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.
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
1. 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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Learn 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!
Archives.com and other community project partners recently announced the release of the California 1940 census index, and have provided a neat infographic highlighting California in 1940.
I was particularly thrilled to see the searchable California index released because my parents and all my grandparents were in the state , working farms and just a year away from going to war and building ships for the cause.