An Open Letter to an Archivist

Dear Melissa LeMaster Barker, The Archive Lady

Got some questions about filing photos and unusual family papers in acid-free metal edge Hollinger boxes.

  • I have the pencil you recommend.
  • I have acid-free archival file folders.
  • Do I need acid free tissue paper?
Hollinger document storage box

IMAGE: Courtesy Hollinger Metal Edge flip top document storage case.

1. With my father’s 1918 baby book, should I insert acid-free tissue paper between each page before placing in the file folder?

2. When an old photo has a cover, should it be stored with the cover open to view the image? It is flatter that way.

3. Should these rare late 19th and early 20th century photos be inserted in those archival photo sleeves or will the acid-free file folder suffice? Note I plan to store late 20th century photos in sleeves in photo filing boxes.

4. Is there a naming/numbering protocol for labeling each folder that’s generally accepted by archivists?

5. Is there some type of inventory log I should create for each Hollinger box? This could possibly be more descriptive than the hand written label on each file folder tab.

6. Years ago I made a frame for an old family photo, but isn’t it best to remove the old photo from the frame and store it in a file folder in a Hollinger box? Right now the photo is out of direct sunlight on a darkened corner of a climate controlled bedroom.

7. You have taught me to remove all staples and paper clips before storing a document. Should something be inserted between pages of a particularly fragile multi-page document? What about encapsulation of particularly thin paper or messy carbon copy tissue paper?

8. The important middle pages of a heavy 1890s family bible are tearing apart down the center. How should I prevent further damage if someone wishes to view and turn the pages? I know Scotch tape is out.

8. Is there some sort of finding aid I should create, summarizing what’s in each box in this family archive? There will be about 6 vertical and three horizontal Hollinger boxes, 2 custom bible boxes and several photo filing boxes when I’m done.

9. Do you have a brand of printer paper you’d recommend for printing my inventories and finding aids? I’d hate to go to all this trouble only to put high acid, easily degradable paper into my beautifully preserved collection. Also, will laser printed info pages last longer than inkjet?

10. Is there an accepted protocol for labeling the spines of my Hollinger boxes?

As you can see, I’m getting serious about archiving precious family items in my collection. Maybe these 10 questions would make good fodder for 10 blog posts?

Thank you for all the advice and training you’ve given us about preservation and using archives.

If my descendants don’t want to keep this family archive, I’d like it to be readily processed into a regional archive collection with minimal fuss for the accession archivist.

(That’s a whole lotta archiving going on.) 🤗

Laura G. Prescott SLIG Scholarship

In recognition of the professional accomplishments of our friend and colleague, Laura G. Prescott, and her contributions to the area of education in genealogy, a scholarship for tuition to the Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy (SLIG) has been established. The scholarship will be funded through tax-deductible donations.

Laura is known throughout the genealogical community for her passion for genealogical education in the areas of teaching, writing, research, and more. She worked for the New England Historic Genealogical Society for seven years before starting her own research business, was a lecturer at conferences, seminars, and workshops at all levels, and has written articles on a wide range of genealogical topics for the field’s journals. She served as president of the Association of Professional Genealogists and was director of Ancestry Academy, Ancestry’s collection of educational webinars presented by leading genealogical educators.

The Laura G. Prescott SLIG Scholarship is open to amateur, transitional, and professional genealogists who exhibit a passion for genealogy and appreciate the importance of education in our field. Desirable candidates will be those seeking to maintain high standards in genealogy, while also giving back to the community through volunteerism within the genealogical community (serving on society boards, conference committees, family associations) or through promoting genealogy in the world at large (through pro bono projects in cemeteries, adoption research, unclaimed persons, e.g.). Applicants will be asked to explain their reason for taking a particular SLIG course, and also to list education and experience, both paid and volunteer.

A committee will evaluate scholarship applications and choose one winner annually to receive full tuition to his or her choice of course at the traditional Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy in Salt Lake City, Utah, or to one of its alternative programs during the year. Details about applying for the scholarship for attendance at SLIG in January 2020 will be forthcoming.

The Salt Lake Institute of Genealogy, facilitated by the Utah Genealogical Association, is a five-day program of instruction and practical exercises featuring in-depth study of specific aspects of genealogical research. It occurs each January in Salt Lake City and the instructional tracks are coordinated and taught by leaders in the field. SLIG also offers the SLIG Academy for Professionals onsite in January, and several virtual learning programs.

Those wishing to donate to the Laura G. Prescott SLIG Scholarship may do so in one of these ways:

▪ Via Facebook

▪ By mailing a check to the Utah Genealogical Association, Attn: Laura G. Prescott SLIG Scholarship, PO Box 1144, Salt Lake City, UT 84110 (make checks payable to the Utah Genealogical Association), or

▪ Via PayPal, to with “Laura G. Prescott SLIG Scholarship” on the line labeled “Add a note.”

Why I need your research notes

Beginning family historians haven’t yet been warned to be wary of accepting an online tree as 100% accurate. Why be cautious?

We cannot readily evaluate the reliability of an online tree.

For example, though the tree may have a variety of unique sources attached, it is impossible to determine if the researcher successfully eliminated same-named individuals in the area at the time.

It took me 8 years to distinctly identify a Union Civil War veteran from several others in two states who each married women named Eliza/Elizabeth. Yet the number of unique sources attached to that ancestor in my online tree is small compared to the total number of documents I reviewed that belonged to other men with similar profiles.

Genealogical research is much more than a “quick click” to match your William Smith (1840-1916 Indiana) with a 1865 record mentioning William Smith in Indiana. The document could be about your William Smith’s same-named uncle, father, grandfather or cousin. Or this man could be no relation whatsoever.

Without the ability to review someone’s research notes, it is unclear if “reasonably exhaustive research” and other elements of the GPS have been taken into consideration.

What’s the GPS?

In a nutshell, the Genealogical Proof Standard is a set of scholarly research guidelines hammered out by leaders in the genealogy community, most recently codified by the Board for Certification of Genealogists in Genealogy Standards, fiftieth-anniversary edition. (1)

A brief review of the Genealogy Standardstable of contents reminds us to consider subtle yet important research elements like:

  • Distinction between content and comments
  • Evidence inconsistencies
  • Evidence independence
  • plus 80 others

Being “scholarly” isn’t being uppity

If we want to correctly identify our ancestors we must make a concerted effort. Life itself takes a scholarly approach.

  • When baking a cake, we follow a recipe. If we forget to add sweetener, the result won’t be palatable.
  • When purchasing a new car we study price, available options, gas mileage, frequency of repair ratios and potential resale value to avoid buying a lemon.
  • When purchasing a home, an inspection is required to ensure the home is structurally sound and free from things like termites and rusty pipes, thus saving us expensive surprises once we receive the keys.

Shouldn’t a family tree be as carefully considered?

Mr. Myrt says “It sounds like more work, but the effort is essential. We must be similarly diligent with each data point – birth, marriage, military service, birth of children, when and where they moved, etc.” He suggested online trees may or may not be accurate, but:

Without the ability to review someone’s research notes, it is unclear if “reasonably exhaustive research” and other elements of the GPS have been taken into consideration.


(1) Board for Certification of Genealogists, Genealogy Standards, fiftieth-anniversary edition (Nashville, TN: Ancestry, 2014).

Gettysburg Day 1 & My William Henry Phillips

NOTE from DearMYRTLE: It took me several hours in the air conditioned comfort of my home to compose this post but 1 July 1863 wasn’t as peaceful for my 2nd great-grandfather William Henry Phillips.

Confederate General Robert E. Lee had camped at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. He marched his Army of Northern Virginia east toward Gettysburg and first engaged the enemy in a hilly field northwest of town. What Lee faced were the battle-seasoned Union troops known as the Iron Brigade, including my ancestor William Henry Phillips, Company K, 19th Indiana Volunteers.


IMAGE: By Chitt66, Iron Brigade Unit Badge, Gettysburg Memorial Park, Wikipedia Commons.

Also known as the Black Hats for their unusual head wear, the Iron Brigade included

“Noted for its strong discipline, its unique uniform appearance, and its tenacious fighting ability, the Iron Brigade suffered the highest percentage of casualties of any brigade in the war.” See: Wikipedia, Iron Brigade.

IMAGE: By Hal Jesperson, Civil War Hardee cap, Gettysburg National Memorial Park museum, June 19, 2005. Public Domain.

William’s US Civil War pension file #243464 contains a certified copy of his 6 Aug 1874 certificate of marriage to his second wife, my second great-grandmother, Louisa Terry. This is one of his pension index cards.

William Henry Phillips Pension index card

  • Me
  • My mother
  • Her mother Frances Irene Goering
  • Her mother Stella Mae Phillips
  • Her father William Henry Phillips

William’s file also indicates his first wife was Sarah Pugh, and mentions two additional daughters, Calley [Phillips] Taylor and Viola [Phillips] Dontal.


Gettysburg MapThe Iron Brigade had been positioned near Herr Ridge to stall the progress of Lee’s overwhelmingly large forces, thereby giving time for Union troops to fall in from the east. Click the thumbnail map at left to view a series of Gettysburg battle maps archived at the Library of Congress.

In a private tour of Gettysburg, our professional guide took us to the woods where early in the day the fiercest fighting resulted in heavy casualties including the death of William’s commander and the majority of boys from William’s home county in Indiana. As a result, William’s unit was pushed back to McPherson’s Ridge.

During the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, the 19th pushed a part of James J. Archer‘s Confederate brigade off McPherson’s Ridge, and then stubbornly defended the heights later in the day before withdrawing to Seminary Ridge. When the I Corps retreated to Cemetery Hill, the Iron Brigade and the 19th Indiana were sent over to nearby Culp’s Hill, where they entrenched.” Source: Wikipedia. 19th Indiana ( : viewed 1 July 2018.)

Our tour guide explained the retreat to Culp’s Hill through the town of Gettysburg was dangerous with Confederate sharp shooters poised in attic windows and Lee’s army in hot pursuit. I suggested my ancestor and the rag-tag remnants of his unit must have been running scared. Our guide immediately objected with these words I shall never forget.

“The 19th Indiana walked backwards through the streets of Gettysburg behind the rest of  the Iron Brigade, laying a suppressing fire to ward off Confederates and to protect their comrades.”


The US Civil War pension file of William Phillips, Certificate #243464, Co K 19th Indiana Volunteers contains William’s affidavit stating he injured his left leg in a fall at the railroad cut and “said affects of rheumatism and disease of liver was contracted after the [illegible] battle of Gettysburg in the state of Virginia about Aug 1863, caused by exposure incident to the marching and campaign after said battle of Gettysburg which battle was fought July 4, 1863.”

OK, I guess he incorrectly remembered the precise date and location of the Battle of Gettysburg.

William’s pension file and surviving hospital records indicate he was treated at a Union medical facility in Washington, DC shortly afterwards.

On 21 Sept 1883 William was accepted in the Grand Army of the Republic, John C. Ferguson Post 49 near his residence in Knoxville, Iowa.

William Phillips GAR card index

IMAGE:”Iowa, Grand Army of the Republic Membership Records, 1861-1865,” images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 21 October 2015), Marion, John C. Ferguson, image 505 of 720; citing the State Historical Department, Des Moines. Front and back of membership index card.

Myrt’s Musings

PhillipsWilliamHenrytombstoneIt was my honor to place an American flag at the final resting place of William Henry Phillips who is buried with his wife Louisa next to their married daughter Stella. Graceland Cemetery, Knoxville, Marion, Iowa.
Apparently the cemetery records perished in 1950, so I walked the rows until I located the grave.

The metal star to the right  of his tombstone indicates he was a member of the GAR, a veterans organization known as the Grand Army of the Republic.



Reporting Errors to Websites

Admittedly the majority of errors are local hardware or end user mistakes. Be sure to eliminate these by keeping your operating system and web browser up to date. Before reporting an error also reboot your device (tablet, smart phone or computer) to verify the problem persists.

As with any website, rather than calling customer support its usually more productive to:

— send a written report, typically found under help/feedback

— describe your equipment – mobile iOS/droid, computer including OS version, web browser including version.

— explain what you were doing when the problem occurred.

— provide ID of ancestor in question or database in question

Being specific and providing technical info pushes your report to the tech team as opposed to the entry-level support team.