Connection through Genealogy and Family History

Margot Note

Margot Note

February 14, 2022

Many archival programs have crafted opportunities to welcome community members who might not have thought about coming in before. The wider the user base of the archives, the better the awareness will be of the archival repository, especially if it has a local focus.

This is especially true of communities with changing demographics because the newer residents would not have a natural connection to the area’s past; archival programs can speak of the history of the area, actively solicit materials, and engage with their contemporary communities. The programs can also range in target age from children to adult learners, so archivists can create various ideas to experiment with.

Local History Resources

An essential part of archives is documenting a historical place: “place” can be a town, county, state, or region. The important part is that the materials capture aspects of the history of the area and its residents, past and present. Local history guides may provide a comprehensive account of the area, oral histories, and genealogy resources. The archives can also solicit donations of materials, as whole collections or in part, such as postcards that depict the area. Historic photographs; local court records, military records, vital statistics, and newspapers on microfilm; and high school yearbooks are also popular materials. 

Genealogy Programs 

An archival department can also focus on genealogy-based outreach programming, such as creating family trees and researching ancestry. A show-and-tell of family heirlooms can allow users to share stories about their past. Sharing photos raises awareness of the universality and change of “family” over time, and screening home movies bring snippets of life to light. Providing educational resources on digitizing these materials can prove invaluable to patrons and can be a proactive way of saving local history before it gets damaged or destroyed. DNA-based genealogy is a popular and controversial topic; bringing in an expert to speak on the subject may bring potential new users to the archives. 

Partner with Local Organizations

If your organization does not hold local history or genealogy materials, you may wish to collaborate with a local genealogical and historical society for history-based events. Local experts can present programs to inform users about their neighborhood, town, or county, and demonstrate other archival resources you already maintain. Allow new audiences to learn about prominent personalities, their families, and achievements; conversely, a local historian can discuss the area’s hidden history to reveal untold stories. Highlight community authors who write about your locality. Invite them to discuss their research into the town to promote their work. 

Preservation for the People

Another way to connect people to the value of archives and primary sources is to provide information about preserving their cherished family and personal materials. Staff members can host workshops on preserving materials, demonstrating the decisions and techniques archivists use on collections that can be used in home archives. If there is a museum or university in your area, ask a conservator or preservation specialist to lead a workshop and talk about the storage and handling of family documents, letters, and photographs. When I wrote a book on creating family archives for a general audience for the Society of American Archivists, I was surprised by the number of queries I got regarding hosting webinars and programs for historical societies and libraries. They were looking for opportunities to explain their everyday duties to local audiences and connect through legacy. Creating archives is the process of preserving, organizing, and protecting something precious. It applies to physical and digital materials that capture moments and memories. Finding opportunities to show archival work reminds users that a family story is more than just facts likes names, dates, and events. Documents record private and public thoughts and personal and professional interactions, and the stories they contain may be of interest to people beyond family members, perhaps future users of the archival repository.

Strengthening Connections

These are just a few of the many options available to bring more local history and genealogy-related programming into your organization. Archivists are delighted to help their users discover more about their family history, become engaged in the community, and forge connections. 

Margot Note

Margot Note

If you’re interested in this topic and eager to learn more, please join us for “Reach New Archival Audiences: Prioritize Connection”, the second in a new series being presented by Margot Note. It’s on Wednesday, February 16, 2022 at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern. (Can’t make it? Register anyway and we’ll send you a link to the recording and slides afterwards). Register now or call 604-278-6717. And check out ArchivEra, our archival collections management software built for today’s challenges and tomorrow’s opportunities.

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