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The Heritage Archivist

Heritage and archiving are closely associated words that have specific meanings, and when combined, define an important activity you should be doing.

Heritage is defined as something that comes to a person by way of birth, whether material things, like property, or as more commonly viewed, our family history.  Heritage, then, is usually associated with the past.  But time flows, so today's present is tomorrow's past.  Therefore heritage is about the past, present, and future.  It's a continuum, just like time.

Archiving is about preserving "things" for the future.  "Things" can be documents, photographs, jewelry, memories, videos, electronic files, and such.  The items we archive are ones we consider important, for whatever reason - personal or even legal.

Archiving your heritage, then, is all about preserving the important things of your past and present life for the future.  This article is the first of a series focused on helping you become a heritage archivist.  This first article is about "What to preserve".

Broadly, the items a Heritage Archivist should consider preserving fall into three areas: records, historical, and sentimental.

Records are issued by an institution or government agency.  They include birth and death certificates, marriage license, baptismal certificate, draft card, diplomas, college transcripts and the like.  Since they are "official" records, they are the most important items to archive as they are primary sources of factual information about a person.  For example, a birth certificate is the official record of when and where a person was born and the parents.  Any other source of information about a birth is not official and could be wrong (a birth announcement in a newspaper, for example, could misstate a parent's name).

Historical items are also factual based, but are not necessarily "official".  They supplement your official records by providing different information about a person or family.  Examples include obituaries, family tree records (yours and ones you may find in libraries or the Internet), Civil War pension records, and wedding announcements.  Certain photos should also be considered historical, especially ones of family groups where people are identified.  Since these items are not from official primary sources, their validity should always be judged based on the source.

Records and historical items are like the structure of a house, they provide the framework of a family, but sentimental items are the decorations that make it a home.  They provide the information that make a family or person seem real by illustrating or exemplifying what life was like.  Letters and diaries, Grandma's quilt, scrapbooks of vacation and birthday parties, wedding invitations, Dad’s watch, a wedding gown, someone's Bible, photos, and on and on.  The list is endless.  What you archive is really up to you.  In some ways, these items are more important to preserve then records or historical items as they are often one-of-a-kind and irreplaceable.  

If you have not done so, begin to think about the items of your heritage that should be preserved in your home archive.  This is an important first step in being your family's heritage archivist.

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Use archival safe supplies to preserve your heritage:


postbound scrapbook albums

Post Bound Scrapbook Albums


archival Boxes

Archival Boxes


Preservation Items

Preservation Items

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