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.