Help! I’m the Family Archivist!

Part I: Introduction

By Rachel Smith

This is the first in a series of blog posts which will introduce organizing and preserving your family’s collection of photographs, documents, and other heirlooms. Each blog post will tackle a different topic on how to maintain your family’s collections on paper. While some of the techniques can be used to organize 3-dimensional heirlooms such as clothing, porcelain, quilts, and metalwork, this series of blogs will not address how to store these items. However, some of the books listed in this post address how to preserve 3-dimensional items.

Have you ever found yourself in one of these scenarios?

  • You have a large collection of family photographs and albums in your basement, but you don’t know what’s inside of them or where to find specific photographs?
  • You want to share family photographs and documents with relatives and genealogical researchers who live far away from you, but you don’t know where to start?
  • The cardboard box where you’re storing your mother’s scrapbook collection is starting to smell and get musty?
  • Your collection of birth, baptismal, and death certificates are turning yellow and almost crumble apart when you touch them?

If one of these situations applies to you, you might be the Family Archivist! An archivist is someone who collects, organizes, preserves, and maintains a collection of records. If you are the person who safekeeps your family’s photographs, albums, vital records, and other types of documents, you are a Family Archivist.

Being a caretaker of your family’s collections is an exciting prospect because you are connected to the stories and lives of your ancestors, and you are ensuring that those stories are passed down to future generations. But being a Family Archivist can be daunting and overwhelming, especially when it seems like you are drowning in stuff.

But there is hope out there! Professional archivists and museum collection managers have materials and techniques to be able to sort, identify, and store tens of thousands of objects. In particular, archivists are used to processing collections with hundreds or thousands of items in them. As a Family Archivist, you can use and adapt some of the experts’ tools to help you organize, store, and digitize your family collections.

Some of the knowledge I’ll use to write these blogs are from my own experience managing archives and collections, but there are some books that I owe a great credit to and I know will help you as well. These books have techniques and resources for finding affordable ways to preserve your family’s collections:

How to Archive Family Photos by Denise May Levenick

How to Archive Family Keepsakes by Denise May Levenick

Caring for Your Family Treasures by Jane S. Long and Richard W. Long

These books are available at the RGRMHC’s Reading Room during our open hours of 10 AM – 4 PM Wednesdays through Saturdays, but like the other materials in our reference collection, they are not available to check out of the museum.

The blogs following this will cover the following topics:

  • Establishing Your Archiving Strategy
  • Organizing Photographs, Albums, and Archives
  • Storing Photographs and Archives
  • Why Should I Digitize?
  • How to Digitize Photographs and Documents
  • Backing Up and Digitally Archiving Your Collection (and Having Fun!)
  • Issues of Conservation
  • How to Prepare Items for Donating to an Archive/Museum/Historic Society

Family Archivist Series

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