Archive for the ‘Archival Advice’ Category

Archival Description: The Road Map to your Collection

Tuesday, July 17th, 2012

So, just exactly what is archival description and why would you want to use it for your genealogical collection? In a nutshell, archival description is the process whereby you create a catalogue, finding aid, or access point, that tells you what is in the collection, and most importantly, where to find it. Now, you may be thinking, “but I just finished arranging the collection, of course I know where to find stuff!” It’s not the finding of stuff that is the point here; it’s where the stuff sits within your collection. If we refer back to how archival arrangement works, you will recall that while the fonds is your highest level of arrangement, it is really in creating the different records series where most of your work is going to be done. The more branches you have in your tree, the more records series you are going to have sitting in your collection. If you, and more to the point, whomever inherits the collection after you, wants to find great Aunt Myrtle’s 3rd cousin on her mother’s side, where exactly in the collection will this information be found. Unless you create some sort of access point as to where this 3rd cousin sits within the collection, finding them will be akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Description is also about telling the story of your family and the people who populate your family tree. In archival speak we refer to this as the Biographical Sketch. Each level of arrangement has its accompanying description. At the fonds, or collection level, the biographical sketch would be an overview of the family itself. It’s up to you how much detail you put into it. To give you an idea of how a fonds level description is structured, check out this description of the Shipley Family from the Archive of Ontario’s website. The process is much the same when it comes to describing the different branches in your tree, and indeed, any of the individuals within that branch as well. What stories do great Aunt Myrtle and her 3rd cousin on her mother’s side have to tell? Again, it is completely up to you how much information and the level of detail you want to put into your description.

Remember, the whole point of doing this is twofold: So that anybody can easily find anything within your collection, and, so that the stories of your family, and the people in it, are given a voice.

Controlling the Chaos

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012

Exactly how much chaos you are attempting to control will largely depend on how long you have been researching and building your family tree. If you are fairly new to genealogy, then chances are you are utilizing mostly online and other electronic resources. If however, you have been engrossed in filling out your family tree for sometime, you will likely have a mountain of paper records in your collection. Regardless of which category you might fall under, both present their own unique challenges.

Although it’s always a good idea to have hard copies of your family records as back-up, if you are currently using a web application or software package to build your family tree, then you likely have few paper records to contend with. However, if you began your genealogical research back in the days when microfiche was king, and visits to the archive were a must, then paper records you will have, in abundance. Since you are unlikely to trip over or be buried by an avalanche of your electronic records, let’s put these in a desktop folder for the moment and explore how to best manage the paper records in your collection.

No doubt you have already applied some sort of organizational schema to your records. Great, but, will it stand the test of time? If you have documented your family history with the intention of passing it on to future generations, will the manner in which you have organized the collection make sense to others, or will it be akin to a dog’s breakfast? This is where making use of a few recognized archival standards will come in handy. The first one we will look at is arrangement.

There are 5 levels in archival arrangement:

1. Fonds

2. Series

3. Sub-series

4. File

5. Item

Don’t worry too much about file and item as you don’t really need to be this granular when it comes to arranging your own collection. The first three are where we want to focus our attention. If you have ever visited an archive, and being genealogists most of us have, you may have come across the term Fonds. Without getting too technical, a fonds is basically the sum total of all the stuff you have gathered to create your family tree/history. This is your highest level of arrangement. It is also the biggest. No doubt you will have accumulated research materials representing several branches of your family tree. This is where your second level of arrangement comes in; each branch becomes its own series. As we all know, each family branch begets even more branches, enter the sub-series. If you applied this type of arrangement to your own records, it might look something like this:

1. Fonds level: Smith Family History

2. Series Level: Branches

a. Mother’s Family

b. Father’s Family

3. Sub-Series:

a. Maternal Grandparents

b. Paternal Grandparents

As you can see, archival arrangement lends itself quite well to the organization of your genealogical records. If you have developed an organizational method that has worked particularly well for you, please feel free to share.

Next week, we will take a look at archival description, the road map to your collection.

Archival Advice

Tuesday, July 10th, 2012

We are introducing a new category to the OGS blog: Archival Advice. This is where you will be able to find advice and tips on how to manage your family history collection. And yes, from an actual Archivist! Watch for the first post, Family Records: Controlling the Chaos, over the next few days.