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Posts Tagged ‘family artifacts’

I’ve inherited an ever-increasing number of family history materials, and have been working for a while at determining the best way to care for each of them. The one whose care I consider particularly urgent is a specific scrapbook I inherited.

The paste has not weathered well, and many items have simply fallen off of the pages and are now loose in the scrapbook:

Some loose items in the scrapbook, shown with some of the wide variety of still-pasted items.

Some loose items in the scrapbook, shown with some of the wide variety of still-pasted items.

On the left, the paste residue shows how many items have fallen off the page and are now loose. On the right, the backs of a couple of the now-loose items are shown with their paste residue.

On the left, the paste residue gives a rough idea of how many items have fallen off that page and are now loose. On the right, the backs of a couple of the now-loose items are shown with their paste residue.

Additionally, there are a number of pages with non-flat items pasted onto them, affecting the scrapbook:

Some more of the wide variety of items in the scrapbook are shown, including a raised item in the lower right.

Some more of the wide variety of items in the scrapbook are shown, including a raised item in the lower right.

Another page with a variety of items in the scrapbook, including a raised item shown in the center of the photo.

Another page with a variety of items in the scrapbook, including a raised item shown in the center of the photo.

There are also some pages of handwritten entries, occasionally with a piece of ephemera stuck between them (ephemera that appears to have always been loose), as here:

A loose program and two pages of handwritten entries in the scrapbook. (These seem like minor issues that are easiest for me to deal with on my own, so I did not mention them to the archivists.)

A loose program between a page of handwritten entries and a blank page in the scrapbook. (These seem like minor issues that are easiest for me to deal with on my own, so I did not mention them to the archivists I discuss consulting later in this post.)

Unusually, the leather cover is the one thing that’s in good shape in the scrapbook:

The scrapbook's leather cover is, surprisingly, in excellent condition despite being nearly a century old.

The scrapbook’s leather cover is, surprisingly, in excellent condition despite being nearly a century old.

I’ve attended a number of events and lectures on ways to care for family history items, and am looking forward to attending a couple more in the upcoming months. In April I attended an event on preservation and conservation at New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS). It was the day after New England Regional Genealogical Conference (NERGC) 2013 ended [I wrote three blog posts this spring on my time at NERGC for anyone who’s interested but hasn’t read them], and luckily I did not fully realize this when I signed up, as I probably wouldn’t have gone if I had.

The event featured lectures on a variety of preservation and conservation topics from staff at NEHGS and the Northeast Document Conservation Center (NEDCC), and after the lectures ended, attendees had the opportunity to consult with experts from NEHGS and NEDCC on specific items. In my years going to NEHGS, I had become acquainted with their head conservationist, and I showed her some photos of my poor-shape scrapbook and asked her advice.

She happened to have a scrapbook with her that had originally had several of the same issues as mine but had been conserved by an archivist from the same archival school that the conservationist had attended, so she was able to physically show me one approach to conserving a scrapbook. The scrapbook had been moved from its original binding and a strip of 4-ply museum board had been attached to the inner edge of each page. For pages that had items attached which protruded (as my scrapbook has as well), two strips of 4-ply museum board had been attached to cushion the object from potentially damaging other pages and/or the binding. Archival plastic was between each page for protection. While she wasn’t 100% sure since she hadn’t done the work herself, she believed the screws the archivist had used to bind the restored scrapbook together were likely aluminum so that they wouldn’t rust.

I meant to finish and post this shortly after the event, but it has been nearly three months now and I have attended another pertinent event in the intervening time. Cambridge Historical Society [of Massachusetts] holds Open Archives Tours every summer, and this was my second year attending. For the first time, this year they held an “Ask the Experts” open house the last day of the tours, where people could bring in an archival item and ask one of the archivists in attendance for advice on conserving and/or preserving it.

I brought my photos of the scrapbook along again. The paper expert was busy the whole hour-plus I was there with an older woman who had brought an entire box of materials she’d inherited along, but I didn’t mind; I asked another archivist, the one from Cambridge’s Department of Public Works, his opinion on my scrapbook. He noticed right away that the binding is a tie, and suggested undoing it and putting each page in an archival sleeve. The previous expert I’d consulted about the scrapbook had suggested putting the fallen-out items back into their original places, but this expert suggested I might want to use a professional archival item that removes the paste from the fallen-out items instead, so that they would not potentially be able to damage any items that remain pasted in the scrapbook, and then keep the fallen-out items in the same archival sleeve as the page from which they fell. This archivist was very interested in the content of the scrapbook, studying the items the viewer can see in the photographs, so I told him some about the scrapbook and the family that produced it.

I follow the basic rule of the first conservation expert whose workshop I attended: I don’t want to remove the items from the scrapbook entirely as that would destroy the coherency of an artifact that was made by someone who is no longer alive to reassemble it, destroying its uniqueness as an object. You may have noted that both the suggestions, while not exactly the same in the details, also followed this principle. Neither of the experts asked me whether I had a preference for doing the conservation myself or having a trained professional do it, nor whether I would be able to pay someone else to do the work. Their suggestions are fairly similar, but the first suggestion deals directly with one more issue than the second one – what to do about the pages that have raised items on them. As of this posting, I have yet to decide what to do about the scrapbook, though I know that time is of the essence.

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Notes

A huge note of caution: At the NEHGS event, I learned that a product sold as “acid-free” in the United States only means that the product was completely free of acid at the moment it was produced. It does not mean it will continue to be acid-free and in many cases, these products degrade to the point where they are emitting acid, sometimes rather quickly. The best way to obtain products that continue to remain acid-free is to buy archival-quality products from a reputable archival company that professionals also use.

As someone who has read a number of books about caring for family history archives, the one I’ve found the most helpful so far is Help! I’ve Inherited an Attic Full of History by Althea Douglass. A number of new books have come out in the past few years, including books by Denise Levenick (@FamilyCurator) of the blog The Family Curator and Melissa Mannon (@archivesinfo) of the site ArchivesInfo, but I have yet to read any of them.

Overall I recommend reading books, attending workshops/lectures, etc., from a variety of experts, because as my experiences in this post illustrate, opinions vary a little to a lot on how to deal with both general care and specific issues.

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I recently received what I have been calling “my latest treasure box.” In it, I received a large amount of family memorabilia, much of which had probably not seen the light of day in at least 20 years. One of the items in it was a pad containing the same form over and over, with a piece of carbon paper behind each form, and a second form behind each piece of carbon, to create a duplicate. This is what the form looks like:

Cincinnati Wardens Report Book

Cincinnati Citizens' Defense Corps Warden's Incident Report Book and accompanying handwritten note, both in possession of author.

The handwritten note pictured with the pad was found inside of it. The note is in my grandfather’s handwriting.  I had no idea that he had volunteered to do this until I opened the box and reviewed the contents. I posted the scan on a genealogy site, and got some responses from researchers who had a female relative that volunteered to sit in a tower watching for planes that might be coming to raid New England during WWII, as according to them, some areas of New England were considered prime targets for German air attacks. One of them suggested that this was a report pad for an Air Raid Warden, and that since Procter & Gamble is based in Cincinnati and was making items for the war, perhaps Cincinnati was also considered a top possible target.

Meanwhile, I looked for information on my own about all of this. I couldn’t really find anything online about the Cincinnati branch, so I focused in on searching for the Citizens’ Defense Corps without specifying a place. I found a small informational book that was published by the Office of Civilian Defense, a branch of the US government at the time, and had been scanned online – U. S. Citizens Defense Corps. It appears to be framed as a recruiting tool, describing the different tasks and qualifications for each role in the Corps. This is some of what it has to say about Air Raid Wardens:

The Air Raid Wardens are to many people the personal representatives of Civilian Defense. They are not policemen and do not have police powers, but usually function as part of the police force and with its help.

An Air Raid Warden’s post is organized to serve a unit of 500 people. It is accessible and plainly marked. Since at least one person is always on duty, four Air Raid Wardens usually are assigned to each post.

The Air Raid Warden’s duties include: (1) Observing lights showing during a black-out and warning occupants of the building; (2) directing persons in the streets to shelter;  (3) reporting to the Control Center any fallen bombs; (4) reporting fires to the Control Center and assisting in fighting incendiary bombs as soon as they fall; (5) detecting and reporting to the Control Center the presence of gas; (6) administering elementary first aid; (7) assisting victims in damaged buildings; (8) to set an example of cool efficiency under all conditions.

The booklet also says that a lot of training was required to qualify for the position – 10 hours of first aid; 3 hours of fire defense; 5 hours of gas defense; 5 “general” hours; and 2 hours of drills. I wondered, after reading the booklet, if perhaps the note stuck in the pad was from one of the classes my grandfather took.

My grandfather never served a day of military service in his life. But I already knew from a newspaper clipping the family had saved, and a candid photo that a photographer had taken and then sold to my grandfather, that my grandfather was heavily involved in selling war bonds, which fit well with the grandfather I knew, someone who had been involved in the financial industry the entire time I knew him. But my grandfather is definitely not the first person I would have thought of as volunteering to go around a city identifying what type of bomb had been dropped, getting people to safety, and tending to the injured. So far I have not determined whether the Citizens’ Defense Corps records survive and if so, who holds them. The pad and note meant enough to my grandfather to hold on to until he died, but whether he completed his Air Raid Warden training and served as a lookout over the city he so loved, I don’t know for sure, although his having the pad suggests that perhaps he did. However, just the fact that he volunteered to do so illustrates a theme I find over and over in my research, both with relatives I knew and people far distant in time – each record, each story, each photograph only tells a tiny snippet of the full life of an individual.

I had been meaning to write this post since I scanned the pad, and I was inspired to do so this evening by Corn and Cotton’s post, Maritime Monday: Liberty Ships.

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