Organizing for Preservation

The next step in my project is to prepare artifacts for my Georgenie Sedgwick “movie”. I’ve already identified the items I have, and created a “to do” list for next steps (see Organizing for a Family History Project). According to the archivists at the Library of Congress (see Personal Archiving), part of this process is to take preservation steps if needed, for example, scan documents or photographs that are disintegrating, or place fragile items in acid free envelopes or boxes. I plan to digitize a lot of photos, and scan letters and magazine articles.


Sweater made by Grandma Nina for my brother Dave around 1960

Following are some of the activities that I’ve identified for the Georgenie Agusta Sedgwick project, some of which require preservation:

  • Artifacts – some need to be photographed
    • Blue-green beaded purse & calling card
    • Green and white sweater
    • Crocheted washcloths
    • Georgenie at 20 (framed)
    • Georgenie’s mom, Ann Walker Francis (framed)
    • Find photo of Georgenie’s dad?
    • Photos of houses in Rialto, Pomona, and Chino
    • Death/funeral announcement
  • Photographs – many need to be digitized
    • Photos in black photo albums (some are fading)
    • Photos of Georgenie and Will around marriage
    • Photos digitized when working on the Grandma Nina video
  • Interview with Grandma Nina in 1984
    • Transcribe the audio tape (add markers to the MP3 version)
    • Extract stories about Great Grandma Georgenie
    • Stretch – find the two photo albums used in the interview
  • Letters, Journals, and Lore
    • Review Grandma Nina’s letters for stories of Georgenie
    • Review MQ’s journals for stories of Georgenie
    • Collect stories about Georgenie from family (Dad, Mom, and CJ)

It’s a daunting list, but somehow seems more achievable when I see the tasks spelled out.

Organizing for a Family History Project

Last year I created family history videos based on letters written by my two grandmothers on January 7, 1968 (see Toolkit: Family History with Grandma Nina and Toolkit: Family History with Grandma Char). Both letters describe a 104th birthday party thrown for my paternal great grandmother, Georgenie Agusta Sedgwick. During production, I realized I have quite a bit of information and lore for Great Grandma Georgenie, and some interesting physical artifacts. I started thinking about a project to create a short family history “documentary” about her life.


Great Grandma Georgenie Agusta Sedgewick – notice the detailing on her dress and her pierced ears (punched with a sewing needle and thread). She is about 20.

I’m still in the early phases of researching and reviewing what I have for Great Grandma Georgenie. I thought I’d organize what I have, using the recommendations from the Library of Congress described in Personal Archiving. Somehow it seems less daunting to organize for a particular project, than to organize everything I have stored all over the house! This will give me experience for the big event. Here is an inventory of my “clumps” and their contents:

  • Photos
    • Photo Box: MQ’s youth and Pre-marriage (in living room)
    • Photo Albums (in upstairs office)
    • Digital photos (computer/cloud)
  • Physical items (upstairs office)
    • Georgenie’s beaded purse with calling card
    • Washcloths crocheted when she was almost blind
    • Green and white sweater crocheted for my infant brother
    • Newspaper article about Georgenie’s 104th birthday
  • Letters (info in Grandma Nina’s letters)
    • Georgenie’s early life
    • Courtship of Georgenie and Will Sedgwick – she was 20, he was 35 (widowed twice with children)
    • Migration: New York, Ohio, Kansas, then California
    • Georgenie’s 104th birthday
  • Stories (and story arc)
    • Georgenie was a dressmaker in New York
    • Her mother was a MacDonald and a violinist
    • Georgenie’s courtship with Will (from wedding guest to engaged)
    • Grandma Nina built several rental units in Rialto, and Georgenie lived in one
    • Later Georgenie lived near the railroad tracks (across the tracks was a Hooverville type encampment; Dad would sit on top of the arbor eating grapes and watching the trains and camp activity)
    • Later in Chino, Georgenie had a room (she had a green chenille bedspread and a beautiful comb and brush set)
    • Grandma Nina had great devotion for her mother, and they were very close
    • Her Dad, Will, was stern and called her “Girl”
  • Audio Recording
    • Grandma talks of her early life in Kansas, the Sedgwick Feedstore, her family, and her mother.
    • Related – check my own journals for stories I jotted down during visits.

This is a family history project, but the same kind of collection and analysis would be required for any kind of collection you might be dealing with. Stay tuned for more developments!

Personal Archiving

In my quest to learn more about how to manage a personal family history collection, I’m going right to the top – archivists for the Library of College. They are tasked with organizing and preserving collections of all types. The collections typically include many of the same things we have in our family history collections – journals, letters, photos, home movies, papers, mementos, and the remnants of one’s life work. We can learn a lot from the archivist’s expertise, and apply it to the smaller scale of our personal collections.


A “clump” of organized chaos

To get started, I read Your Personal Archiving Project: Where Do You Start?, by Mike Ashenfelder. He interviewed Library of Congress archivists, Laura Kells and Meg McAleer, summarizes his findings:

  • Work top down. Don’t dwell on the details at first, rather survey the whole collection and sort into clumps, using the categories that you choose. For example, you might decide to organize by year, or holidays, or types (such as photos, letters, planners and journals), trips, or big events. During the process, don’t get into the details too soon, or you may become overwhelmed and give up.
  • Dedicated workspace. If possible, set aside a dedicated room or corner of a room for the project. If that’s not possible, then decide how you’ll tackle it. For example, after the initial “clumping” process, you might unpack an individual box in one setting to survey the details of its contents, and then repack and store it.
  • Contain it. After sorting into clumps, place the items into envelopes or boxes based on these categories, and label them. This gives an intellectual order to the project, and provides a good place to start when you’re ready to get into the details.
  • Throw it out. Discard the items that you know you won’t need. For example, you do not need receipts for every purchase ever made, such as groceries, rent, or car payments. You might want to save a few, such as the receipt for a guitar purchased early in the life of a musician, or an occasional receipt to show the cost of living at various intervals in the person’s life.
  • Preservation. You may need to preserve some items before they deteriorate. For example scan newspaper clippings, letters and photos that are disintegrating, or transfer files that are stored on electronic media before they decline. Enlist the help of a professional service if needed, and develop a strategy.
  • Story arc. You are archiving a life story, so consider the person’s whole life when deciding what to keep in the collection. Rather than keeping everything needed to recreate the person’s life and times, focus on what made that person unique.

This article gave me some great ideas for organizing my personal history collection (and some assurance that I’m on the right track in other areas)! I already have several “clumps” identified, as I listed in Personal Collections. Within each clump or category, there is quite a spectrum from organization to disarray, and many strays and loose ends that need attention. But it is a start!