We genealogists often accumulate a lot of family “stuff:” original documents, old photographs and heirlooms. Though it’s wonderful to own them, it can be a serious challenge to keep them organized and documented.
Sunny’s 6 Tips for Organizing Your Genealogical Items
1. Take stock of what you’ve got. Gather together all the original documents or photos, or take pictures of all your heirlooms, then review the entire collection at the same time.
2. Get rid of duplicates and stuff that doesn’t matter so much. You probably don’t really need all 10 of grandma’s quilts or those hundreds of scenic photographs from old family vacations. Rethink the 12-piece setting of china you’ll never use and grandpa’s tidy but prolific collection of nuts and bolts.
3. Carefully document and organize originals. Each kit includes supplies and instructions to help you safely identify each item. This is probably the most important step. We love our pictures, old letters and heirlooms because of the family connection. If that connection is lost, so is the value of the object.
4. Scan flat items and take digital pictures of dimensional ones. Keep these as “backups” in case the original is ever harmed. (The document and photo kits even come with Archival Gold CDs, which aren’t easy for genealogists to come by but perfect for long-term digital storage.) Use copies for reference and display, so you don’t expose your originals to everyday wear.
5. Store originals safely. The Heirloom Inventory kit includes suggestions for storing and displaying original objects. The document and photo kits include top-quality archival supplies and step-by-step illustrated instructions on how to store your stuff in them.
6. Share what you’ve got. Frame copies of your old photos and put them on the wall or a shelf. Keep copies of old documents handy to show relatives. Display your heirlooms. Use them all as conversation pieces whenever you get a chance. Tell stories about the people. Share memories that help other relatives understand why these items matter to you. That will help ensure that these items will live on in the family lore.
This morning I looked out my window and could see a huge plume of smoke. Across the valley a wild fire is raging that began yesterday afternoon. The hot and very dry conditions have fueled the flames, and homes are starting to be evacuated. It’s a grim reminder that disasters do happen and no one is immune.
It is National Preparedness Month in the United States, and for genealogists, that means disaster planning for our home archives and family history files. We don’t like to think about the unthinkable: losing our original photos, documents and years’ worth of research in a fire, flood, hurricane or other disaster. But it’s happened in places as high-and-mighty as federal archives here in the USA: it can certainly happen in our homes. Even a leaky roof, downed tree, bug infestation, basement mildew issue, theft or other “minor” disaster can mean total annihilation of our family archives if it’s in the wrong place at the wrong time.
As I watch the fire and monitor it’s progress on Twitter, I’m thankful that I can rest easy that my precious family history is protected in a number of ways. This month, I’ll share four steps to help you secure the future of your family past, one step for each of the next four weeks. This gives you time to follow through on each piece of advice before you get to the next step. This week’s step:
ASSESS YOUR GENEALOGY ASSETS. What needs protection?
Your top priority, as a genealogist, will likely be original photos, documents, artwork and one-of-a-kind family artifacts like a family Bible. In other words, things that can’t be replaced.
Next, think about things you’d rather not have to replace: records you’ve ordered from repositories; several years’ worth of genealogy notes and files; computerized family trees. Make yourself a list, so in the weeks to follow you can carry out an emergency plan for each item (starting with high-priority items) as your time and budget permit. Next week’s topic: DUPLICATE THE PAST.
If you have New England roots, you need to know about New England’s Hidden Histories, an ongoing project of the Congregational Library in Boston, Massachusetts. This project is collecting, digitizing, indexing and posting online New England church records, a vital source for finding your family’s vital records in New England.
“Congregational church records are an unparalleled source of information about the religious activities of the early colonists, and about many other aspects of early American life as well,” says the Congregational Library website. ” They provide a richly detailed view of town governments and social customs, data on births and marriages and deaths, and demonstrate the ways that ordinary people participated in community-wide decision-making — information that is simply not available in any other records from that time.”
Until recently, many Congregational church records were “mostly scattered across New England, in church closets, bank vaults, or the offices of town clerks,” explains the site. “Many have been left exposed to the elements and are in danger of deterioration, or are all but impossible for the average researcher to locate.”
The Congregational Library is spearheading the effort to collect, digitize, index and make available to researchers as many of these records as possible. To date, says Digital Archivist Sari Mauro, “We currently have 17 collections online, and several more at various places in our workflow. Of these collections, two are fully transcribed. We eventually hope to be able to display all of our collections with full-text transcriptions.”
They are looking for more volunteers to transcribe these records. Would you like to help? Click here to learn more.
By the way, this collection goes beyond just baptism, marriage and death records, in an attempt to fully document church life of the times. “Our current collections vary in size from 20 pages to 2,000+ pages and address a number of topics including church founding, church membership, births and deaths, church discipline, pastoral salary, church and community controversy, and issues of doctrine and practice.”