A to Z April Challenge

During the month of April I will be doing a different spin on my memoir posts. It starts with a song. Each song will be followed by a brief essay that is evoked or inspired by that song. You might want to click on the YouTube link to hear the song as you read the piece I've written. Or you can listen to the song lyrics first and then read. Whichever way you choose, I mostly hope you'll read and leave a comment with your thoughts about my post. Thank you for visiting and please follow the blog if you are not doing so already.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Using Less Traditional Archive Resources

                       In my previous post I addressed the role of the archivist in preserving history and recording it in published works such as memoirs.  Acting as archivist we may keep photo albums or scrapbooks, diaries or other written records, and other collections of mementos and heirlooms.  These all provide good touchstones to connect us with our past and even the times before we were born.

            Our personal collections of artifacts can help us to remember previous events with greater clarity and bring the eras associated with those events back to life in our memory.  This is especially helpful when we are writing accounts of the past and want to recreate the broader picture of the world as it was in those times about which we are writing.  

             Historical or genealogical websites, historic sites, libraries, and museums are all good resources to use when researching the past, but what about some the archival sources you might have right at home?   Have you ever considered some of that "junk" you have stuffed in drawers, tucked away in closets, or stored in the attic?

            On those infrequent occasions when I've started combing through the closets to organize and cull the clutter, I've found many unlikely items that can help to jog my memory about days gone by.  Things like checkbook registers, bank and credit card statements, and other financial documentation that I'm sometimes reluctant to throw away can remind me of when I was spending money and what I was buying.  Even more helpful, these records can help me determine where I was on a certain date.

             Also, in my case (and I'd bet many of you have similar types of records) I have record books from the years I was managing a touring theater company.  These records include the gate receipts from the shows, promotional income and expense, attendance at shows and most importantly the time and place of each show.  With these I can reconstruct our yearly tours.  This is important for me since many of my memoir accounts would be about those interesting years I spent on the road.  I can remember a lot about those days, but it's very helpful to have precise data so my accounts are more accurate.

             Some of the other documentation that has ended up stored away includes maps, brochures, directories, newspapers, and other literature that I thought worth storing away.   I have since discarded many things over the years, but still there is a treasure trove of archival material waiting for me to reexamine.  I was always somewhat prescient to the fact that I might need some of the things I kept for future use.  I've always jokingly referred to these items as being a part of my future museum.

             The true fact is that it is difficult to save everything unless you've got adequate storage space or are living in hyper hoarder squalor.   I've gone through many weeding out periods over the years where I separate that which truly seems useless from that which might have potential value someday whether that value be real or intrinsic.  I've have attempted to maintain a semblance of order to my archive by sorting things into boxes labeled by appropriate subject matter (e.g.--travel information, show records, personal data, etc) and storing them as neatly as possible.

           My basic rule for assembling my personal archive is if I've managed to keep something and it's at least 15 or 20 years old, I won't throw it out unless it's pure trash.  Some items can be sold on Craig's List, Ebay, or other sites.   I've sold some of those items already and plan to sell others in the future.  Older might mean interesting to the right person so I'm hesitant to call anything landfill additive.  

            So remember, next time you're gathering research for your memoir or some other written history, don't forget some of those unlikely sources that are part of that story.  Whether it be what prices were or how the weather was, little details can help you better relive past times so you can more effectively write about them.

             Have you ever used some of these things I've mentioned here for help with research?    How much "old stuff" do you save?   Are there other types of archival material that you can think of?

            I'll be having some great guests over the next few weeks.  I hope you'll stop back in to hear what these folks have to say.   And if you'd like to contribute a guest post be sure to let me know.  I love hosting guests at my blogs.         

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welcome to my world of poetry said...

I save all my Daniel O Donnelly concert tickets also when I travel abroad I always get a fridge magnet. Enjoyed the read.

Teresa Coltrin@Journaling Woman said...

I save lots of family things, but I have to admit I'm the opposite of a pack rat in saving things. What would that be? A disperse rat?

But, I do keep "some" things especially things related to family history.


FrankandMary said...

The best help with my research(in the distant past)was my Mom. She knew everything. Some people think they do, but she really had it all nailed. I still have some hard-copy things, but go to the internet for more & more.~Mary

Jenny said...

Great post. I refer to my mother as the family archivist, because she doesn't get rid of anything. She's also a great resource for Halloween costumes :-)

Arlee Bird said...

Yvonne -- I have many concert and event tickets that I've saved through the years. They are good memory prompts.

Teresa -- My wife would like to get rid of a lot of my things. But she keeps similar things so it's only fair that I get to keep mine.

Mary -- Oral history is hard to beat, especially if it's first hand.

Jenny -- I used to go into my mother's closet for Halloween costumes when I outgrew the packaged costumes from the store.


Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

Yes indeed these personal itlifepersonal story -to us but perhaps not to anyone else which is why writing up the connecting stories is so important. Financial documents are things we tend to happily throw out but as you rightly point out they can date when certain things happen and remind you of events we've forgotten as well as costs. Despite moving regularly some of these things I just won't throw out. Thanks for an interesting post!

Cassmob (Pauleen) said...

Sorry that jumbled up -the personal items do tell our life story to us.....

Lynn Proctor said...

i could write a wonderfully explicit book about my husband--but me, i love to throw stuff out--so mine would have to be all in my memory or make it up :)

Dee said...

Dear Lee, like you, I kept checkbook records for thirty years, but when I moved in 2009, I shredded everything and put much in recycling. Now I regret that. So hang on to all that "stuff"! Peace.

Ella said...

I love this post~! It is the little things that count and give us so many clues, like you said! It is amazing what we keep. Horrors, I need to go clean, before hubby finds crafting supplies in my bureau, lol

Arlee Bird said...

Pauleen -- A wealth of information can be found in the most common places.

Lynn -- If you've got a great memory that's okay, but mine is starting to get a bit hazy and I need the help.

Dee -- I've dumped a lot of stuff over the years, but I've kept most of my financial records.

Ella -- Life becomes like a jigsaw puzzle over the years. I need help remember when and where what happened.


Empty Nest Insider said...

Sometimes it's difficult to decide what's worth saving. I agree that organization is key! Great line about living in "hyper hoarder squalor!". Julie

Eve said...

I save old ticket stubs and stuff like that too! The other day I was looking through some old stuff and I found a program from when I saw 'West Side Story' live. It's strange that I had forgotten seeing it, because it's probably my favourite musical..but when I found the program the whole evening came back to me.
I keep telling myself that I've got to get on this and organize these things and memories into some kind of.....something! I want to leave my kids and grandkids a record of where they come from..

Arlee Bird said...

Julie -- I've always saved things pretty randomly. I've gotten better at separating them, but I need to categorize them even more and probably cull out a number of other items.

Eve--That's the thing. I too keep all these old items and then go back later to jolt my memory. Time a-wasting! Need to get these archives in order. They will be meaningless trash to those who don't know what they represent.