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.

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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.

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.

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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!

Personal Artifacts

Over the years I’ve enjoyed getting to know my extended family, learning family history, and hearing the stories that are passed down through the generations. As with most American families, there is a theme of leaving the homeland, arriving in the United States, and heading west; and a legacy of hard work, dreams, trials, and love. I’ve also collected artifacts over the years, such as  letters, photographs, books, textiles, recipes, china, mementos, and gifts.

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Grandma’s Recipe Box

In November I used some of these artifacts to create a couple of family history videos. They were prototypes, both to learn how to use the Movavi software, and to experiment with incorporating photos, maps, and newspaper clippings to enrich the reading of the letters. See Toolkit: Family History with Grandma Nina and Toolkit: Family History with Grandma Char.

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Grandma organized her recipes with Dessert first!

During the writing and filming of the videos, I realized that my personal artifacts are stored all over the house. Letters, journals, and mementos are in the garage; letters from my two grandmothers are in folders in the downstairs guest room/office; physical photos are organized in photo boxes in the living room; digital photos are mostly archived to the cloud, with others stored on various computers and devices; and textile treasures—those that are embroidered, crocheted,  knit, and woven—reside in various closets or in boxes stored under beds.

There is a level of organization imposed, but, if I want to go deeper with my family history project, I’m realizing that I need a better taxonomy for identifying, cataloging, and retrieving these objects. I would like to curate the objects that still have meaning, and to purge those that have not stood the test of time. In the months ahead, I hope to see what I can learn about how to organize a personal collection of family memories.