Melissa Barker, The Archive Lady, helps wade through all the overwhelming items we inherit from a parent or family member
Gloria from Georgia asks: “Where do I begin??? When you have so much to archive what is the best way to start?”
I would have to say that this question is the one I hear the most as an archivist. There are so many people that have large collections of genealogical records and they know they need to archive and preserve them, but they just don’t know where to start.
Records Donation, Houston County, Tennessee. Archives
Archivists, librarians, and museum curators face this dilemma when they receive and accept records donations from the public. Fortunately, they have a system they follow to help them not get overwhelmed and stay on task.
The main thing to remember is to take it one step at a time and don’t think that you have to get it all done RIGHT NOW. Here are my 5 helpful steps to getting started archiving any records collection.
- Step #1: Compile a cursory inventory of the collection. This is not a detailed inventory but one that will give you an overview of what you have that needs archived. This inventory could be done in a Word document or in an Excel spreadsheet. This inventory should include the types of materials you have such as documents, photographs, artifacts, etc. The inventory should also include information about the date range of each of these groups of materials. For instance, if you have a collection of love letters from Grandpa to Grandma from 1921-1935, you will want to note that on your inventory. You will also want to make notes about any special instructions to yourself about the condition of the records and if they will need more specialized preservation.
- Step #2: While you are compiling your cursory inventory, it’s always a great idea to re-box your records into archival boxes. These boxes can be purchased at any online archival store (see list below) or on Amazon. Putting our documents, photographs and artifacts in the proper archival materials protects them from the elements and from the chemicals that can be found in ordinary cardboard boxes.
Archival Box, Houston County, TN. Archives Photo
- Step#3: Separate your archival records by type. Within the large collection of records which would be considered a Manuscript Collection, the records should be separated into groups. One group might be correspondence, another group photographs and another group school memorabilia. Once your records are grouped together, you can then start archiving them.
- Step #4: Choose 10 documents or photographs to archive at a time. One of the reasons people get so overwhelmed is because they try to archive their genealogical records all at once. Breaking down your archival project into small bites will help you to focus on small batches which will lead to getting the entire project done and you didn’t get overwhelmed and want to quit. Once you have archived those 10 documents, then choose another 10 documents or photographs and archive those. Repeat this process until the entire collection is complete and processed.
Collection of Correspondence Encapsulated, Houston County, Tennessee Archives
- Step #5: This next step is called encapsulation. This means that the documents are to be encapsulated in archival sleeves for protection. Archival document sleeves of different sizes can be purchased at any online archival store or Amazon. Putting our documents in clear archival document sleeves will protect them but also allow us to still view and enjoy them. Once your documents are in the sleeves they can then be placed in archival folders and stored in archival boxes or in file cabinets.
These five simple steps will help anyone get started on an archival project. Don’t let your large collection of genealogical records overwhelm you. Once you have archived the paper records, you can then concentrate on digitizing these records, so they are preserved in a digital format. Don’t let your records get the best of you! It is important that these records survive and are preserved for future generations to enjoy.
Online Archival Supply Stores
- Gaylord Archival
- Hollinger Metal Edge
- University Products
- Light Impressions
- Archival Methods
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Melissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation.
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