Building a Home Archive

I am lucky enough to be trusted with a few collections of old family photos and documents, partially because I have shamelessly asked for them. It is my dream to have the family history I collect safely stored and digitized so that all my family members can have copies and that that they can be passed down in the future.

For a short period of time, I worked in the archives at UWSP. It was a learning experience I will cherish forever. It also sparked my passion for seeking out and preserving family photos and documents. While I was there, I examined and wrote descriptions for our county historical society’s small collections. It gave me a chance to see how archives are organized and documents stored. A lot goes into preserving the old photos and bits of history that we sometimes take for granted. Images and newspapers aren’t really made to last!

After leaving, I have been continuously working to better my own home archiving process and knowledge. Like all things, it’s a work in progress.  My dream would be to have an entire small room dedicated to a library and archives, but you know… a 1000 sq ft house doesn’t really have a lot of extra space. The spare room is my best choice. Fortunately,  one of its closets is a pretty good location. It’s free of light, stays even in humidity and temp. But, I do have to use it to store my sewing machine and all of my extra tack (a ton of spare bits and bridles).  I’ve been working on it for awhile to get it set up for a home archive.

I picked up a lot of knowledge from the university archives but I’ve also spent a lot time searching the internet and found some great resources for home/family archivists. My favorite blog is The Family Curator. Lisa’s advice on creating archives, storing photos, and million other things related to family history makes her blog my go to choice when I need advice or ideas for my own archival process.

I also rely heavily on articles published through museums small and large (like the National Archives), conservators, and archival companies like Gaylord Archival. I follow a variety of groups on Facebook too, and try to save articles that will help me. Every collection is a bit different, so do some searching around to find a method that works for yours.

Here is what my current archive situation looks like:

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As you can see, it needs some work. The bankers boxes aren’t archival, but they are clean and simple (I also got them on clearance). Most are pretty organized, but now I hope to go through and properly label everything. Currently, I have collections from my grandma, a great aunt, my mother, and a small mix from my Dad. I need to add a shelf and get a few more small boxes. These metal shelves came from Target. There are also some hooks that need to be added so I can hang my extra bridles a little easier.

I know it’s a weird mix of stuff to have in a closet, but I keep my leather nice and clean. The cool, dark, and dry closet keeps any mildew that the bridles are prone to from getting going.

Creating a Family History Gallery

Now, that the spare room is relatively complete, it’s time to start my family history gallery. It’s harder than I thought. Deciding what to include has been the most overwhelming part. Fortunately, I have access to many family photos through digital copies shared by other family members and many originals in my own collection. I recognize that some may not have this luxury. But a family history gallery doesn’t have to be just family trees and ancestor photos. It can be so much more!

Here is a list of ideas that I am using as inspiration for what to put on my wall:

  • genealogy fan chart
  • ancestor Photos
  • photos or paintings of ancestral homes or lands
  • maps (there are so many amazing historic maps available online)
  • documents like marriage certificates, land patents, ship manifests…anything visually interesting
  • artifacts, like medals, jewelry, gloves, small items owned by the family
  • items that represent heritage (in my case things like Danish hearts, Swedish Dala horses etc.)
  • pressed flowers from heritage sites (this one is particularly exciting to me)
  • painted or printed sayings meaningful to the family
  • framed family recipes

I have been slowly gathering each item I want to put on my gallery wall. Before going on the wall, everything will be laid out on floor or bed to get an idea of how I want to look on the wall. One thing I have to decide is if there will be a few ‘extra’ pieces beyond family history items. I have a handful of garden/natural curiosity items I may add as well. I guess It will come down to space and what looks good!

Selecting what photos I want to use has been the hardest part, but I’ve started a folder on my desktop. Getting photos printed off these days is pretty inexpensive, so even if I don’t use them in my gallery, I won’t have spent a lot. I think it’s important to remember, that gallery images can change too! You don’t have to find an image and have it on the wall forever. I plan on using standard sized frames for photos I don’t plan to keep up long-term.

Above is the room, future gallery wall, and the beginning layout of the gallery. I will need to get some more frames, and get the pictures printed. I will be sure to post the gallery when it’s finished (someday)!

There are some really important things to remember when displaying and storing family photos, artifacts, and heirlooms. Working in the archives really showed me the importance of taking care of precious items. I may write a whole post on it, sharing some of my favorite resources.

Two of the best pieces of advice, if you can’t use a duplicate as a display:

  1. Keep items/photos/documents out direct sunlight and fluctuating temps
  2. Use archival or museum quality framing materials

I didn’t expect this to take me so long to put together becuase I have a lot of things too add, but it is really hard to choose what to include! It is a fun process though, I have gotten to revisit parts of the family tree I have’t looked at in a long time.

 

 

Finding my Swedish Ancestors

A few weeks ago, I wrote about trying to read and translate a birth record for one of my Swedish ancestors, Carl Victor Johnson. I was so stuck that I turned to a Facebook genealogy group for help. They did help, so much so I posted about that too! From the help I was given and that other tidbits I picked up from other posts, I dove in to my Swedish roots. The Swedish National Archives take a little getting used to, but they are really quite amazing. I have been able to find several generations of Swedish ancestors on both my father’s and mother’s sides of the family.

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1861-1870 House Hold Examination for Carl Victor and his family in Högsby Parish, Kalmar County, Sweden.

In the records you can find a lot of details beyond birth, death, and marriage. The household examination records detail the movements of the family from what town the moved to next and departure dates to America. The records are also very specific down to farm names (I need to do a little more research into that)!

A couple of weeks ago, I upgraded my computer for the first time in a decade. Now that I have a faster, and not on its last-leg computer, I can research records faster, and put together compilations for my family. I’ve linked a document about my father’s Swedish ancestry, which included Carl Victor. It isn’t a professional genealogy examination, but it’s easy to share and understand for my family. I’ve included images and links throughout, as well as, my own commentary on what they’re looking at.

Our Swedish Ancestors

For me, the genealogical research is just a stepping stone to finding out more about the people and places my family comes from. I don’t just want names and dates (even though I love that, and all the old documents that go with it), I want to connect to the places, landscapes, and stories that come with finding those names and dates.  So, really, I’ve just started finding my Swedish ancestors. I can’t wait to find out more.

Back to It: Winter Genealogy

It’s December! I haven’t posted in quite a long time. I’ve been doing stuff. At the end of October, I bought my six month subscription to Ancestry.com and casually launched into my winter “hobby” (obsession). During the summer months, I spend my time in the garden, visiting the sites, and collecting. Winter time is much better spent with a cup of coffee, snow falling outside, and my laptop. I wait until there is a good sale on the all-inclusive Ancestry membership, then pick up where I left off in early spring.

I’ve been diving into my genealogy goals for about a month now. It’s been exciting, so far! When I left off, I had just received the results of my mother’s cousin’s DNA test, but didn’t get too far into the results or matches. I am using both of their tests to track down the biological family of my Great-Grandfather, James Oscar Petersen. He was born in 1899/1900 and adopted in 1902. His given name before adoption was Oscar Adsit. I will share some of my crazy adventures in tracking him down soon. I’m being helped by another genealogy enthusiast in Nebraska!

Above are photos of Great-Grandpa as an adult and young boy. The document is a certified copy from his adoption.

Another genealogy goal I’ve been working on, is tracking down more of my Swedish ancestors, on both sides of my tree. Last year, I spent a lot of time looking into my Danish ancestry and learning the ropes of the Danish archives. It came surprisingly easy to me. The Swedes have been much more of a challenge. Last night, I had my first real break through. I was able to track down the birth record of my 2nd Great-Grandfather, Carl Victor (Johansson) Johnson. He’s on my father’s side. I had started to think he was going to remain a mystery. After finding his place of birth, I was able to page though the Swedish parish records… and there he was. I’m sure only those really into genealogy will understand my excitement. I definitely yelled (really) something like, “AHA! I FOUND HIM! TAKE THAT CARL!”

Now, here I am staring at the birth record with his, previously unknown, parents named…but I cannot for the life of me figure out what those names are. Can you?

Carl Victor Johnson Birth

This parish record is from 1845! I found it searching the Swedish, “Search the Archives” website found here. In the first column, you can see he was born January 26th. The second column is his baptismal date, February, 2nd. Next, his name, Carl Victor. This last column is the real problem. It should include his father, mother, as well as some other varying info. I usually do OK reading gothic handwriting, but I am stumped on this one. Any help is appreciated! I am so close to adding another generation to the family tree.

So, this is what I’ve been up to. I’ll share more stories and more genealogy. Hopefully, I won’t wait three months to post again!

Grandma’s Scraps: The Task of Digitizing Hundreds of Family Photos

It has been a while since I’ve posted. Frankly, I just haven’t felt like sharing. During my trip to Omaha my sister reminded me the family has been waiting to see more of my grandmother’s scrapbooks. I’ve had them for a number of years and they’ve become a long-term project.

When I returned home, I brought out the big tote and began to carefully unpack it. The albums and photos are fragile, uncooperative, and there are tons of them. They aren’t the kind of thing you leave sitting out either. After sessions of sorting they always need careful repacking.

The collection came to me while both my grandparents (Ed and Virginia Petersen) were still alive. There had been a massive leak in a basement storage room and in the haste to get things out the scrapbooks, and bundles of photos wound up in a trash bag, in a separate, basement room. While home for a visit (I think it was Christmas), I found them and loved every moment of discovering my family history. I had never seen photos of my great-grandparents, my young grandparents, or even photos of my mom and her siblings as wee ones. They were glorious. When I asked Grandma about them, she said she planned to throw them all out! Some had water damage, but most were OK. I did not hesitate to ask if I could keep them. She said yes.

Little did I know… It has taken me many, many hours to sort the pages, trying to put them back in order, returning escaped photos to their homes, and separating the three albums.

It was during this last session of sorting, that I finally felt I was ready to start digitizing.

Friday, August 3rd, I received news that my Uncle Steve had unexpectedly passed away. It was a shock. He was the middle child of Grandma and Grandpa Petersen. My mother is the oldest and my Aunt Kate the youngest. It was shocking to say the least. Though I had not been close to my uncle since I was much younger, my sisters were both close to him.  I assumed I would soon be sharing all the old photos with him and the rest of the Petersens.

Digitizing the photos took on a new importance. The time frame covered in those photos includes my uncle’s childhood. I did not expect to be sharing those in a time of mourning. I am glad I could.

The digitization of the photos has begun. It is a daunting task trying to figure out how to get a good image. I no longer have a scanner, which wouldn’t have helped anyway as it was so slow and too small for the pages.

My current method involves using my Nikon Coolmax camera, a bench, and the bright, soft light of an east-facing window. Because I’m using natural light, there is only few hours a day the light is bright enough without being glaring.

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I take a photo of each page. I want to share the sense of flipping through the scrapbook without having to have the pages flipped through all the time. It would also take me way too long to each picture individually.

DSCN2871Next, I upload the pages to Amazon Prime Photo. I looked through numerous options for photo-sharing. I didn’t want to pay monthly fees and needed a lot of space. I am already an Amazon Prime member, so Prime Photo seemed like a good place to start. You can add contributors to the “family vault” making it a place to share a lot of family photos, The amount of photos you can add is unlimited. There are also editing, sharing, and print ordering options. It is not without its short-comings. Prime photos is a bit awkward when it comes to uploading in order and there are only two options for reordering your photos. My camera’s settings are messed up for date/time, which I didn’t think would be an issue. It has been. All of the pain-staking time I have spent to put the pages in order is lost in translation between uploading and creating Prime albums.

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There are definitely faults to this method, but it is a start. Most of the images have turned out clear without glare. Someday, they may need to be redone and put online again (hopefully in proper order). For now, they are sharable and family members will be able to ask point out specific photos they want higher resolutions of. I can then get a close up of that photo and send it to them for printing.

Photos are such a great way to learn about family history, and stay connected to loved ones no longer here. Make sure to take good care of those old photos. They are finicky and fragile. In a post somewhere down the line…I will share some articles that have helped my strategy for preservation and some of my own tips.