Sunday, October 09, 2011

Provenance - Word for the Day

"Provenance refers to the practice of keeping groups of records together based on who created them. Collections should be maintained based on the creator of the records. They should not be 're-organized' into collections based on subject or classification schemes created by someone else." We all have an inclination to reorganize things in a way that we know how to find them. When a record is created the creator had a purpose in mind and we need to respect 'their' purpose and not conform them to our way of thinking.

I recently attended the Fall workshop for Archivists put on by the Society of Indiana Archivists. The area was beautiful and was at the Prindle Institute at DePauw University. The workshop was "Nuts and Bolts: Archives Basics" and it is intended for new archivists going into a situation they know little about - and that was me. I recently took over the Archives of the Brown County Historical Society. I knew little about what actually goes on at an Archives. Even though I have been an assistant at the Archives for three years, I knew little about what went on behind those doors where the records were actually kept. This was a good starter course for me and I can also see how it will help me as a genealogist. I know more now that would help me if I need to go to an archives for my family history research.

Last year I was given a box donated to our archives that contained genealogical notes and records of a deceased county resident. I didn't know the first thing about what to do with this box. Did I go through it and try to organize everything? I finally faced the fact that I couldn't tackle this box for a while and set it back for another time. I'm still wary about starting on this box again, but now I have a little more knowledge about what I can do with its contents. According to the definition of 'provenance' I don't have to reorganize everything. It was put in a particular order by its creator and it should stay that way. I might try to list the surnames contained in it for genealogical use. Now that I'm a little more confident I might take another look in that box.

Another thing I learned that my predecessors didn't teach me is that an archives are created to be used not kept hidden away. These records are of course kept here to be preserved for posterity, but why are they kept? They are here for a reason - for the use of researchers and family historians. I came away from this workshop with a little more confidence and a little more knowledge of how an archives operates. I want to thank the SIA for a great workshop and I would love to take other workshops presented by them in the future.

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