October 18, 2017

New Archival Collections: How to Know What’s New at Your Favorite Repository

New archival collections at your favorite repository may be the long-awaited key to solving your family history mysteries! But how can you keep up with what’s new at archives and libraries? Professional archivist Melissa Barker shares her favorite tips.

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Not long ago, Lisa Louise Cooke read my article on what’s new at the Utah State Archives. She asked me how I keep up with new archival collections at my favorite repositories.

New Archival Collections May Be Just What We Need

Many of us can say that our ancestors were living in a certain area and their records should be located at certain local archives, libraries, or genealogical or historical societies. Maybe we have even done research there in the past, either by visiting the facility, contacting them by phone or email, or using their records online. Records, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts are constantly being discovered and made available in all of our wonderful archives. Many of these records may not make it to microfilm or online, but they are so rich with family information. (Don’t know where to look? Click here to learn how to find archives and libraries near your ancestor’s locale.)

But trying to keep up with all the new records that are being processed in archives, libraries, and genealogical societies can make your head spin! So how are genealogists supposed to stay current?

3 Ways to Keep Up with New Archival Collections

new archival collections uniforms1. Check the archives website. See if they have announced new records collections that are available for research (many archives do). The archives may even have a blog or newsletter that you can subscribe to, which will give you the latest news right at your fingertips. Not only will the archives announce new records that are available but they will even let their patrons know what has been recently donated to the archives and which records are currently being processed.

2. See if the archive has a social media presence. Archives like to post photos of new discoveries and records collections that are ready for the researcher. I know at the Houston County, TN. Archives I like to scan and post images of great documents or artifacts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Like the post pictured here that I shared recently.)

LISA’S TIP: Remember to use Google search terms to find your favorite archive’s website and social media homes! A quick search such as National Archives Pinterest might be faster than trying to find it on the actual social media site. That search brings up tempting boards for National Archives in both the US and the UK:

3. When visiting an archive, ask: “What’s new?” Talk to archivists about records collections that have recently been processed and made available for research. This is a great way to find more information and records about your ancestors. As an archivist who processes records on a daily basis that are not online or even microfilmed, I get excited about sharing what I find with the genealogy community.

Until next time, this is The Archive Lady, remember it’s not all online, so contact or visit an archive today!

Learn More about Using Archival Collections

Listen to me on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast! This year the podcast is celebrating its 10th-year anniversary. Tune in to hear more inspiring stories and tips to help your family history research. Listen on your computer or on your mobile device through the Genealogy Gems app. Click here to learn more.

 

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist

As an archivist working in a county archives every day, I get asked lots of questions about researching in archives and records preservation. Most questions come from my favorite people: genealogists! In celebration of Ask an Archivist Day, here are the top 5 questions I get asked as an archivist–and my answers.

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist

Today is “Ask an Archivist” day on Twitter, so Lisa asked me to share the top 5 questions I am asked all the time. Let’s jump right in!

Top 5 Questions I Get Asked as an Archivist

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Archivist Question #1: What kinds of records can I find in an archive?

This is a great question that I never get tired of answering! Every archive is different in what records they have in their collections. That is why it is very important for genealogists to contact the archive and ask them about the various records they have available. I can tell you that archives have records that are unique, not online and just waiting for the genealogist to discover them. You can find records like photographs, oral histories, scrapbooks, store ledgers, and so much more.

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Archivist Question #2: Why do I need to wear gloves when handling photographs?

When handling photographs, archivists almost always ask researchers to put on a pair of gloves. The reason for this is because the oils and dirt on our hands can transfer to photographs and will eventually damage the photographs. Wearing gloves ensures that damage will not occur but genealogists still get to enjoy holding original family photographs.

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Archivist Question #3: What is a finding aid?

A finding aid is the “road map” to a manuscript collection. The finding aid lists what is contained in the collection and is arranged in a folder-by-folder, box-by-box listing. When accessing manuscript collections at any archives, the finding aid will help the genealogist know what is in the collection.

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Archivist Question #4: Are there family histories in the archives?

Yes! Family histories are found in archives. Many of these family histories are in the form of family group sheets, compiled family histories, and even whole collections of family histories that have been donated to the archives. These family histories can be found in the vertical files collection or manuscript collections. When doing research at an archive, genealogists need to ask the archivist about family histories.

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Archivist Question #5: Why aren’t all records in the archives digitized and online?

This is a question that I get all the time by genealogists who can’t travel to the archives but want to see the records. I wish all the records in all archives could be magically digitized and put online but the truth is that it takes money, equipment, and staff hours to digitize the vast amounts of records that are in all of our archives. While there are more and more records coming online every day, there are still records that may never be online and will need to be accessed at the archives.

The archive lady Melissa BarkerLearn More from The Archive Lady

Jennifer recently wrote in with a question about how to archive family history documents. My answer in this blog post will help you care for your precious possessions, too. Then, listen to the Genealogy Gems Podcast to hear more from me, The Archive Lady!

Is an Archive Really What You Think It Is?

A lot of the best information about our ancestors’ lives is buried in an archive–NOT indexed online! Melissa Barker explains what an archive is and how to find one that might reveal secrets from your family history.

International Archives Day is Friday, June 9! Genealogy Gems contributing archivist Melissa Barker tells us what an archive IS and how to find one.

Recently, I was asked “What is an archive?” I was a bit surprised by this question since it came from a genealogist. I thought all genealogists knew about archives!

What exactly is an archive?

An archive is defined by the Society of American Archivists as: An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations. The “organization” they are talking about could be any organization. It doesn’t have to be only a county archive, such as the Houston County, Tennessee Archive, or a state archives, like the California State Library and Archives. Archives include:

  • A historical society that collects and preserves local records is also considered an archive.
  • A genealogical society that accepts donations of family records is an archive.
  • A museum that has exhibits and displays may also have records collections and would be considered an archive.
  • Local public libraries that have genealogy rooms with records in them are archives.

The term “archive” is not solely used to represent a county or state archive. Any organization that accepts, collects and preserves historical and genealogical documents, records, memorabilia and artifacts is considered an archive, even if they don’t have the word “archive” in their title.

There are many different kinds of archives that can be accessed by genealogists. I always say, “There is an archive for everything.” Just because the building doesn’t have the word “archive” on it, don’t discount the fact that there is a “place” where there are historical and genealogical records being preserved or at the very least stored.

Tips for finding and visiting archives

The next time you are doing research on your ancestor in the area where they lived…

Ask around: There is always someone in the local area that knows the local history and knows many of the local families and most importantly; these people usually know where to find the records! This person may even be able to tell you about the family you are researching.

Ask around in the community, call the local library or the local Chamber of Commerce and ask, “Who is the local historian, who is the one knows about the families and history of the area?” I guarantee that you will be given a name. Ask where the records are stored or archived. Contact the local historical and/or genealogical society.

Be prepared to get dusty: There have been many times when I had arrived at the place where I was told the records were located. I was then shown a closet, the attic or basement and I was left to my own research devices to go through boxes and shelves of records. You have to ask the questions and you may even have to do some sleuthing in the local areas your researching in to locate the records.

Don’t leave any stone unturned. The records you are looking for could be sitting in boxes, archived or not, just waiting for you to find them. Remember: It’s not all online, contact or visit and archive today!

The Archive Lady, Melissa Barker shares a short archiving segment in the Genealogy Gems Premium Podcast, available to Genealogy Gems Premium website members. Premium website members have access to the entire Premium Podcast archive of more than 200 episodes AND more than two dozen video classes by internationally-known genealogy educator Lisa Louise Cooke. Genealogy Gems Premium Membership offers so many fun and innovative ways to do genealogy! Click here and start enjoying it today.