The Archive Lady: How to Preserve Civil War Letters?

The Archive Lady: How to Preserve Civil War Letters?

Tammy from Tennessee recently contacted me through Facebook with the following question: “My Dad has some letters written during the Civil War from some of his family. The collection also includes a lock of hair that a girl sent to her soldier boyfriend. What is the best way to preserve them?”

Original handwritten letters are some of the most precious family documents that a genealogist can have in their records collections. Writing letters has become an almost extinct form of communication and all the more reason why we need to preserve the ones that have survived. Preserving handwritten letters is fairly simple and can be accomplished by any genealogist. Here are five steps to archiving letters:

1. Take each letter out of its envelope. As an archivist, I am asked all the time if letters should stay in their envelopes or be removed. My answer is always to remove letters from their envelopes. The act of taking letters in and out of envelopes and unfolding and folding will damage the letters. Once the letters have been removed, be sure that to keep the envelopes and letters together. Use plastic paper clips to clip the envelope to the letter. NEVER USE METAL PAPER CLIPS!

Letters and envelopes from the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Letters and envelopes from the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

2. Scan or digitize the letters and envelopes. Digitizing the letters will preserve them electronically in the event the originals are damaged or destroyed. Digitization will also allow you to view the letters on a computer instead of continually handling the originals which will cause damage to the letters.

3. Purchase archival sleeves that have passed the P.A.T. (Photographic Activity Test). The sleeves you want to obtain will include names such as Mylar, Polypropylene or Polyester. Be sure to get sleeves that fit your letters comfortably and leaves about a 1/4 inch space on each side. Don’t stuff the letters in the sleeves and don’t leave too much room in the sleeves which could cause damage. Place each letter and envelope in the archival sleeves. Only place one letter and one envelope in each sleeve. Make sure to fold down the envelope flap onto itself. The sticky part of the flap contains chemicals that over time will damage the letter if they touch.

One letter and envelope in archival sleeve

One letter and envelope in archival sleeve

4. Purchase archival file folders that have passed the P.A.T. to file the letters. Put the archival sleeves that contain the letters in a file folder. I suggest that no more than ten letters be put in one file folder. If the folder is overstuffed, it could cause damage to the letters. Be sure to label the file folders. How you label your files is entirely up to you. Choose a method that works best for you and be consistent. Storing the folders is straightforward; you could use archival boxes or a filing cabinet.

Letters in file folders and stored in archival box.

Letters in file folders and stored in archival box.

5. Store the archival boxes in a cool, dry and humid free area away from sunlight. Ideal archival storage can be difficult to achieve, do the best you can with what you have available to you. A closet in the middle of the house with no exterior walls would be ideal.

Now let’s address the lock of hair that was mentioned in the question. Preserving a lock of hair is just as easy to accomplish as the letters. The number one enemy of hair is bugs. If you can keep the bugs away, the lock of hair should last forever. You will only need two items to complete this task, a small box with a lid and archival tissue paper. The box does not need to be archival as long as you use archival tissue paper. Place a piece of archival tissue paper in the box, leaving enough that will fold over to cover the lock of hair once placed in the box. Put the lock of hair in the tissue paper that is in the box. Fold the excess tissue paper over the lock of hair so that it is completely covered. Place the lid on the box. Finally, you will want to label the box with information about the lock of hair. You should include the name of the person it belongs to, the date it was received and any additional pertinent information to document the lock of hair. Store in a place where it is cool, dry and away from sunlight. 

Lock of hair with archival tissue paper in box.

Lock of hair with archival tissue paper in box.

I hope these guidelines to preserve old letters and locks of hair inspire you to preserve what you have in your genealogy records collections. Preserve your records today so that our descendants can enjoy them in the future!

The archival materials I recommend can be purchases through Amazon.com:

If you would like more information on how to preserve your old family letters, check out my Legacy Family Tree Webinar Preserving Old Family Letters: Tips from an Archivist http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1168

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive LadyMelissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

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©Copyright 2016 Melissa Barker. All Rights Reserved

Photo credits: All photos are property of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Review: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy – everything you ever wanted to know about DNA and genetic genealogy but were afraid to ask!

Review: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy

[Editor’s Note: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy workbook is available in paperback format and right now you can get it at a 35% savings, for only $22.99 PLUS if you use promo code SFTTHOMAS16 at checkout, you’ll save an additional 15%, making the price just $19.54!]

Bettinger, Blaine T. The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, Cincinnati: F+W Media, Inc., 2016, 240 pages.

Why Another DNA Genealogy Book?

When The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy was published and the cover caught my attention, I was curious since there seem to be so many quick sheets and books about DNA on the market. But after reading it, I can tell you that what the author has created is way different than what I’ve encountered in the past. 

The “guide” is comprehensive and will help every genealogist no matter what the level of DNA knowledge. From an overview of Genetic Genealogy Basics to advice on select the right test, Bettinger covers all the questions I had about DNA and genealogy.

And if you’ve already tested your DNA or that of a relative, the Analyzing and Applying Test Results section offers invaluable information such as Third-Party Autosomal-DNA Tools for interpreting results, to Ethnicity Estimates to Analyzing Complex Questions with DNA.

What’s Inside

The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy features:

  • Colorful diagrams and expert definitions that explain key DNA terms and concepts such as haplogroups and DNA inheritance patterns
  • Detailed guides to each of the major kinds of DNA tests and which tests can solve which family mysteries, with case studies showing how each can be useful
  • Information about third-party tools you can use to more thoroughly analyze your test results once you’ve received them
  • Test comparison guides and research forms to help you select the most appropriate DNA test and organize your results and research

A Sneak Peak . . .

Here are some tips you’ll find in The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy[i]:

  1. Learn about your ancestors—both those who gave you DNA and those who didn’t. Genealogists study ancestors of all sorts, but not all of your genealogical ancestors (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc.) are also genetic ancestors who passed down DNA to you. DNA testing can only give you information about your genetic family tree: the ancestors who contributed to your genetic makeup.
  2. Think more broadly when looking for testing candidates. If you’re struggling to find someone who can take a DNA test that will help you learn about a particular ancestor, look for any more distant relatives (such as second or third cousins) to test. While you might not have a living relative willing to take a DNA test on your branch of the family tree, your ancestor may have had a descendant through another family line that has the DNA you need to study.
  3. Don’t accept your ethnicity estimates as absolute fact. While the ethnicity estimates provided by testing companies can be interesting and somewhat informative, they’re just that: estimates that should be taken with a grain of salt. The ethnicity percentages in your results can be flawed due to a number of factors, including the size and distribution of the sample size for each continent or country. Furthermore, they likely won’t represent the ethnicity of all your genealogical ancestors, as the test only estimates the rough geographical background of ancestors who gave you a detectable amount of DNA.
  4. Download and analyze your raw data. Testing companies can provide you with interesting and important insights, but tools from many other websites and organizations can help you interpret your DNA results. Get your raw DNA data from the testing company, then look for third-party tools in which you can upload for data and receive a more detailed, multifaceted analysis.

The Perfect DNA Genealogy Book?

The author, Blaine T. Bettinger, begins The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by relating how he became “hooked” on genealogy as a child and then later on in college, with DNA testing and results interpretation. Bettinger’s journey is not unlike my own, or in fact that of many genealogists currently working to solve family history mysteries. As I continued reading, I knew that the author was someone I could relate to and his easy-to-understand description of complicated DNA terms would serve me well.

In fact, Bettinger makes it clear from the outset that The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy is intended for many different audiences from beginners to those who have dabbled in DNA testing (that’s me!) to more advanced genealogists looking to better understand their test results.

So far, I’ve used this “guide” to understand what I’ve done wrong in the past in terms of my DNA research and what I need to do in terms of testing others in my family in order to solve some of my family history mysteries. 

There are very few titles on my book shelf in my genealogy office that I refer to constantly. I know that The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy will be one of those titles for years to come. I don’t think I could have made some of my recent progress in my research without the valuable information provided by a knowledgeable DNA like Blaine Bettinger.

About The Author: Blaine T. Bettinger

Blaine Bettinger Ph.D. (biochemistry), J.D. is an intellectual property attorney at Bond, Schoeneck & King, PLLC in Syracuse, New York, by day, and a genealogy educator and blogger by night. In 2007, he created The Genetic Genealogist, one of the first blogs devoted to genetic genealogy and personal genomics.

Blaine has written numerous DNA-related articles for the Association of Professional Genealogists Quarterly, Family Tree Magazine, and other publications. He has been an instructor at the inaugural genetic genealogy courses at the Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research (IGHR), Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG), Genealogical Research Institute of Pittsburgh (GRIP), Virtual Institute of Genealogical Research, Family Tree University, and Excelsior College (Albany, NY). He is a former editor of the Journal of Genetic Genealogy, and a co-coordinator of the ad hoc Genetic Genealogy Standards Committee. In 2015, he became an alumnus of ProGen Study Group 21 and was elected to the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society’s Board of Trustees.

Blaine was born and raised in Ellisburg, NY, where his ancestors have lived for more than two hundred years, and is the father of two boys. You can find Blaine on his website and on Twitter (@blaine_5).

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Disclosure statement: I have material connections with various vendors and organizations. To review the material connections I have in the genealogy industry, please see Disclosure Statement.

©2016, copyright Thomas MacEntee. All rights reserved.

Blog Post Description: Genealogy author and educator Thomas MacEntee reviews The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy by Blaine T. Bettinger – everything you ever wanted to know about DNA and genetic genealogy but were afraid to ask!

[i] The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy product description, Shop Family Tree (http://www.shopfamilytree.com/guide-to-dna-testing-and-genetic-genealogy, accessed 15 September 2016), used by permission of F&W Media.

 

The Archive Lady: “What Is an Archive?”

What is an archive?

Recently, I was asked “What is an archive?”and I was a bit surprised by this question since it came from a genealogist. I thought all genealogists knew about archives!

An archive is defined by the Society of American Archivists as: An organization that collects the records of individuals, families, or other organizations (http://www2.archivists.org/glossary/terms). This “organization” could be any organization. It doesn’t only have to be an archive like the Houston County, Tennessee Archive or the Tennessee State Library and Archives. A historical society that collects and preserves local records is also considered an archive. A genealogical society that accepts donations of family records is an archive. A museum that has exhibits and displays may also have records collections and would be considered an archive. Local public libraries that have genealogy rooms with records in them are archives.

Houston County, Tennessee Archive Entrance

Houston County, Tennessee Archive Entrance

The term “archive” is not solely used to represent a county or state archive; any organization that accepts, collects and preserves historical and genealogical documents, records, memorabilia and artifacts is considered an archive even if they don’t have the word “archive” in their title.

Lyle Family Records Donation to the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

Lyle Family Records Donation to the Houston County, Tennessee Archives

There are many different kinds of archives that can be accessed by genealogists. I always say, “There is an archive for everything”. Just because the building doesn’t have the word “archive” on it, don’t discount the fact that there is a “place” where there are historical and genealogical records being preserved or at the very least stored.

There have been many times when I had arrived at the place where I was told the records were located. I was then shown a closet, the attic or basement and I was left to my own research devices to go through boxes and shelves of records. You have to ask the questions and you may even have to do some sleuthing in the local areas your researching in to locate the records.

Stored Records at the Houston County, Tennessee Highway Department

Stored Records at the Houston County, Tennessee Highway Department

Ask around in the community, call the local library or the local Chamber of Commerce and ask “Who is the local historian, who is the one knows about the families and history of the area?” I guarantee that you will be given a name. There is always someone in the local area that knows the local history and knows many of the local families and most importantly; these people usually know where to find the records! This person may even be able to tell you about the family you are researching.

So, the next time you are doing research on your ancestor in the area where they lived, ask for the name of the local historian and contact them. Ask where the records are stored or archived. Contact the local historical and/or genealogical society. Don’t leave any stone unturned. The records you are looking for could be sitting in boxes, archives or not, just waiting for you to find them.

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If you have a question about researching in archives or records preservation for The Archive Lady, send an email with your question to: melissabarker20@hotmail.com

Melissa Barker - The Archive LadyMelissa Barker lives in Tennessee Ridge, Tennessee. She is the Houston County (TN) Archivist and a Professional Genealogist. She writes the blog, A Genealogist in the Archives, and has been researching her own family for over 26 years. She lectures, teaches and writes about researching in archives and records preservation. 

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Are you intimidated by doing research at a records facility? Maybe you’re not sure how to prepare for a genealogy research trip, check out my Legacy Family Tree Webinar Researching in Libraries and Archives: The Do’s and Don’ts http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1142

Or get my Legacy Family Tree QuickGuide: Researching in Libraries and Archives http://legacy.familytreewebinars.com/?aid=1159

©Copyright 2016 Melissa Barker. All Rights Reserved

Photo credits: All photos are property of the Houston County, Tennessee Archives