People who have attended my Library Lectures are very familiar with Baby2135.  I teach it in every lecture.

IMG_2222 (1)Before starting to create a family archive consider who you are creating the archive for. If you are not one of those lucky people who have photographs and letters from a long, lost relative who lived during the Civil War or the American Revolution, it’s probably not on your radar to think very far ahead when considering who you are creating this archive for. You may think of creating it for yourself in the event of a disaster. You may think of creating it for your siblings and cousins who you will share with at the next family gathering. Most people think of their children and grandchildren when they think of preserving their documents. Typically this is as far ahead as most people think.

Instead think of the person in your family who will be born after the last person who Edmund Frenier Srhas known you directly has died. Think of your forebear who would think it was cool to have memorabilia from the 20th and 21st centuries. Why do I want you to expand your thinking about who you are leaving your archives to? Because you will tell your story in a very different way; you will describe a letter, a deed, a photograph, a quilt differently. Instead of indicating that a picture is of, “Aunt Mary and her friend, Lou,” you would write instead, “Mary Louise Smith and Lou Johnson. They were a couple for many years, but never married.” If you write for your children you will assume they know who “Aunt Mary” is and that they know that Lou was the boyfriend she never married. The person who is born after the last person who has known you has died, will not know that.

Here’s a formula to help you conceptualize this:

  • If you were born in 1945 and live to be 100, you will die in 2045.
  • If your great grandchild is ten years old when you died, they would be born in 2035.
  • If the great grandchild lives to be 100, they will die in 2135.
  • The person that is born in or after 2135 is the person I want you to think about when you preserve your family history. I call that person, Baby 2135.

I know that sounds crazy and an extremely long time into the future. When I think of Baby 2135, it seems so remote and abstract that I think, “Who cares?” When I’m working in the archives and I wonder whether or not I should save something, I always look back and think, “What don’t we have that I wish we did?” or “What do we have, that I’m glad we do.” Asking these questions changes our perspective. With that in mind, let’s apply the formula to our ancestors.

  • Say you had a great, great, grandfather who was born in 1800.
  • If he lived to be 100, he would have died in 1900.
  • His 10 year old great-grandchild would have been born in 1890.
  • If the great grandchild lived for 100 years, he would die in 1990.
  • The person who was born in 1990 would now be in their twenties.

Doesn’t seem that long ago when you put it that way, huh?




Photographs:  Abby Coelho, Edmund Frenier, Sr.

The Eternal Connection to Our Ancestors

Genealogy shows like Finding Your Roots, Who Do You Think You Are and Genealogy Roadshow, bring to life how connected we are to our ancestors. In each Agnes Flaherty Chadwickepisode people are deeply touched and moved when they learn that a great-great-great-grand-parent who they never knew, lived through a major historical event or disturbing personal tragedy. Whether the history tells of a celebrated past, or a painful circumstance, we are connected to our past. We care deeply about our forebears lives. We often can detect how what happened to them shaped who we are today. Stories and legends get passed down for generations, some true, some only partially true. Today, we have the opportunity to tell the story of our ancestors and to add our story to the mix.

Sometimes values are handed down that are not connected to a story anyone remembers, and yet, everyone in the family lives according to that lore. In a particularly moving Genealogy Roadshow episode, a young woman learned that her grandfather was part of the Tuskegee Experiment. After understanding her grandfather’s tragic story, it made sense that she was brought up believing that she should never trust the government.Tuskegee

In my family after three generations of fathers who left women and children behind, a legacy of strong, independent women who learned to fend for themselves and their children was created. “Always have your own money,” my mother taught. “Just in case.” We all knew the legacy of my grandmother and my mother, but few knew the story of our great-grandmother who also had to support herself and her children at the turn of the 20th century by doing laundry for college students. Her experience most likely influenced her daughter to get divorced in 1930 and her grand-daughter to leave behind her husband in 1972. Unlike most of their peers, their family history provided the permission they needed to get out of bad marriages.Jeanette & Friend

What are the values your family lives by? Some values and traditions are so deeply rooted we may not be aware that they spring from the experience of an ancestor 100 years ago. At the same time, we need to ask ourselves what legacy, values and traditions am I creating? What lessons have you learned, or been forced to learn, that you hope your future forebears will benefit from?

The Fate of Unlabelled Photographs

When you die, your stories and your memories die with you. This includes the stories you know about your grandparents and great-grandparents; the stories your mother told you about relatives you never met; the stories your grandfather told about life in bygone days.  Unless you preserve these stories in a way that your family can access them and in a way that is meaningful, your family legacy will die, if not with you, then with your children.

mable, edna as kids with unknown other kidsWhen my childless Aunt Hope died I took a box of photographs stored in her closet that my cousin was going to throw them out.  I couldn’t wait to get home to see what was in them.  I opened the box anxiously anticipating what I would find hoping to see pictures of my father and aunts and uncles when they were little.

What I found was disappointing. I didn’t know who was in the pictures or where they were taken.  Pictures are of my father’s mother’s relatives who I never met remain mysterious.  Without information accompanying the pictures, their meaning is lost to me. 

I brought the box of photographs to Hope’s sister, Thelma in the hopes she could identify them.  She was helpful to a point, but dementia had already set in and I quickly became aware that she was making up names in an effort to do a good job and please me.  Taking the time to include the who, what, where, why and how of photographs may be the difference between a photograph being kept and cherished and one that finds its way to the trash bin.

Have you ever gone to a flea market, yard sale or church bazaar and found a box of photographs on the table ready to be sold to the next buyer?   I’ve always wondered how those photographs ended up in a place like that.  After seeing my aunt’s photographs, I understood why a family member would have no reason to keep them.  Why not get rid of a box of photographs that are meaningless to you?  Without an explanation of who is in the picture and what is going on, the pictures are just clutter.  Unless you take the time to organize and preserve your photographs, they might end up in a flea market bin someday, too.  On the other hand, if you take the time to describe your photographs and other materials, you will create a family legacy that people in your family will appreciate for generations.




Rhonda, Donna, Debbie,

When I was a teenager my mother would say,

“Your friends will come and go, but you’ll always have your sisters.”

That sentiment has been true for us.  And my mother should know.  She had sisters, too.  My family is filled with Three Sisters.  I have two sisters (Donna, Debbie, Rhonda), my mother had two (twin) sisters (Pauline, Pam, Jean).  My mother’s mother, Lena, had two sisters (Lena, Mabel, Edna).  On the other side of the family, my father had three sisters (Stella, Thelma, Hope).  The May 2016 issue of Vanity Fair devoted the entire magazine to “Sisters.”  Reading through the articles we find that often sisters are the one who has your back, they are our best friends, and our trusted partners.

Although I think my mother’s sentiment is true, I also think

having sisters prepares us to be good friends.

Mable, Lena, Edna cropped copy

Edna, Lena, Mabel

My sisters and I all have long-term friendships from high school.  Over the years we have made many other friends as well.  While these friendships are important to us, the bond of sisterhood has always taken precedence.  Like a marriage, we are together in sickness and in health.  My sisters attended my first communion, my confirmation, my high school graduation, and my college graduation.  I was one sister’s maid-of-honor and the other’s bridesmaid.  We are all godmothers to each other’s children.  We’ve attended all the family functions together – weddings, christenings, funerals, Fourth of July parties, family reunions, showers.  When I had an accident in 1985, my mother and both my sisters visited me that night to hear all the details and make sure I was okay.  When I had to have minor surgery in 1991, I stayed at my mother’s house while I recovered; one sister made me my own tin of toll house cookies, the other brought over a pot of barbequed spare ribs.

When I was in my early twenties, everyone from high school used to go to a nightclub in town.  The place would be packed, wall to wall, on a Friday night, standing room only.  While I knew many, many people in the club and talked and joked with many of them, I was always happy when my sister showed up.

She was like an anchor I could return to after any other conversation.

But, more often than not, I was happy to just hang with her and make observations about the people in the room, or just talk about our own lives.

Jean, Harold, looks like 1947 cropped

Jean with brother Harold

After both sisters got married we started a tradition: unless another commitment came up, we would meet at my mother’s on Sunday.  At first our Sundays were quiet times where we shared our weekly happenings at work, adventures with friends, things we bought, deals we got, recipes we found, clothing we purchased.  We discussed politics, world events, and the latest scandal in the local newspapers.  We might tell each other about the movies we watched, giving a scene by scene description encouraging them to see the same movie, or telling the funny parts, or the most dramatic.
The quiet of our Sister Sundays eroded when the children were born.  As they got older and louder and more demanding, my mother set up the cellar as a play room.  Rarely was a full thought or a full paragraph uttered without interruption.  Gleeful chaos.  I didn’t see it that way then.  Then it was mostly annoying.  But I look back on those years fondly as gleeful chaos.  Sometimes our grandmother and Auntie Pauline would join us. My mother lived with Auntie Edna, so she was always there.  Woomania, my brother-in-law called it.  All the women.

Jean, Caitlyn, Casey, Rob, Donna, Matthew

Jean, Caitlyn, Casey, Rob, Donna, Matthew

The children eventually grew, as children do, and stopped coming on Sundays.  Our Sundays got quiet again.  We still shared the latest gossip, world events, and trivial minutia of our lives, but now sans the constant disruption and disarray.  Auntie Edna died in October 2000.  My mother sold the house and moved to a smaller place.  One sister stopped coming on Sundays.  My mother, the other sister, and I continued to meet and go to dinner and share our lives.  A few months before our mother died I asked my sister, “Do you still want to get together on Sundays?”  “Sure,” she said.

My sister and I still meet every Sunday.

Pam, Pauline on bench cropped

Twins – Pam & Pauline

My friends know not to ask me to do things on Sunday.  I’ll be with my sister.  When we met at my mother’s we sat around the kitchen table, talked, went out to a restaurant for dinner, then sat around my mother’s table again.  After she died we started going to the movies or fairs or art festivals.  This summer we started hiking.  Sometimes we meet for breakfast.  Usually for dinner.

My sister’s mother-in-law had a sister.  The two of them lived to be almost 100 years old.  They both died at the age of 98, two years apart.  The last few years of their lives were difficult, but well into their nineties they were fit and strong, active and aware.  My sister and I hope to be as lucky.  There’s a saying,

“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.”

Sisters are the ones who toss aside the umbrella and dance in the rain with you.




Rhonda, Debbie, Donna


Our Home Libraries


Someone asked me recently what they should do with their books after they pass on?  Many of us have extensive libraries in our care that have taken years to create.  Any bibliophile can take you into their library and speak with love and reverence of the books they have collected and own.  If you come into my library, I can tell where the books on the shelves in my library come from.  Many, of course, were purchased on Amazon.  But others were bought in bulk at used book stores, or  yard sales,  church bazaars, or sales at local colleges, universities or public libraries.  Friends have given me boxes of books as they downscaled and/or moved.  What they couldn’t take with them, they gave to me knowing I would value them, and would take care of them.  Many of the books in my collection have been signed by the author after I attended one of their lectures.  Some of the books on my shelves I love and can expound on, ad nauseum.  Many others are awaiting the fortuitous day I will have the time to pull them off the shelf and spend luxurious hours reading.  I told a friend one time that my unread books haunt me.  I feel like they are staring at me all the time wanting me to read them.  He said,  “Just think of them as old friends you haven’t met yet.  Someday you will.”  I hold on to that promise.

My favorite bookA true bibliophile is like that.

Our books are not mere paper and ink.  They are little islands of knowledge and adventure.

The authors we’ve never met, are like friends who have revealed the most intimate details of their lives to us.  We value those revelations.  Whenever crisis has crashed on my doorstep, I go to my library and find the books I know will soothe my aching wounds, and quell my quivering hands.  At those times, my books become a lifeline.

Favorite ShoesAlong the road of life I’ve met two women who gave up their libraries.  One of them I met a month after she had taken the drastic step as she moved across the country to attend grad school.  Why get rid of your books, I asked?  Why not just put them in storage?  I watched both women go through a grieving process as they spoke lovingly of one of their favorite books only to realize they were no longer the owner of said book.  It was painful.  I have no plans to get rid of my books.  My sister always talks about purging and downscaling.  I understand that perspective, but acknowledge that as long as I’m here on this green earth, there are certain things I want near me, and my books are pretty high up on the list (along with lots of favorite clothes).

FavoritesConsidering the great love affair we have with our books, the question remains, what do we do with them after we have passed.  If you make no provisions, your children will probably take what they want, invite others in the family to take what they want, then give the rest to Salvation Army.  Instead, you could will your books to a local library.  Depending on what’s in your collection, you could consider donating them to a university, perhaps your alma mater, a college or a local public library.  Of course if you think your children might be interested in the collection, you could stipulate that whatever they don’t want will go to the library.  You could also select different libraries for different parts of your collection – the history books, science books, and computer books to go to a college library while the trashy novels you love could go to a public library.

Favorite RecipesWhat will happen when they get to the library?  The Acquisitions Librarian will go through the books to determine if there is something that will fit within the scope of their collection policy.  All libraries have a collection policy that stipulates what types of books they will collect and what kinds they will not.  If there are books in the collection that the library doesn’t want, but they know of another library that collects that kind of material, they will pass it on to the appropriate library.  The remainder of the collection may be sold cheaply to their patrons, they might be sold to a used book store, or they may be sent overseas to fill the libraries of third world countries in desperate need of good books.  In one way or another, the books that have brought so much joy to our lives, will hopefully find their way into the hands of a new caretaker who will value them as much as we have.

Hurricane Sandy

Hurricane Sandy hit the New York coast on October 29th, 2012 as a Category 2 hurricane with 85 mile an hour winds and an a 14 foot storm surge.  The devastation to the city and its boroughs was immense.  Sandy was the second costliest storm in U.S. history, created the largest power outage on record and left 233 people dead in eight countries[i].  Americans are becoming all to familiar with these “super storms” and catastrophic events.  The weather, which used to be broadcast locally in evening newscasts, is now a regular part of the national news.  Almost every day the destruction and devastation from these weather-related events captures our national attention – hurricanes along the coasts, tornados in the mid-west, wildfires in the drought-stricken west, and floods everywhere.

One of the most enduring images of Hurricane Sandy comes from a news interview taken the day after the storm.  Anne Curry of NBC News accompanied Phyllis Puglia as she returned to her home on Staten Island for the first time.  We see Phyllis’ shocked disbelief as she see that her home is completely devastated.  In the next scene she walks along a board on the beach a mile from her home where she finds some of the items from her house.  The beach is now a pile of rubble with boards from houses, clothing, appliances, furniture, papers – everything that would be found in the modern American household, mixed up with reeds from the beach, sand, and other debris.  Phyllis stoops down and picks something up from this pile of rubbish.  It’s her mother’s wedding picture.  The 12 X 15 photograph is soiled, dirty and warped from the water.  “See my mother?” She says. She immediately expresses concern for her father.  “There has to be more with my father.”   Then like a child who is alone and desolate having just lost her parents, she cries out pitifully, “I want to go home.  But there’s no home.  I can’t go home.”

We are heartbroken for her.  Phyllis’ cry of despair touched many lives.  Who cannot empathize with the anguish of wanting to go home, but having lost that home forever?  Later she tells Anne Curry, “My mother was my best friend.” She said it was so important to find her picture because in all the devastation, to find something  meaningful she felt that she had gotten something back.

Like many others, I was deeply moved by Phyllis’ circumstance.  I thought, “If only I could have told her how to save her memories, she wouldn’t have lost them all.”  As a trained archivist who has worked in university libraries and museums I could have shown her how to preserve her memories so that when the hurricane hit, she wouldn’t have lost it all.  While a relatively small portion of the American public is losing everything to these catastrophic weather events, the rest of us sit by watching in horror and wonder if we will be next.  There are many reasons for getting your memories in order, losing everything in a super storm is the most compelling and dramatic.

To watch the newsclip of Phyllas Puglia go to

[i] Wikipedia 1/5/16

On Being an Archivist

I wanted to be a librarian for many years before becoming one.  I was inspired by an article in the Providence Public LibraryProvidence Sunday Magazine about the Providence Public Library.  I thought, “How cool would it be to walk into that building everyday to go to work?”  When I finally took the leap and went to grad school, I decided to become an archivist instead.  I love working with older documents.  One of the things I loved when I was new in this field and doing my internships is that when I stumbled upon a cool original document while processing collections, I would immediately tell my supervisors, people who have been working in the field for twenty years or more.

I thought they would be ho-hum about seeing another cool document by a famous person.  But, No, they weren’t.

They got just as charged up about it as I did.  They all said the same thing, “Let me see.” When I did an Beyond god the fatherinternship at the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, I had the honor of doing an initial survey on the papers of Mary Daly.  In her collection I found letters from Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, and Angela Davis, among others.  When I told my supervisor, Maida, she got excited and said, “Let me see.”  I thought she would have seen it all by then, having worked in Smith’s archive for over twenty years, but she was impressed and curious and had to see.  The women’s whose documents I found might not mean much to you, but I grew up listening to them, reading their words, and learning from them.  They’re like rock stars in my world.

Recently while working in another archive where I supervised a couple of student interns, one of Jacques Derridamy students found a signed letter by Jacques Derrida, the postmodern philosopher.  You would have thought he had won the lottery he was so excited.  He had read a number of Derrida’s books and considered him a hero.  A few days later when I was surveying another collection, I stumbled upon handwritten thank-you notes Fear of Flyingfrom Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. That’s what I love about working in the archives.  We get to see and feel the documents of people we love and admire, and more importantly, preserve them so a researcher in the future can experience the same thrill  of discovery.

What’s an Archivist?

Welcome to my blog.  I am about to launch a personal history archives business and thought it would be a good idea to begin sharing my ideas in this format.  I’ve been thinking about starting this business for several years and find that the time is finally right to get it going.  I’m in the process of writing a book that will teach people how to archive their memorabilia.  It occurs to me that most people have never entered an archive or looked through an archival box of materials, never mind knowing how to store materials for long-term preservation.

Mass Historical Society

The archives at the Massachusetts Historical Society contain many original materials such as letters, diaries, and deeds.

What’s an archivist you may ask.  We are similar to librarians and often work in libraries but our jobs are very different.  It’s like the difference between a nurse and a physical therapist.  We work in the same field but what we do specifically is very different.  The basic difference is that librarians care for books, and nowadays, increasingly, digital materials and resources.  The books and digital materials that librarians care for can be found in many libraries throughout the region, the country and even the world.  There are multiple copies of these things. 

Archivist on the other hand, work with one-of-a-kind materials.  We work with the documents produced by individuals and companies often in their daily activities.  Many things can be found in archives but what makes them similar, is that all the documents are one-of-a-kind and cannot be found anywhere else.  These include diaries, ships logs, correspondence, art work, and original drafts.

John Adams by David M

Adams’ letters, diaries, and deeds, archived at the MHS, were used to create this biography.

Think of it this way:  One of the most recent famous books on John Adams is David McCullough’s book of the same name.  This book can be found in numerous libraries and in people’s homes around the country.  You may have a copy on your library shelf.  The copy of David McCullough’s book housed at the Boston Public Library will be cared for by a librarian.  On the other hand, the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston, around the block from the BPL, has the original letters, diaries, deeds, bookkeeping records and other items belonging to John and Abigail Adams.  The archivists at the Mass Historical Society care for those documents. David McCullough used the documents in the Mass Historical Society to write his book, now found in many libraries.