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How to Create Your Own Archives

Do you have family documents or photos that you would like to preserve for future generations?

This article will provide you with the basic know-how to set up your own archives at home! We’ll teach you how to organize and arrange your historical resources such as photos, drawings and family papers in an archival-friendly way and to ensure the enjoyment of them for many years to come.

Sadly, whole collections of great historical value are often lost due to neglect. With some simple techniques, thoughtful history lovers can ensure their documents will stand the test of time.

But first, if you understand how Archives arrange and describe their records, you’ll have a better idea of how to take care of your own collection:

Archives are arranged according to provenance (history or origin) and where possible, original order is maintained. Each document or group of records from one source must be kept intact (they are known as Fonds) and be kept separate from records from other sources. It is also archival practice that the records of an individual or business are kept in the same order they were originally arranged. For example, the records of the Billings Family are kept separate from the records of the First Unitarian Church of Ottawa. Records will also be arranged into subgroups, and series. If no original order exists, papers will be put into chronological or alphabetical order.

An excellent example can be found on the Archives Association of British Columbia. Scroll down to “Levels of Arrangement”.  Want to know more? See: Resources

Archivists will describe holdings by creating finding aids, which are guides or inventories to the records. Archivists follow and adhere to Rules for Archival Description (RAD), which are standardized rules that all archives use, creating a consistency in the description of all archival material around the world.

Visit the Canadian Council of Archives page on Rules for Archival Description to read more.  Want to know more? See: Resources

Creating Your Own Archives
Applying archival standards and procedures at home doesn’t have to be complicated. In fact many archivists don’t necessarily want or expect you to use their methods of organizing documents.  Creating your own archives, at the most basic level, is to retain your papers in original order and create a practical filing system that suits you. If your family documents are some day donated to the archives, it may make the donation process easier, but an archives won’t turn away a donation solely on the merit of its organization. Want to know more? See: Resources