Disaster Preparedness



We live in an age when watching our fellow Americans suffer catastrophic loss is an almost daily occurrence. From the wildfires in California, the tornadoes in the mid-west, hurricanes along the eastern seaboard and the gulf coast, floods everywhere, and unprecedented snowfalls, the evening news is a parade of images of people suffering the loss of everything to these disastrous events.

When faced with such tragedies people’s first concern is that their loved ones, including their pets, are safe and accounted for.

Their second concern is not for their houses, their cars or their clothing. Once victims have determined that everyone made it out alive, their next thought is to their memories. If they realize they’ve lost everything, it’s absolutely heart-wrenching to watch their Hurricaneshock and grief.

We all know that we could be the next victims of Mother Nature.

The work to secure our family archive can be extensive and arduous, and yet, faced with the uncertainty of our age and the global crisis we face, we and our future forbears will be very grateful that all was not loss in the natural disaster your family faced during the Age of Global Warming. Whether you believe the root cause of the changes in our atmosphere is a result of earth’s natural cycles, or you think it’s based on an overload of methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide being pumped into the air through human activity, it isn’t going to make a whole lot of difference when your standing in the shell of the building you once called home with not one picture of your grandparents left anywhere.

Houses FireThe disaster doesn’t need to be global or far-reaching for everything to be lost. A fire in your home, a burst pipe flooding your basement, a natural gas explosion in your neighborhood, a tree falling in your yard, a roof collapsing from too much snow, the boiler dying in the middle of winter, or a leaky roof are allBurst Water Pipe

personal tragedies that can be just as devastating to our memorabilia as a county-wide disaster.

Beyond a digitization project, you probably have family heirlooms and collectibles that you will want to make sure survive a disaster. I’m not sure everything can be saved, but we should do our best to save as much as we can for as long as we can. Some weather events like hurricane provide us with days of preparation, while others are sudden and unpredictable like earthquakes, tornados and wildfires. In the event of an emergency we Wildfiremay be lucky to get out with our lives, in which case all our material objects, including our archives, becomes secondary. However, when prioritizing our tasks in the event of an impending disaster, knowing what to do before we are panic-stricken, will help to calm our nerves and focus our attention on what we CAN do in the moment.




Storytelling is an integral part of the human experience. The earliest tales have been passed down through folklore and legends from generation to generation in oral traditions among non-literate peoples. Images of early humans sharing stories around a campfire remind us of the antiquity of storytelling. Going on a dangerous hunt is one activity, but sharing the story of the hunt afterward is another important activity that fosters group cohesion.

Cultural norms and expectations are passed down through storytelling.

In modern society children’s books form an essential part of early learning. Reading bedtime stories to our children brings back fond memories of the innocence of Peter Rabbitchildhood. Parents relish in sharing a favorite tale while children are comforted by the assurance of a parent’s attention. Novels, children’s books, movies, sit-coms, and film are billion-dollar industries. Can we imagine life without storytelling in this form? How much of our time is invested in reading or watching stories come alive in books or movies?

At its core, storytelling is healing.

Storytelling forms the foundation of twelve-step programs and therapy groups. As we speak our truth, we heal our soul. As listeners of story, we learn we are not alone. Sitting AA Meetingby ourselves reading a book, we identify with the main protagonist. The character experiences something we have experienced, an awkward romantic moment, an embarrassing job interview, a shameful mistake, or a devastating break-up and we suddenly don’t feel alone.

In college I wrote a report on the Art of Storytelling in the Odyssey. In it I analyzed all the ways and circumstances that storytelling occurred in the epic novel.

What struck me about the tale was that 2500 years later we continue to read the Odyssey. Why? Because the human drama expressed in the story is something we can still relate to.

Even though the technology is different, some of the social customs are different, the styles are different, the marriage laws, and spiritual beliefs are different, we can still be moved by a father and husband who yearns to return home after war, a son in search of his lost father, and a wife who holds onto the belief that her husband will return to her; that if he were dead she would know it in the core of her being.The Odyssey

I watch genealogy shows that trace the backgrounds of the famous and the not-so-famous. I love to see how much information can be gleaned from the hard facts of the historical record. It’s interesting to see how as the story of their forebears is revealed, people are touched, moved, proud, elated, or devastated to learn what happened. Why are we so connected to these people we’ve never met? One could speculate for hours why, but the point is that we are. It’s meaningful to us that our Irish relatives suffered in the Great Famine, or our American forebears were killed in the Civil War, or that our ancestors were slaves, or pirates, or circus acrobats, or business tycoons. Each genealogy episode is a micro-history. We learn about societal history by learning about the details of an individual life. Sometimes these stories line up with the historical narrative we’ve all been taught. Sometimes the real circumstances are very different from what we’ve been taught and we see an historical era with new eyes.

When witnessing the lives of people’s ancestors, seeing the hardships they suffered, and the tragedies they overcame,

it’s disheartening to think that their lives may have been lost in the annals of history forever without another living soul knowing who they were, what they suffered, what they overcame, or even that they existed.

Maybe the world doesn’t need to know who they were, but it’s sad that their family To Our Children's Childrendoesn’t either. In doing my family’s genealogy and learning about the lives and hardships of my ancestors, I was deeply moved to learn their stories and to know what they went through. Like those on the genealogy shows, we find connections from their lives to ours that are important and relevant to who we are as individuals and families today. Many of the family values passed down to us originate in an ancestor’s story. The value is retained while the story and the ancestor is lost.

Remember you are someone’s ancestor.

What happened to you in your life, what happened to your mother or father, aunt or uncle, sister or brother, or even your child, will be important to someone who’s not even born yet. You have the opportunity to tell the story of your family. There are a variety of ways of doing this. Depending on your skill level, your confidence level, the amount of time you can devote, and you desire and interest, you may want to write a memoir, create a memory book, do an oral history, create a Family Facebook page, or blog. Whatever method you choose, just do it.


The Digital Afterlife





Most people plan for their ultimate demise. Many lawyers who setup up wills, trusts and estates today include digital legacy items as well. But, many do not, and if they do, their list may not be complete.

If you set your will up many years ago, it might not include your digital legacy.

Think for a moment of your digital footprint. Do you use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest? Do you store your photographs on Flickr or other photo service sites? What online services have you setup accounts with? What service do you use for email? Do Pinterestyou have storage with that company as well? What retail stores do you have accounts with? Did you use a service ten years ago that still has your data sitting on their server? If and when will the company destroy your content? These are the things that need to be considered

The digital afterlife for our parents or grandparents was much smaller than it will be for us. Before the internet the digital afterlife was comprised of perhaps a computer and some kind of backup device – perhaps a CD or tape backup. However it was stored, digital content was tangible in that it was stored on a device and was considered the same as all other tangible property when a decedent’s estate was being settled. With the internet, social media and cloud-based services, all that has changed. Now our digital footprint is in many places. Our information is stored on computers systems all over the world that are owned by the Yahoo logoservice, not by us. Each service has different rules of how, when and if content can be accessed by an heir. Our digital footprint can be so vast that we may not be aware how far it extends. Preparing our digital inheritance is another piece in the puzzle that must be in place for all our affairs to be in order. There are some basic things that need to be considered and things to think about and plan for.



The first step in getting our digital assets in order is to identify where they are located. The biggest issue of digital inheritance is often awareness, not legality.

If our heirs don’t know what we have, where we have been on the internet, what accounts we have established, or what services we use, they cannot do anything about it. Additionally, if they lack user names and passwords, they may have trouble accessing the sites. Many companies will allow heirs to close accounts, others do not. Most of us never think about what will happen to our accounts after our demise, but without a plan in place our heirs will be faced with the challenge of figuring it out. They will be forced to piece together each bit of the digital legacy of their relatives after they have passed on. We owe it to our children to get our things in order to make this job as simple and seamless as possible. Remember, in addition to needing to deal with our digital legacy, they will also be dealing with our material items at the same time – houses, clothing, furniture, tools, toys, etc.


Born Digital vs. Digitized

Digitial Pic

Born Digital


The term “born digital” refers to documents, photographs, audio files, video files and other items that begin life in digital format.

Analog pic





Archivists make a distinction between digital archiving – which is the preservation of born digital information and digital preservation, which is the preservation of print materials through digitization

If we digitize our entire collection, our born digital and born analog items will ultimately end up in the same place on our hard drives and in our backup storage drives. Our future forbears might have a hard time distinguishing between born digital and digitized documents. A digitized handwritten document will be obviously digitized, but Flatbed scanner croppedphotographs and other materials might be harder to tell apart. Ultimately, our challenge is to organize, store and making available digital documents for periods longer than a human lifetime. When thinking of long-term digital preservation we need consider the different components that comprise digital access.

The first item we must consider is Preservation of the Medium – What are the life spans of different mediums? How long will a CD, DVD, hard drive, thumb drive, or computer last? CDs are determined to not last reliably more than 15-20 years. If air gets through the plastic coating the metal reflective layer corrodes. Gold CDs could possibly last up to External Hard drive cropped100 years. As of today, this hasn’t been tested because they were developed less than 100 years ago. Magnetic tapes have a lifespan of thirty years at best. Flash drives no more than ten years or up to 100,000 erase-re-write cycles. Hard Drives are determined to last no longer than 3-5 years while in active use and possibly up to thirty years in an archival setting. It’s difficult to know how long most mediums will last because the technology is new and hasn’t been tested yet.

Our second consideration is Technology Preservation – this refers primarily to the software programs that allow digital information to be read. As software is upgraded and changed, our digital documents must be refreshed, migrated, copied, upgraded, or imported into the new technology, otherwise they won’t work. This can be the most Iphoto Logochallenging aspect of digital preservation. However, certain file formats provide better options for long-term storage. Programming languages are unlikely to disappear and can be used as alternative mechanisms for long-term preservation.

The third consideration is Intellectual Preservation – this refers to keeping the integrity and authenticity of the information as it is originally recorded. This is particularly true of photographs and video. Digital photographs and media can be copied quickly and easily. We assume that they are being copied exactly, but just as copying is easy and simple, undetectable changes may also be made that over time that will alter the integrity of the original. Eventually we don’t know if we are looking at an original or a copy, or whether the dress was bright red in the original, or deep red?

Our goal as family archivists is to keep things unaltered in perpetuity.

Saving Metal Objects



Metals appear to be durable and lasting but like everything else in our collection they will deteriorate, rust, green, and discolor over time. Comparing a bronze statue or a silver teapot to a photograph, 18th century letter or a Victorian handkerchief, it’s easy to see the metal piece as the strongest and the most durable. This may be true, but metals erode and will eventually turn to dust like everything else, it just might take a little bit longer. In the meantime, we want to do all we can to ensure their longest life and to protect them from the ravages of age. In truth, the metals in our collection may be the most valuable in terms of resale cost.

Metals begin their natural life as rock-like ores that are mined. The raw stock of metal ores is smelted into compounds, or alloys, through various processes. Working at high IMG_1530temperatures, artists and craftsmen shape and mold metals into artworks and objects that are both practical and aesthetic. Most metals found in our homes are alloys, which mean they are a mixture of several metals.

Almost immediately after artists have completed their work, metals begin to revert back to their natural state through a process called corrosion, oxidation, or rust.

As with other parts of our collection, environment plays a key role in lengthening the life of metal objects. The optimum environment for metals can be challenging for most homeowners. In the case of metals, humidity is the greatest enemy followed by interior pollution. Most of us our aware that moisture is extremely damaging to metals. Metals will corrode on contact with water. Relative humidity should remain between 40% and 45% with 50% being the extreme maximum. If your metal objects are already showing evidence of deterioration, keep them in an environment with 35% humidity until a conservator can look at it and advise how to care for it. Early signs of corrosion may img_0688.jpgshow up as watery or powdery areas on the object.

Temperature in and of itself does not affect metals. Temperature is important only in its relationship to relative humidity. Temperature stability is very important. A sudden drop in temperature can cause condensation in a small, enclosed area. Metal contracts and expands with increases and decreases in temperature, which will also stress an object and accelerate deterioration.

The hidden culprit that damages metals is indoor pollutants, including dust.

Most people are aware of air pollution outside our homes caused by automobiles and industrial waste, but they are unaware of how many pollutants within our homes can be damaging to our collection, especially metal which is highly sensitive to moisture, different gasses, acids, and alkali.   Dyed fabrics, wooden cabinets, plastics, glues, and products with formaldehyde can all emit harmful gasses, corrosive acids and damaging alkalis that will accelerate the deterioration of different metals. Cigarette smoke causes silver and copper alloys to discolor or corrode. Rubber products can off-gas pollutants causing discoloration. Salts, oils, acids and other chemicals damage metals. Even certain aggressive metal polishes can accelerate deterioration. Mishandling objects causing breakage or scratching can create sensitive areas subject to quicker corrosion. If possible, keep metal objects covered and free from dust. Hutches with glass doors or glass frames for smaller objects provide a great place to display beautiful family heirlooms while

One of the best ways to stop the deterioration of metal objects is to examine them. Take IMG_0760your grandmother’s silver tea set out of the closet every now and take a look at it. Examine your mother’s pewter candelabra. Check the backside of your uncle’s bronze star. Don’t forget that gold piece of your great grandmother’s. Look for tarnishing, rust, discoloration, and flaking. Remedy the situation before it becomes too extreme. Prevention is much less costly than repairing a damaged object. You don’t want to open the drawer containing your ancestor’s Civil War Campaign medal to find it has crumbled back to its original ore state looking simply like a pile of dirt.


If you have archaeological or ethnographic objects in your care, please contact a museum or professional conservator or an archaeologist. The care of ancient artifacts is specialized and needs different procedures than is used for more modern objects.

Caring for Textiles



The environment is almost always the main reason for decay in textiles. As with other parts of our collection the main culprits are light, temperature and humidity. For textiles pests are a particular problem. Chemicals and pollutants can also damage textiles and accelerate their decay.

Light Fading caused by ultra violet radiation from sunlight or florescent lights can occur quickly and is permanent. UV light will also cause fibers to become brittle increasing the risk of tears or holes. Dyes fade when exposed to light. The only thing that will prevent light damage is total darkness. That may be practicable for the wedding dress stored in a box in your closet, but not so practical for your grandmother’s quilt hanging on the wall of the family room. There are some measures that can be taken to lessen the damage, if not to eliminate it completely.

Temperature and Relative Humidity Textile fibers expand and contract as the humidity in the environment increases and decreases. Daily changes in the chemical make-up of fabric will speed its deterioration. Too low humidity can also be a problem for textiles leading to brittleness and fragility. Humidity level should not go below 30%.

Mold and Mildew High temperatures and high relative humidity pose special problems for fabrics and textiles. Mold and mildew are both fungi which thrive in wet, humid IMG_3172places. Mold and mildew usually appear as dark blue or black in color and can stain textile materials. Staining can sometimes be removed if it is caught early enough. Often the damage is irreparable. Mold will eat into fabric causing irreversible holes and tears. If you find active mold growth on a textile object the first thing to do is dry it out and put it in an area that has relative humidity below 65%. According to the National Archives, mold cannot grow in environments with relative humidity below 65%.

Pests – Clothing moths, carpet beetles, silverfish, firebrats and rodents can all wreak havoc with the natural fibers found in our delicate textiles. Be on the lookout for spiders, too. Spiders won’t eat textiles, but may be a sign that other insects are present.   High temperatures and high humidity increase the likelihood of having problems from pests. Stated another way, keeping temperatures and humidity low will reduce the risk of pests. Even in cool, dry environments pests can accumulate, which is why periodic inspection of textiles is essential. Silks and wool made from animals that are high in protein are attractive to clothes moths and carpet beetles. Silverfish and firebrats will eat starches and sugars applied to fabrics and tend toward cotton and linen materials. Collectors who regularly purchase textiles from outside vendors, antique stores will want to take certain measures when bringing new items into the collection. Keep in mind that pests will also be attracted to fur, feathers, hair, and horn that may be attached to or part of a garment.

Air Pollution – Dirt and dust within our homes and chemical pollutants outside our IMG_1953homes can contribute to the deterioration of fragile textiles. Sulfur dioxides from automobiles and industrial waste can affect some dyes. Dirt can become embedded in fibers especially with humidity fluctuations, and can stain fabrics. Dirt can also be gritty and razor sharp on a microscopic level, tearing into fibers and weakening them. Harsh cleaning solutions within our homes can also damage delicate fabrics. Never use ammonia or turpentine in the vicinity of fragile textiles.

Inherent Vice The term inherent vice means that the object can be destroyed by the materials that were used in the manufacturing process or in the construction of the object. In other words, instead of being destroyed by things outside the object, the properties of the object itself can cause destruction. For example, in the 19th century, metallic salts were added to silk during the manufacturing process to make it heavier and stiff. Called “weighted” silk, this material is vulnerable to cracking and eventually turns to powder. Light exposure increases the damage, which is irreversible. Weighted silk can be found in clothing, but also in Victorian “crazy” quilts. Black and brown dyes that used iron as a fixative in the past can rust and rot staining fabric or leaving holes. Often pre-20th century dyes were not properly fixed. These dyes can change color or bleed into surrounding fibers especially when exposed to light or high heat and humidity. Even the slightest dampness can cause bleeding making it nearly impossible to clean such items.   Because inherent vice is part of the fabric or the object, little can be done to eliminate the damage. The best we can do is to try to slow deterioration.IMG_3170


If you have questions about the textiles in your care, contact a preservationist. One of the best local resources is NEDCC https://www.nedcc.org/

Preserving Paper

Eugene Baby


The material used in the paper-making process determines the stability and lifespan of the product and is the most important thing to consider as a preservationist or family archivist.

Some materials are very stable and will remain intact for centuries. Other materials deteriorate quickly and need to be replaced as soon as possible. Early paper production used linen, cotton and hemp. These materials are relatively stable and durable and will last a long time. As paper production increased during the 19th century, a shortage of
img011-1990-Andrade (Harkness) Casey-Sportslinen, cotton and hemp occurred which caused papermakers to look for raw materials that were cheaper and easier to work with. In the 1840s groundwood pulp began to be used. This is a form of wood that has not been cooked or chemically treated, and has a high lignin content and is very acidic.[1]

Acid is the single most common cause for the accelerated rate of deterioration in paper.

Most commonly, newspapers use this cheap form of paper, which is why they yellow and brown more quickly than other types of paper. When acid is exposed to light, heat and humidity, it yellows and browns and weakens the paper causing it to become brittle and to break off. Paper made with inferior materials are said to have “inherent vice.” The term inherent vice refers to deterioration that is caused as a result of the materials that make an item, in this case paper, as opposed to outside influences that cause paper to deteriorate such as high humidity, water, or light.[2] The “vice” is inherent in (inside) the product.

Sizing materials used in the manufacturing process are another source that causes poor paper quality. In particular alum-rosin sizing agent, which began to be used in the United States in the 1850s, needs an acidic environment to be produced. Alum-rosin leaves a sulfuric acid by-product that causes brittle paper that browns and deteriorates quickly. Later in the century, in the 1870s, a machine process for making alum-rosin sizing resulted in even higher acidic content further accelerating “brittle book syndrome.”


As early as 1898 the Committee on the Deterioration of Paper in London was formed as a result of librarians’ concern over the deterioration of books in their charge.

IMG_1535By the 1930s it was well known that acid was at the root of the problem causing brittle, browned and yellowed books in large library collections. At this time the search for “permanent paper” began.   Permanent paper as defined by preservationists is: “Paper which during long term storage in libraries, archives and other protected environments will undergo little or no change in properties that affect use.”[3] Not until 1984 was the first ANSI standard for permanent paper issued.

Today the cheap copy/printing paper we use in our printers and copy machines passes ANSI standards.

Librarians and archivists routinely copy old deteriorating paper onto the current acid-free paper. As an archivist I have spent many an hour at the copy machine doing just this. As a family historian, you may do the same.

Acid free paper has a PH of 7 or higher.  Acid free paper made with alpha cellulose stock will have little or no lignin.

Buffered paper has an alkaline reserve, or buffering agent added druing production to lower the PH level.  Calcium carbonate or magnesium carbonate are the most common buffering agents.


[1] http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/groundwood-pulp 2-2-16
[2] https://preservationhistory.wikispaces.com/Brittle+Paper 2-2-16
[3] https://preservationhistory.wikispaces.com/Brittle+Paper 2-2-16

Archiving Photographs


The single most important thing you can do for you photographs is store them in a good environment.

Current ANSI/ISO[1] standards state that temperatures should not exceed 65° for prints. Humidity levels should be 30% to 50% for black and white photographs and 30% to 40% for color prints. IMG_4136If you keep all your processed photographs in one place, the temperature should not exceed 65° and the humidity level should be between 30% to 40%.Jerry & Rose Lafond

Film has greater requirements. Acetate film can last about fifty years at room temperature with moderate relative humidity (RH). After that, film will begin to seriously degrade. Those negatives and reel to reels that were created in your lifetime might still be in good condition, but they will not last into the future unless you take corrective measures today.

The best thing to do with reel-to-reel films that are in good condition is to digitize them as soon as possible. Once they are digitized the original is less important. At this point in time, a DVD will provide greater life storage than an old, already deteriorating film. The International Association of Sound and Audiovisual Archives (IASA) universally accepted by the end of the 20th century that preservation by digitization was the preferred storage mechanism in archives for audiovisual materials.

IMG_2210The standard for black and white films is that they should not be stored in a place where the temperature will exceed 70°. That makes them easy to store with your photographs, but the humidity level needs to be lower, between 20% to 30%. Color film has even higher standards with a maximum temperature of 70° with 20% to 30% relative humidity.

This probably sounds confusing so let me break it down for you. If you have a place in your home where a temperature of 65° and a relative humidity of 30% to 40% can be maintained, your photographs can be stored there. If you have one or two films that you need to store, have them digitized and store them along with the photographs. Digitized film does not need to be kept. Slides inside cropped


[1] AmericanNational Standards Institute

What is a Family Archive

Ma Birth _ Baptism

Everything we own or use does not belong in a family archive.

In the archives profession we try to identify items that have enduring value. A family archive should retain records that show documentary evidence of a person’s life.

Collectively this forms the family history.   I cannot say fully what would have enduring value in your family. To some extent the matter is very personal. But there are certain things that are typically more important than others and are worth saving.

Legal Documents – certificates of birth, death, marriage, passports, immigration papers, military records, lawsuits, divorce decrees, wills, etc. Legal documents reveal a great deal about people, sometimes in ways we don’t always think. Typically all legal documents should be retained.

Financial Value – stocks, bonds, deeds, purchase and sales agreements, loans, appraisals for jewelry, antiques or equipment, family heirlooms such as jewelry, silver, watches, artwork. Keep items that show evidence of value that are still active. Many people are very private about how much money they earn, but saving some of this information First Sales Agreement p1might be revealing to future generations.

Functional – documents used to accomplish a specific task. Blueprints, architectural drawings, maps, navigational records, scientific and observational documents, business plans, cookbooks, dress patterns, knitting patterns. If they were created by a family member or show evidence of something that was important in their lives, you may want to save it.

Show proof that an event occurred – legal documents will do this, but other events not legal in nature will be recorded through graduation diplomas, religious rites of passage such as first communion or bar mitzvah, greetings cards for birthdays, sympathy cards, thank-you notes, awards or certifications for hobbies or sports, course completions or professional training certificates. I’m an avid concert go-er and save tickets of the different concerts I’ve attended. Photographs are the most explicit way we document that an event occurred. Photographs of family reunions, travel abroad, annual holidays, or baby’s first tooth are all events we may find important to save and archive.

Some discrimination will be needed in this category of showing proof that an event occurred.

Ask yourself, does this item have enduring value? Does it show evidence of a person’s life? Is the event significant enough to keep evidence of it?

In other words, do we need to keep every photograph from every holiday? It’s probably not necessary to save every Christmas card you’ve ever received, but you might want to Mom,Dad,Marriage Certsave all the sympathy cards you received when your father died. Think of what would be of interest to your future forebear.

Sentimental – This is a tough category because, depending on how sentimental you are, everything could potentially be saved. Some things have higher sentimental value than others.

You probably don’t want to save the McDonald’s uniform you wore in high school, but you may want to save the baseball cap you wore if that was a big part of your high school experience.

If you played baseball one season and weren’t very good at it and didn’t like it, keeping the cap doesn’t really provide evidence of who you were and what was important to you. Many people save wedding dresses and christening gowns that are passed down to future generations. My family saved the fiddle my mother’s Uncle Freddy played to entertain the family. He died many years before I was born, but I will keep the fiddle and include the stories my mother shared about his wild life.

Recording the Inner Life – many people spend hours carefully creating records of their own thoughts, telling their own stories, or recording the lives of other family members. These documents include journals, scrapbooks, photograph albums, blogposts, videos, emails, letters, memoirs, oral histories, books, especially those that are signed by the Lillian Frenier 4-22-1907author or contain margin notes by the owner. We’ll want to save these documents since the owner took such care in creating them.

Social Interactions – most people have belonged to at least one social organization in their lifetime whether it’s the Boy Scouts as a child, or a quilt group as an adult. Some of these social institutions form a big part of our identity and our personal history. In many cases families participate in a social organization as a group. This is particularly true of many religious institutions. We may have in our possession minutes of meetings, programs of events, membership rosters. Sports organizations also fall into this category, as would recreational activities such as boating, hiking, skiing, golfing, or bicycling. Evidence of political activity such as pins, banners, financial contributions, speeches, campaign activities may have enduring value. It’s not necessary to save everything from every organization we ever attended. We may not want to save any of it. But, if we’ve received special recognition or if it formed a big part of our personality, we may want to save a few treasured items. My Stearns, Donna Quilt Competitionsister belonged to a quilt group for over twenty years. She received recognition for some of her quilts, gave presentations, and participated in the group’s annual events. Retaining some evidence of her participation in this group will show future generations what was important to her, provide evidence of her values, and document how others perceived her and her handicraft.


Donating to an Archive


It always interests me how people react when I tell them that I have a business that teaches people how to create a family archive. A while ago I was working in the stacks with an archivist who was visiting to look at some of the materials in our collection. When I told him about my business his immediate thought was that people would want to give their things away and donate them to an archive. He’s usually at the receiving end of that equation and I could see he was concerned that people would throw things away before they made it to an archive where the archivist could preen over it, and it could be preserved into perpetuity.

I explained that teaching people how to dispose of their materials wasn’t my main intention. My focus is to teach them how to keep and preserve their items.

But, when I thought about it, I saw he was right. Many people don’t want to keep everything, yet they don’t know what to do with it. You may also feel that your house is not the best place for some of the precious historical items that have been handed down IMG_2020to you. This is exactly the reason many people donate materials to a trusted archive that is better equipped to ensure the article’s long-term survival.

If you don’t want to keep everything, or

think you have something of significant historical value, the best thing to do is to contact your local historical society.

I suggest you call the place that you are most familiar with, or the one that is closest to you. If they don’t want your items, they may be able to tell you who will. Make sure the archive you contact is a bona fide repository with real archivists working there. In my area there are small town historical societies that are run by interested volunteers who might not know any more about what to do with the materials than you do. The Staff section of the archives’ website should let you know if there is a qualified person on staff.

Most archives also list on their websites a Mission Statement, and maybe even a Collection Policy. Look under the About section for this information.

The Mission Statement or the Collection Policy will give you an idea of whether or not that archive collects the type of materials you have.

IMG_2014If you own a 19th century doll collection, you might want to give it to an archive that specializes in 19th century dolls. It doesn’t have to go to a place that is that specific, but housing your materials in a place with other like materials will raise the chances that it will be seen by patrons. If you are unsure about where the best place for your materials would be, or don’t want to do the research, make the initial phone call to the archivist. They will set you on the right track. They may know off the top of their heads where they best place for your materials will be.

The next question is should you give it away or should you sell it to the archive?

You could give it away. Many people do. Matter-of-fact, most people do. It depends what it is. If you have an expensive silver tea set that was your great-grandmothers and you have no one to leave it to, and you think a local archive might be interested in it, by all means have it priced by a reputable dealer then approach the archive. Archives will absolutely pay for something if it is of value. But if it something of less value, or very little value on the open market, consider donating it. Archives tend to work on very limited budgets and often they won’t take something unless it’s donated.



Photo Credits:  All Photographs taken by author from the American Textile History Museum