information was originally published in The Archive Lady column at Abundant Genealogy, June 1, 2017

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

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

When Your Genealogy Has Gone to the Dogs!

As genealogists we are constantly searching for records for our ancestors that we have not seen before. Records that are unique and will fill in those gaps in our ancestor's timeline.

Archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries, University archives and museums are full of these types of records. One such set of records in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives is a "Dog Registration" book.

Houston County, Tennessee Dog Registration Record Book spine, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

This particular "Dog Registration" book dates from 1901-1923. The purpose of this record book was to register dogs who were over 6-months old. The owner had to pay a fee or tax which started out in 1901 to be $1.00 and by 1923 was up to $3.00 per dog.

W.H. Griffin dog registration entry, July 16, 1907, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

The fees that were collected were put into what was called the Sheep Fund. The Sheep Fund was there for any farmers who had a sheep killed by a dog or had one damaged by a dog. The owner of the sheep would be able to ask for funds from the Sheep Fund to replace the dead or damaged sheep. At the end of the year, if there was still funds left in the Sheep Fund, it would be given to the local schools to help purchase books and supplies.

W.R. Boone dog registration entry, May 16, 1901, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Information that can be found on the dog registration receipts include the dog owner's name, the owner's address, the name of the dog, the description of the dog and the date of the receipt. Who knew that our ancestor's dogs could help us with genealogy information today!

As genealogists we can get some great information from records sources like this "Dog Registration".



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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Scrap Paper in the Archives

How many of you have scrap paper in your genealogical records?

By that I mean, pieces of paper that have notes, numbers or other information jotted down by an ancestor that makes no sense to you, right now, but nevertheless is part of your genealogical records.

Maybe you have receipts, invoices or other scrap documents that you just can't figure out what they mean or how they fit into your family history.

Well, archives have the same type records and genealogists should be seeking them out.

Misc. Receipts, Houston County, TN. Archives

Most archives are known for their well organized and processed records that are in archival boxes and archival file folders. Most of the time, each document has a place in a larger collection of records that the archivist will catalog and index for their patrons.

But did you know that many of our archives have scrap paper that is discovered on a daily basis that doesn't belong to any particular records collection? Those records are kept too but they may be a little harder to locate in an archive.

So, how can you find genealogical scrap paper in archives? Here are some tips:

Vertical File Collections: The best place to locate scrap paper. Many of the scrap pieces of paper that archives collect can be found in Vertical File Collections. Vertical Files are arranged by surname or subject name. If the scrap piece of paper has a surname on it or is related to a certain subject, they will be filed in Vertical Files.

Vertical File Drawer at Houston County, TN. Archives

Manuscript Collections: Sometimes archivists will include scrap paper documents in a Manuscript Collection if they can determine the family or organization it belongs to. The scrap paper will be cataloged in the finding aid.

Irish Celebration Manuscript Collection, Houston County, TN. Archives

Loose Records: If the scrap paper document has to do with a legal matter, like a court case or probate case, these are called "Loose Records". Archivists will put a folder at the beginning of a collection of Loose Records that will say "Misc. Documents" or "Orphan Documents" and place the scrap paper document in that file.

Misc. Documents Folder, Houston County, TN. Archives

Genealogists need to be aware of scrap paper as they do research in archives, historical societies, genealogical societies, libraries and museums. To anyone else these items may mean nothing but to you they may mean everything!




Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY!

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Metal Paper Clips, Rubber Bands and Tape, OH MY!

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Masonic Records in the Archives

One of the most interesting records collections and one that I get more requests in the Houston County, Tennessee Archives are Masonic Records. The Masonic Lodge has been a staple of a lot of local communities and a lot of genealogists seek out these types of records.

New Providence Lodge, No. 128 F.& A.M. Request for Widow's Aid, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Masonic Records are normally donated by individuals and the collections can contain just about anything from documents, letters, photographs, meeting minutes, newspaper clippings and lodge publications just to name a few. They are a great resource for the genealogist trying to find information about the ancestors who were members of these groups. 

Powder Spring Lodge, No. 579 F. & A.M. Building Fund Help Letter, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

These records could be held locally at a county archive, historical/genealogical societies and libraries. Most of the time they are archived by the name of the lodge, for example New Port Lodge #208 Records Collection. They can also be held at the state level at a state archive or a state historical/genealogical society. The Masonic organizations themselves have websites and archives of their very own that could hold records.

Mineral Springs Lodge, No. 533, F. & A.M., Mortgage Aid Help Letter, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Most of these records will be located in the Manuscript Collections of an archive. When a specific collection of interest is found, be sure and ask to see the Finding Aid. The Finding Aid will have great information about what is in the collection at the folder level. Not every piece of paper will be cataloged but you should be able to get an idea of what is in the collection and then the folders of interest can be requested.

New Portland Lodge No. 208, 100th Anniversary Pamphlet ca. 1951, located at the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

If you have never searched for your ancestors Masonic Records, now might be a good time to seek them out!



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