What a breath of fresh air! Grounding ourselves back at home for the better part of a month has been refreshing. We’ve been able to focus on health, well-being, fall immunizations, Western Colorado’s beauty, and a daily routine. We are absolutely grateful for the travels since March. We’ve enjoyed visiting many family members, several friends, and soaking up the natural beauty along the way. Both Steve and I had numerous projects waiting on the back burners that we wanted to resume, so in this post, I share my primary project.
Family Archivist and Genealogist
I devote time as an archivist and genealogist on my lineages. I often feel like a historian and a super sleuth at the same time. Admittedly, the initial goals that I determined in 2010 are taking many years to achieve. These past five years that included two years of full-time RVing around the country and then three household moves in three years challenged the goals of my projects. Not that I’m needing to find an excuse, it’s just a fact of life.
Upon our maternal Grandmother’s move from her apartment in the early 1990s and following our Mom’s death in 1994, I brought home from Iowa the majority of the archives that they absorbed from preceding generations. I visited my parents for my 39th birthday, which sadly was my last visit before Mom’s death. The afternoon of my birthday Mom sat next to me on her couch and tearfully yet urgently requested that the history and stories not be lost. She knew her time was limited.
Honestly, neither our Dad nor the five of us siblings realized the extent of what was stored in every possible nook and cranny of their lakeside cottage until we all committed to monthly family work weekends of sifting through my parents’ household of 40 years. As Dad was greatly overwhelmed, he was also extremely grateful to share this journey with his children.
Mom spent the better part of 30 years conducting thorough genealogy research sans computer and pre-internet. This translated into finding many handwritten or typed records filed in folders, binders placed in boxes and filing cabinets, photo albums, scrapbooks, etc. Additionally, there were many treasures and heirlooms from all lineages that were divided among the five of us siblings as part of that downsizing for our Dad.
Working, obtaining my bachelor degree, raising our family, and enjoying church and community involvement was a large part of our life until our 2010 relocation to Denver from Chicago’s western suburbs. It was in Denver while Steve began grad school that I had time to take a deep breath and gradually sift through my parents’ archives held in taped up moving boxes and Rubbermaid tubs that came home years prior from Iowa. I attempted to make heads and tails of such a broad collection. There was frustration and sometimes tears. To keep storage more consistent and streamline access, I bought archive boxes and banker boxes as well as easy to assemble and disassemble plastic utility shelves. Then I returned to full-time work and volunteerism, having little time for family history for several years.
What’s in the archive collection?
Through the generations of eight lineages there were originally many photos, slides, correspondence, documents, beautiful photo scrapbooks by my paternal Grandmother, typed and handwritten children’s short stories by my Mom, published books authored by family, Dad’s letters and slides during his time serving in the Korean War, old family Bibles with genealogy pages, handiwork from grandmothers, linens, crystal, china, sterling silver, oil paintings by family, jewelry, china head dolls, cuckoo clock and watches, and mementos passed to succeeding generations. The collection includes my Mom’s lineages of Carmitchel and Stratton, Vale and McClester; and my Dad’s lineages of Patterson and Jackson, McLennan and Plumb. (All except for the McLennan lineage have been in the United States for many generations, some dating back to the 1600s. McLennan’s arrived from Scotland in 1869.) Since the original collection that I held, it’s gradually diminished over time. Although, there’s still 23 boxes.
How do I work my way through the archive collection?
Slowly and methodically are my approaches due to also having other interests. In 2018, I created a project sheet for each archive box. When I remove the box lid and peer inside, the sheet reminds me where to pick up where I left off. I update each sheet when I’ve performed some action plus date my notes. On each project sheet, I also suggest extended family, museums, or historical societies who may eventually like the history. I included this information in the event I don’t make it through a particular box during my lifetime. It’s just part of reality! In tandem, I have a Google document that includes the entire archive collection notes. I also update this as I make progress.
Over the past 13 years, it’s been quite enjoyable to also find homes for many of the treasures in the original archive collection with siblings, our children, nieces and nephews, cousins, and organizations. Especially for family, I consider that when our parents passed away, their grandchildren were quite young OR several grandchildren born after my parents’ deaths. Just this last year, our niece, born after their deaths, was quite excited when I offered her a beautiful heirloom linen tablecloth of her great-great-great grandparents’ Herriman, dating back almost 200 years. She also was pleased to receive a tatted collar made by her great-great grandmother Carmitchel, dating back 100 years.
My trajectory may change course if I receive a request from a family member or if there’s an upcoming event related to our history i.e. community or family reunion. After reconnecting with some of my Mom’s cousins this summer, I used it as an opportunity to revisit those lineages. Concurrently, I have boxes and folders for cousins and siblings, where photos and other treasures are placed. Within the next few months, I will offer to send these to my family if they would like to receive items. This week two Bibles belonging to my paternal grandparents are on their way to their great-granddaughter in Texas. My heart is happy!
What are my goals?
1. Preserve a portion of the original photos and documents
- Scan to digital files. Recently, I’ve been “taking photos of photos” instead of scanning. It’s a time saver. Although my flatbed scanner will still be used for certain photos.
- Create Google albums to share files with family. This provides them an opportunity to download the digital files.
- At FamilySearch.org, attach photos and documents to individual records and family groups on the family tree.
- At FindAGrave.org, link ancestors in the family tree and add photos as possible.
- Write family biographies using Google documents and share with family or historical societies. I created a brief biography for my paternal grandfather this summer for Clan McLennan. I have also self-published family history through Lulu.com, a print-on-demand service.
2. Reduce the size of the archive collection
- Offer some original photos to family members, after I have scanned to digital.
- Keep a sampling of original photos for each lineage by placing them in archival folders. In the digital age, originals still have a place in case there’s a breach where digital files are stored.
- Donate some originals to historical museums or historical societies.
- Discard, as tough as it is sometimes, it is necessary.
3. Continue to donate items
There’s a beauty to preserving history by donating items where they might be enjoyed, especially if I have the time. Since 1994, I have been finding homes for many treasures beyond giving many to family members. My high school drama department, a former community’s high school art department, a former community’s two community theaters, my hometown historical society, several genealogy societies, nonprofits that support special needs adults or autistic children, numerous public libraries, and other entities have been appreciative of receiving donations of items. I write a brief history on each item in order to provide background information. Some of these donations included my Dad’s Korean War era military uniform & service history scrapbook, my Mom’s stylish vintage dresses and her wedding dress, Patterson tree nursery business records, Plumb blacksmith tools, McLennan kilt and kilt accessories, my Granny’s china and art glass, my Grandma’s crocheted handiwork and sheet music collection, and much more.
4. Moving forward
A goal on the horizon is to move forward to focus on a very sweet life that Steve and our own family have shared for nearly 50 years. Beyond the archive collection, photos of our chldren and special times together will be the next area to embrace. While I scanned photos from our own albums several years ago, I want to synthesize the photos that aren’t in albums but in the fancy photo boxes of the 1990s and 2000s. Then resume scanning. (There was an era pre-digital when photo labs made two copies of each photo for the price of one. Ultimately this was a bargain at the time, but a challenge now).
Steve, our children and their spouses, my sisters, and my brother have all been quite supportive during this lengthy journey. I am greatly appreciative of everyone for their encouragement. Believe me, there have been some bittersweet times with the archives where I’ve received amazing voices of reason from family and being able to let go of some treasures. The journey continues.
As I am curious by nature, please tell me if you have family history that you are also preserving. I would be interested in your techniques and perhaps some challenges you’ve experienced.
Life at the Speed of Sanity with Steve by my side.