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Twigs & Trees with Rhonda: Preserving Original Records
by Rhonda R. McClure

June 07, 2001
See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Recently I was reminded of the necessity to preserve original records. While visiting Tallahassee as a guest speaker for their seminar, the first day of the trip was spent in the State Archives. In between one-on-one consultations, I did get a chance to do some research in the archives.

Like all genealogists, I fairly twitch whenever I get into repositories such as the state archives or a historical society. After all, it is here that I will find original records, not just microfilms of those records.

Original documents need special care.

A Special Interest

Some years ago I was asked about Tuberculosis sanatoriums in the state of Florida. At the time I knew very little about this issue, so had turned to the State Archives to see what was available. At the time the archivist was kind enough to send me copies of a variety of resources that detailed the creation of some sanatoriums and the statistics of the disease in the state. Since that time I keep a look out for additional information about this subject. It was not surprising then that it was one of the subjects I looked up while at the Archives.

Since then, I have often referred to this research as it is a perfect example of resources found in a state archive. And now that they have their catalog online, it has afforded me a way of showing researchers what might be found online.

In addition to the material previously sent to me, there was a set of boxes full of original correspondence dealing with a variety of medical issues in Florida, including the tuberculosis sanatoriums. These boxes include letters that date back to the late 1890s. I had discovered this collection once the catalog came online.

Touching History - Sort Of

As the two boxes of the set that contains about 30 boxes, were brought to me, I was also handed a pair of cloth white gloves to wear. I happily accepted the gloves and proceeded to dig into the file folders found in the first box. As I gingerly turned page after page, reading the letters in the hopes of gleaning additional research on my pet topic, I was reminded that I held history in my hand.

I had no problem using the gloves as through their use I was helping to protect the letters. I had no problem turning the pages slowly, making sure that none were bent or folded when I replaced them in the box in their appropriate file folder. All of these careful steps were intended to preserve the letters so that another researcher down the road can enjoy the same experience I did.

Archives, such as the State Archives in Tallahassee, are involved in the preservation of documents. Whenever possible we, as researchers, should turn to available microfilms to keep the wear and tear on the originals to a minimum. Whenever handling these older documents, we should use gloves. If they are not supplied, you may want to ask if they have them. While most archives will insist, other repositories may not understand the importance of keeping the oils from the hand off the original records.

In Conclusion

Should you get the chance to see and use original records, keep these thoughts in mind. Enjoy the thrill of knowing you are holding a piece of history, but remember also that history in this form may not last forever if we do not make it a point to protect them now.

See Rhonda's Previous Columns

Rhonda R. McClure is a professional genealogist specializing in celebrity trees and computerized genealogy. She has been involved in online genealogy for fifteen years. She is the author of the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition. She is the author of four how-to guides on Family Tree Maker. In late 2001, she wrote The Genealogist's Computer Companion. She is a contributing editor to Biography Magazine with her "Celebrity Roots" column and a contributing writer to The History Channel Magazine. Her latest book is Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors. She may be contacted at rhondagen@thegenealogist.com.

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