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    In every family, someone ends up with “the stuff.” It is the goal of The Family Curator to inspire, enlighten, and encourage other family curators in their efforts to preserve and share their own family treasures.

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    Monday
    Nov102014

    Armistice Day Parade 1921 in Lincoln, Nebraska

    My grandparents, Edna and Walter May, were great amateur photographers and filled several black paper photo albums with snapshots, all duly captioned and dated (thank you, Gma!). This photo was taken on Wednesday, November 11, 1921 in downtown Lincoln, Nebraska. My grandfather Walter G. served in the Army 314th Supply Train during World War I.

    May 1922 photo album064

    In Washington, D.C., Armistice Day was marked by the dedication of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier as the body of an American soldier fallen on the battlefield in France was buried in Arlington Cemetery. This was also the first year that November 11 was commemorated as a legal Federal holiday throughout the United States of America.

    Tuesday
    Nov042014

    Photo Hightlights from NARA in New York City

     from my Scrapbook. . .

    A few weeks ago I met up with Allison Dolan and Diane Haddad from Family Tree Magazine at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City for The Genealogy Event, a three-day genealogy and DNA conference. It was a great chance to meet other genealogists and tour the historic Custom House building located at Battery Park. Here are a few of my favorite snapshots from the weekend -- 

    Oct travel 23

    Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House on Bowling Green, built in 1906-07
    near the site of the original Fort Amsterdam settlement. Now home of 
    The National Archives of New York City and the National Museum of the
    American Indian. 

    Oct travel 22

    Family Tree Magazine Editor Diane Haddad and Publisher Allison Dolan
    at the Custom House. Sculpture by Daniel Chester French
    representing the four continents of international commerce.

    Oct travel 25

    Oct travel 26

    The Rotunda features a series of murals by Reginald Marsh depicting the shipping
    activities he observed on New York's shores.
    The panels are colorful and full of life. 

    Oct travel 27

    One of my favorite panels. I love Lady Liberty viewing the City and harbor.

    Oct travel 28

    View from the second floor (location of the NARA research rooms)
    of the colorful ceiling and beautiful lighting below. 

    Oct travel 29

    NARA exhibit of the early log book showing the first custom payments 
    made at the building.

    Oct travel 30

    This map is made up of tiny thumbnail images of documents and photos held at
    National Archives repositories throughout the nation. Very cool!

    Oct travel 21

    My walk through Battery Park included a view of the Statue of Liberty and
    the tourist boat waiting to depart. 

    Tuesday
    Oct142014

    Family Archivist Survival Kit Available for a Limited Time

    Sally Jacobs Madison Magazine

    Looking for archival boxes? Through the month of October Sally Jacobs, The Practical Archivist, is offering the Family Archivist Survival Kit to help family historians safely store photos, documents, and other family treasures. This is a once-a-year special package Sally created to help people get their "stuff" out of shoeboxes and into proper archival storage.

    "Like a Time Machine. . . without digging & burying"

    Sally is one of those generous genealogist who loves to talk about her favorite topic -- archiving -- and my go-to archivist when I need a consultation over a sticky preservation question. Her website is full of helpful tips and free advice, and the Family Archivist Survival Kit lives up to it's name with storage boxes, supplies, and a CD with 10 hours of recorded instruction from Sally.

    Read all about the Kit at The Practical Archivist and get your order placed before October 31, 2014. Kits ship in November and won't be available again until next Fall.

    Paper or Plastic?

    I get a lot of questions here at The Family Curator and when I present lectures about the pros and cons of using big plastic tubs for archival storage. People really really seem to want to use them. They're relatively inexpensive. They're easy to find (hello, Target!). And they are waterproof. But it's not a good idea. Ask Sally:

    Much of preservation (and all of archival work, really) comes down to compromise and balance. Archivist like to joke that our motto is “it depends” because we work with variations that don’t allow simple universal rules. Plastic is a perfect example. Americans have always placed a great faith in the protectiveness of plastic, but it’s not always the best choice for long term storage. All together now: “It depends.”

    The first rule is that any plastic you choose has to be neutral — it can’t be off-gassing anything that will affect what you place inside them. Vinyl is a big no-no. My favorite rule of thumb is that if it smells like a shower curtain, don’t put your photographs anywhere near it. Polypropylene is a popular plastic that is neutral, but your best bet is to find a product that has passed the Photographic Activity Test. The PAT is an accelerated aging test that tells the consumer it will not affect your photographs during storage.

    The waterproof question is a bit tougher. Obviously, it’s a good idea to keep water away from paper, photographic prints, and film. But a cheap plastic tub is going to off-gass and add volatile chemicals to your storage environment…which will interact with your photographs in ways we can’t predict. Ideally, you want to store your family treasures in an archival paper box. The qualities of paper and the way it changes over time *can* be predicted. Paper also allows air to circulate and prevents items from “stewing in their own juices” as my preservation teacher would always say. Of course, a cardboard box is not waterproof, but in a scenario where there is risk of water, Archival Best Practice is to store your collection somewhere else.

    But what about photos and documents?

    Ask yourself: Do I really need to put this in plastic? If you’ve scanned your photos and share them digitally, I don’t think it’s necessary to store the original prints in an album or clear sleeves. They can go into archival paper envelopes and then into archival boxes. Clear plastic is the best choice for photos that you plan to pass around to many hands, since the oils and salts on fingers will transfer to the prints. A small historical society that serves up local history photographs to the public is a good example of this kind of heavy use.

    Wouldn't silica gel packets help if moisture gets inside a plastic tub?

    Yes, but ideally you would store your treasures in something that wouldn’t collect moisture that way. I’ve been researching fireproof safes lately, and one of their main drawbacks is that the insulation needed to protect the contents from extreme heat will also create condensation inside the safe. How’s that for a trade off? (ugh) You can purchase metal canisters of desiccants that can be “recharged” by baking in an oven. Some even have a color indicator so you know when it’s time. I’m all for improving the bad storage areas you’re stuck with, but as always the best scenario is to keep your treasures somewhere where there isn’t a risk of water damage from either above or below.

    Happily, the metal edge archival boxes in The Practical Archivist's kits are strong, durable and provide excellent archival protection. Sally only sells the Family Archivist Survival Kit during the month of October, but she plans to offer a smaller De-Clutter Kit in Spring 2015. If you order one of her kits and need more supplies, she won't leave you stranded and will help you reorder what you need.

    I have to admit I'm a bit jealous of Sally's profession. She gets to hang out in libraries and archives and work with all kinds of interesting material. I asked her how she became an Archivist (instead of an astronaut or iron chef) and I wish I had an illustration to go with her reply:

    Ohmigosh, I love the idea of a wee little Sally J. drawing pictures of herself re-housing vintage photographs into archival folders…but that’s not how it happened. My “plan” was to become a photographer for Rolling Stone when I grew up. I don’t think anyone will be surprised to learn that this plan was a complete failure.

    After I graduated college with a BA in History and Anthropology, all I knew was that I didn’t want to be a high school social studies teacher or a college professor*, so grad school in History was out. Instead, I got a great job working at a Half Price Books where I could figure out what the heck I was going to do when I grew up. One day, my coworker Allison announced she was going to library school. I had no idea there was such a thing! When I took a look at the catalog, I learned that they offered a specialization in “Archives Management” and those courses were taught by archivists working at the Wisconsin Historical Society. As soon as I read that, it all clicked.

    Isn't' that the way it works? She didn't want to be a teacher, but here she is teaching us all about archives! Thanks, Sally!

    Feel free to leave Sally your archival questions here in the Comments, or drop her a note at The Practical Archivist and learn more about the Family Archivist Survival Kit.

    Wednesday
    Oct082014

    The Genealogy Event Returns to NYC

    Gen event

    Next week I'm off to The Big Apple for The Genealogy Event to be held this year at the historic Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House at One Bowling Green, New York City, NY home of the National Archives at New York City. NARA is also celebrating the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Customs Service with an exhibit featuring the ledger book from the first ship entering the port of New York under the new regulations. Imagine, the first customs duty paid $774.41 August 5, 1789 for an entire ship load of cargo aboard the Persis sailing from Italy to New York Harbor.

    NARA NYC customs ledger

    The Persis ledger will be featured at the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Customs Service exhibit.

    Attendees at The Genealogy Event will be able to tour the exhibit on the 3rd floor Welcome Center and use the research facilities. The Genealogy Event runs Friday and Saturday, October 17 and 18, with Sunday October 19 scheduled as a special DNA Day. Exhibitor booths, speakers and expert consultations are scheduled throughout the event.

    Speakers include Ron Arons, Nancy and Biff Barnes, James Beidler, Joe Buggy, Shannon Combs Bennett, Blaine Bettinger, Janeen Bjork, Angie Bush, Elaine Collins, Laura Congleton, Bennett Greenspan, Phyllis Kramer, Michael Leclerc, Denise Levenick, Dr. Rhoda Miller, CeCeMoore, Shellee Morehead, Trevor Plant, Maureen Taylor, and Pamela Weisberger.

    I'm looking forward to presenting two sessions on digitizing and preserving family keepsakes and making my first visit to NARA-NYC. If you have plans to be in New York City October 17-19, I hope you can attend The Genealogy Event at the historic U.S. Customs House on the tip of Battery Park. Tickets are available here.

    Sunday
    Sep212014

    Fire, Flood, Earthquake: Is Your Genealogy Safe?

    Smokeythebear

    Learn how to protect your family history research before and after disaster strikes whether you're at risk from natural disaster, home disaster or a computer crash in the September FamilyTree Magazine Podcast when I talk with with Lisa Louise Cooke about my article in the current issue of FamilyTree magazine, "Your Genealogy Disaster Plan." 

    Last week I shared disaster-preparedness tips "Prepare Your Family History to Survive Fire Season" prompted by the California wildfires that were burning in my sister's former hometown of Sliverado Canyon, California. Here are a few more tips you can hear more about in the September FamilyTree Magazine Podcast with Lisa Louise Cooke.

    Before Disaster: Know Your Risks

     

    Gather important numbers
    Practice prevention
    Prioritize keepsakes
    Digitize to safeguard
    Get an insurance checkup
    Back up computer files
    Save passwords
    Practice smart storage
    Make a genealogy grab and go list
    Create a genealogy disaster kit

    After a Disaster: Be Ready to Salvage Your Treasures

    Assess the damage
    Collect scattered items
    Contact your insurance agent
    Salvage wet photos for later attention

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