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A Genealogist In The Archives

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Preserving Your Ancestor's 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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Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Preserving Vintage Pressed Flowers

Many genealogists have inherited their family member's documents, books, photographs and other genealogical materials. When it comes to the books we have inherited, I hope that everyone reading this blog post takes the time to search through all the books you are given to make sure to retrieve any scrap of paper, newspaper clipping, photo or pressed flowers that your family member put in those books. Even if the books you received are not genealogical in nature, search through them anyway. You just never know what you might find in their pages.

Now, let's talk about preserving pressed flowers. Most of the time when a genealogist encounters these items in books they are brittle, fragile and falling apart. It can be a challenge to remove these items in one piece and transfer them to a medium that will protect and preserve these precious family items.

First and foremost, make sure your hands are clean and free of any lotions or hand creams. The chemicals in these lotions can adversely affect the pressed items. There is no need to wear gloves, in fact, it is preferred that gloves not be used in this instance. The reason being, when gloves are worn, they remove the textile sensation you need to feel the items. It is important to feel how you are handling the items so that they are not damaged.

Example of Pressed Flowers

If you don't feel comfortable picking up the pressed items with your hands, use a plastic or rubber spatula. Do not use metal spatulas as their sharp edges could damage the items. Be sure the head of the spatula is as big as the item so that all if it can be picked up and transferred at the same time. An ordinary kitchen egg turner or spatula that you already have will do just fine for this project. If you find that any part of the item is stuck or adhered to the page, gently use the spatula to separate the item. I have found that most of the time pressed flowers and leaves are not stuck to pages but can be removed quite easily.

Two options that I can recommend preserving and protecting your pressed flowers, leaves and ferns are:

Specimen Mounting Boxes

These boxes are easy to use and can be purchased at any of the online archival materials stores (see list below), the local hobby store, taxidermy stores and at These types of mounting boxes are used for pressed flowers, leaves, preserving butterflies and other zoological items. These boxes are great to use if you plan to display the items.

Example Specimen Mounting Box from Gaylord Archival

Suspension Boxes

These boxes are also easy to use and will protect the pressed items once they are removed from the books. These boxes can also be purchased at any of the online archival materials store and at any hobby store. The clear, polystyrene box has flexible membranes in the top and bottom which conform to the item, holding it firmly in place. The nice thing about these particular boxes is they can be held and the items inside can be viewed from all sides. These suspension boxes also come in many different sizes to accommodate the different sizes of flowers, leaves and other pressed items.

Example of Suspension Boxes from Gaylord Archival

Remember, your ancestor or family member took the time to lay those flowers, leaves and ferns in books to be pressed. They were making a day of remembrance, remembering a family member or just appreciating the foliage itself. These items meant something to them at the time and it should mean something to us today. Sadly, many times there are no notes or writings to tell us exactly why our ancestors pressed these items. We are left to guess at their significance but what we can do is preserve and protect them for future generations to enjoy.

Archival Material Websites

Here is a listing of online archival materials stores. They all have online catalogs and paper catalogs that can be sent to your home. Also, be sure to sign up for email notifications because they periodically have sales and will send out email notifications:

Gaylord Archival

Hollinger Metal Edge

Light Impressions

University Products



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Thursday, February 10, 2022

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 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 basic 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.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Friday Book Review: "The Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy"

Story of My Life: A Workbook for Preserving Your Legacy by Sunny Jane Morton. Published by Family Tree Publishing:
ISBN 978-1-4403-4714-6 
191 pp. 
Paperback. $19.99

The Story of My Life is set up in true workbook style. The short, fill-in style is easy and convenient for any genealogist to use. Morton even encourages readers to make copies of the workbook pages for family members to complete. Whether the genealogist is filling in the information themselves or copying the forms to send to family members, Morton presents an orderly and organized way to record family information, stories and memories.

At the beginning of each chapter, Morton provides an introduction that provides suggestions on how the pages and forms could be used. Morton suggests making copies of the forms to send to family members to fill out and send back to the genealogists to compile as much of a complete family history as possible.

It is easy to see that Morton understands that each and every family is different and she has provided special forms to record unique experiences and relationships. For instance, there are forms to record information about “Special People” who are not blood relatives but mean something to the genealogist or to the family and the family history.

Morton gives the reader permission to share only what they want in their family story. She explains we are all entitled to our own privacy and we only need to record those memories that we are comfortable with putting on paper where there is a chance others could read what we have shared.

There is a handy “Request for Memories” log sheet to keep track of family members that the genealogist has asked to fill out information to contribute to the family story. This handy log will help the genealogist know which family members they have asked to share memories and which ones they have yet to contact.

Morton follows a very well known genealogical standard of starting with yourself when doing genealogy research. There are 12 pages of forms for the reader to fill out themselves. These forms range from information on ones birth to employment and military service.

In each chapter, Morton has inserted extra sections entitled “Tips” and “Hints” which are highlighted in a dark gray color to give the reader additional guidelines in using the forms. These tips and hints also include information on how to locate the genealogical documents to collect information needed to tell one’s life story.

The forms and questions Morton includes in her book are more detailed and extensive than I have seen in most fill-in type workbooks on this subject matter. For instance, on pages 79-82 she helps the reader explore the time of the teen years and the relationship during this period of time with the persons Mother and Father. Morton even includes a form entitled “My Pet” for all the pet lovers. The last form in the book is entitled “My Legacy” and asks the question “What do you hope people will remember about you” which is a very thought provoking question to entertain. The only downside to this type of book is that it’s possible that many genealogists might feel constrained by the amount of room given to tell their story or the story of their ancestors. It is understandable that only so much room could be given for answers and using additional stationary will probably be necessary in some areas.

I particularly appreciated Chapter 9 as an archivist. Chapter 9 is the last chapter in the book and is entitled “Preserving Your Memories”. Morton talks about preserving family documents and heirlooms in a proper manner so that they are archived for future generations.


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Presented by Lisa Lisson of Are You My Cousin!
When: February 8, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Black History Month in the Archives

February is Black History month and many of our local, state and national archives in the United States are gearing up for Black History Month programs, exhibits and displays. These archives will be sharing African American histories, documents, photographs and artifacts. 

As the archivist for the Houston County, Tennessee Archives & Museum, I am very excited about celebrating the black history in my county and the entire United States.

Bransford High School Graduates, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Many of our local, state and national archives take great pains in collecting, preserving and sharing their African American records with the public. Whether these records are Manuscript Collections, Photograph Collections, School Records or artifacts that directly relate to the history and lives of African Americans, they are extremely important to our over all world history.

Portrait of Henry W. Allen, Catherine B. Allen and Minta B. Allen, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Black History Month is an annual celebration of achievements by African Americans and a time for recognizing their central role in U.S. history. Also known as African American History Monty, the event grew out of "Negro History Week", the brainchild of noted historian Carter G. Woodson in 1915 and other prominent African Americans. Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.

If you have African American ancestors, I hope you take the month of February to celebrate their lives and tell their stories. Every person has a story to tell and if we as genealogists do not document and preserve our ancestors stories, they will be lost forever.


NEW Masterclass Available!

Presented by Lisa Lisson of Are You My Cousin!
When: February 8, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Friday, January 28, 2022

Friday Book Review: "Downsizing with Family History in Mind"

Downsizing with Family History in Mind

Author: Devon Noel Lee & Andrew Lee
Publisher: FHF Group LLC
Publication Year: 2019
Pages: 189
ISBN: 978-1-09797-973-8

Front Cover

Organizing genealogy records can be one of the most difficult tasks a genealogist has to tackle. Devon Noel Lee & Andrew Lee have published a book to help with this task.

We all know that it’s so difficult to decide what to keep and what not to keep. In Chapter 1 of Downsizing with Family History in Mind it is obvious that Lee understand this issue with the statement; “The hardest part of the process involves determining the degree of emotional attachment you have to items that invoke memories. Sometimes you know too much about your possessions. You may struggle with guilt that prevents you from giving things new homes which will enable you to fit into your new living situation.”

From the very beginning the authors promote the necessity of having a method and using that method consistently to downsize. Even suggesting that just de-cluttering just does not work, we must go further to accomplish our goal. The book not only gives the reader straight forward and easy instructions on downsizing but it also gives us the tools we need to evaluate our possessions to make the hard decisions.

Downsizing with Family History in Mind is written in short sections, no chapters assigned. That makes this book more of a reference book which is ideal for those of us that leave very busy lives and may not have the time to sit down and read the entire book from cover to cover. The Table of Contents is very clear about what each section is addressing and the reader can go right to the section that will help them at that moment and time.

Within each section, the subjects addressed have a clear heading in bold fonts with the text following. There are numerous headings that will catch the reader’s attention and make them stop and read. Such headings as Throw It All Out!-Method and I Can’t Let it Go”-Method got my attention and enticed me to read that section.

The authors have put together a very positive reference work gives you the feeling that they are on your side and not condemning you for how you have handled your piles of stuff. The more I read, the more I was inspired to take their suggestions and put them into practice. This was because of the encouragement they give the reader in the pages of their book.

As an archivist I was particularly interested in the section entitled Reduce: Evaluate Your Papers and Documents. The methodical way that the authors teach the reader to downsize and go through their personal papers is simply yet effective. The instructions are very clearly written and are short and to the point. Genealogists will definitely find this section most helpful when it comes to their piles of papers.

In the section Reclaim: Gain Space by Giving Away gives some great advice on where to give away your stuff. I was particularly pleased to see the authors suggest giving genealogical materials to museums, archives, universities, genealogical societies and libraries.

In every section there is what the authors call Action Plans. These actions plans “are designed to help you in your downsizing”. They are exactly as they are presented, plans of action to downsize specific types stuff to help you downsize. In the back of the book the authors give the readers several action plan options such as “Downsizing: 1-Hour Action Plan”, “Downsizing: Weekend Action Plan”, etc. These action plans gives the person doing the downsizing a step-by-step listing of what to do to downsize. These are great references to use as a guide, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed.

Back Cover

I can highly recommend this book by Devon Noel Lee & Andrew Lee to anyone that is looking to clean out the closets in their home, cleaning out the attic or just needing to clean out and organize their genealogy file cabinet. Whether you have an hour or a weekend to complete your downsizing task, using this book to help you with the job will make all the difference.

(This review was originally published in the Winter 2019 issue of the FGS magazine FORUM.)


NEW Masterclass Available!

Presented by Lisa Lisson of Are You My Cousin!
When: February 8, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern

Thursday, January 27, 2022

Using Archived Records to Fill in Your Ancestor's Timeline

Do you have gaps in your ancestor's timeline? Are you curious about what your ancestor's did in between the time the census was taken? You might just find what your looking for in the many record collections in an archive.

Working daily in a county archive, I get to work with many kinds of records that are not your "normal" genealogical records. A lot of these unique records are not online and have to be sought out by genealogist. Records in archives can help you fill the gaps in your ancestor's timeline.

Lyle Family Records Collection, Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Being the family genealogists for the past 32 years, I have been working diligently on my own family history and that of my husbands. Recently, I was able to combine my archives work and my genealogy research all in one with a fantastic result.

The Stewart County, Tennessee Archives is just one of our wonderful county archives here in Tennessee. Stewart County, Tennessee is the main region my husband's ancestors lived in the 1800's. I recently became aware of a collection of records that had been found in the Stewart County, Tennessee Archives for Jesse Glasgow (1816-1892), my husband's great great grandfather. I requested copies of these original records that included over 50 pages of documents and receipts that have never been microfilmed and are not online anywhere. 

Inside the Stewart County, Tennessee Archives. Photo courtesy Stewart County, Tennessee Archives

One of the documents that was sent to me was a copy of a receipt for a Louisiana Lottery Ticket that Jesse Glasgow purchased and is dated June 9, 1888. Jesse bought 1 ticket and the ticket number was #92074. 

Courtesy Stewart County, Tennessee Archives, Jesse Glasgow Louisiana Lottery Ticket Notification, June 9, 1888

I found it interesting that Jesse Glasgow was buying a lottery ticket from Louisiana while living in Tennessee. I didn't even know there was a lottery in the 1800s! So, I did some research and found that the Louisiana Lottery was a very controversial event in the history of the State of Louisiana. You can read about the Louisiana Lottery here:

It is not known if Jesse Glasgow won anything from the Louisiana Lottery but the fact that he bought a ticket and I have a copy of the receipt from the Stewart County, Tennessee Archives helps me to document an event in his life that happened between the 1880 and 1900 census. I had nothing recorded for Jesse between these census years and now I do because of a county archive had records they archived and preserved.

Courtesy "The Times-Picayune" Newspaper Photographs, an example of a Louisiana State Lottery Ticket, May 8, 1888


NEW Masterclass Available!

Presented by Lisa Lisson of Are You My Cousin!
When: February 8, 2022 at 7:00 p.m. Eastern