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Sunday, October 09, 2016

Archiving: Overcoming emotions with working with Dad's files

Ol' Myrt here has to thank "The Archive Lady" Melissa LeMaster Barker for her "31 Days of Tips from The Archive Lady" series posted on her blog A Genealogist in the Archives. This work prompted the following Facebook conversation:

 Myrt to Melissa: 
Thank you for posting your "archivist" series here in The Organized Genealogist Facebook Group, Melissa. Because of your kind, self-effacing nature, it took a little arm twisting, but I don't want members of TOG to miss a single point.

Pulling together and organizing our records is a challenge.

I'm wondering if I can begin to tackle my Dad's six old banker boxes of genealogy. I've been "through" them, but cataloging and scanning has seemed too tender a task to undertake since his passing. 

There *has* to be a way to focus on the methodology of organizing that will help tender-hearted folks like me.

I do have some questions:

1. Is there a standard form for creating an "official" Finding Aid?

2. Do archivists spend time rearranging pages within a six bankers box collection comprising 5-6 running feet of shelf space?

In my case, *most* of Dad's high school reunion pictures, programs and letters received from classmates are in one large bankers box, and will be moved to about six archival safe Hullinger boxes. (He was reunion chair for decades.)

*Additional* papers relating to my father's class reunion work are found in clumps here and there among the other old banker boxes.

Writing this just now has CLARIFIED my thinking. I plan to donate the class reunion papers to an archives in Seattle, so of necessity I *will* need to rearrange papers

This separation of class reunion papers and photos from personal family documents and photos is necessary.

3. How on *earth* would an archivist have time to do this type of sorting in a collection of this size?

IMAGE: Courtesy of
4. Will it aid in faster processing at a Seattle area archives if I do attempt to create a Finding Aid for each Hollinger box?

5. Is there an online guide for creating a Finding Aid? I am unsure how detailed one should be.

On a personal note, I think focusing on this high school reunion collection is a good place for me to start tackling Dad's bankers boxes. While I'll see his handiwork, much of this portion of his collection includes photos and letters of his former classmates.

I'm hoping once I get on a roll creating Finding Aids it will be easier to tackle the personal "stuff." A more clinical approach is required.

After all, I don't want my tears to stain my dad's old paperwork.
Melissa to Myrt: (used with permission.)

I know how hard it can be to open those boxes of our loved ones past but we also know that it has to be done. I suggest doing it in steps and do what you can and if it gets to be too much emotionally, walk away. Come back when you can and start again.

Let’s address the questions you have posed:

1 and 2: Here is an article from the Society of American Archivist which includes a sample Finding Aid that will show any genealogist how to do one for themselves with their own collections:
 When a “raw” collection of records is donated to the archives, the very first thing an archivists does is note the “original order” of the collection. This takes into consideration how the record and items have been boxed, in what order are they placed in file folders, 3-ring binders, etc. Original order is very important to us and we try very hard to keep the collections in original order. Now, if there seems to be no order to the collection, the archivist will impose an order that makes sense and one that is user friendly to the researcher. So, your Father’s collection, if there is no particular order you can impose your own order. You can put records of the same subject together and then organize by date.

3. You asked about how archivists have time to process a collection the size of yours. What genealogists don’t know is that it can take an archivist about 6 months to process a collection the size of 6 banker’s boxes or even longer depending on what other task they have to do in the archives including helping patrons that visit our facilities. Processing a records collection takes a lot of time but it is all worth it when a researcher finds what they are looking for.

4. If you are donating any records to a repository do not take the time to organize the collection or make a finding aid. This may seem like it will be a help but to be honest the archivist will take the collection and impose their own organization and finding aid guidelines to it.

One thing to keep in mind, archivist will first organize the collection and even get it to it’s final stages of everything in files and boxes that are labeled and then they produce the finding aid. The Finding Aid is actually the last thing that is made for a collection. The processing and organization of the collection comes first.

If you have any other questions, please ask. I love being and archivist and I love sharing my craft with genealogists and teaching them how to be a “Home Archivist”.
From Lisa Hork Gorrell to Melissa and Ol' Myrt: (used with permission.)
This is very timely, as I have been given the task to create a Finding Aid for all of our collections at the historical society. I have been using examples from archives found at Online Archive of California.
OK, Ol' Myrt here is committed to pulling all of her father-dad's high school class reunion "stuff" in preparation for sending to an archives in Seattle. I cannot help but think I should scan and blog about everything I encounter. That would also "get the word out" to descendants of Dad's classmates.

The image at the top of this post is of our father Glen S. Player in his earliest year as a student of Queen Anne High School, up on Queen Anne Hill near the water tower, in Seattle, Washington. It has been converted into condominiums. The following is a picture I took of him during a visit in 2001. He died seven years later, but at this time could still walk, though somewhat haltingly from time to time.

Happy family tree climbing!
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