Preservation Week: Connecting with the Past through Family Hi(STORIES)

[The Preservation Week blog series continues!  Please feel free to share your own stories about your personal collections in the comments section!]

Everyone has a personal archive; a collection of records that they choose to maintain because they feel that the records have historical significance to them as an individual. They may document family history, work, a personal event, or the personal effects of a national or worldwide event. However, many people do not realize that what they are creating and maintaining are essentially archival collections. They have subconsciously developed a “collection policy” in their mind of what has significance to them and have made a conscious effort to save, maintain, store, and access these materials for long-term personal use. This is essentially what an archival institution tries to do for a community and many times these personal collections may end up at an archival institution for research use.

Snapshots and portraits

I am part of this everyone; my personal archive contains numerous family collections of photographs, correspondence, and memorabilia covering at least four generations of family history (including my own). One of my most prized collections is my great-grandmother’s (Shirley Campbell Riedesel) photo albums and diary. She created three photo albums that span her teenage years until her death in 1944 and a diary that recalls her life raising a family on a ranch north of Laramie, Wyoming in the mid 1930s.

Ranch scenes and

Ranch scenes and picture postcard.

Unfortunately, she died of cancer at the age of 44 when my grandmother was only 10 years old, making her collection our families’ only known personal record of her life and my grandmothers life as a little girl. Not only does this collection provide a pictorial history with personal anecdotes about my family history, it also provides historical documentation about everyday life in Albany County, Wyoming from 1920-1940. One great example is in a photo album labeled “Ranch – Laramie, Wyoming 1936.” On the last page of this album are two photographs of sheep hung up by their hind legs with the caption “Uncle Sam Killing Sheep, 1934”. This is a great representation of local ranches dealing with New Deal Federal Government directives to slaughter sheep as a way to reduce surplus and raise livestock prices during the Great Depression. I get the sense my great-grandmother was not overly happy about it based on the photos and the caption she wrote.

Caption from photo: "Uncle Sam Killing Sheep, 1934."

Caption from photo: “Uncle Sam Killing Sheep, 1934.”

The diary only covers a few years of her life living on the family ranch and raising her children. My great-grandmother was rather lonely and sad during this time. She complains of her husband, my great-grandfather, always being gone and expresses grief over the loss of a child. The photo albums, on the other hand, tend to show only the joyous moments in the family; family outings and gatherings, family photos, ranch work, animals, and the ranch house and buildings. We can gather a lot of historical data from both the albums and the diary regarding my great-grandmother’s life as a young women, wife, and mother. Her story can also add details about the overall experience of many women that moved to Wyoming and lived during the Great Depression. I find that many personal archive collections contain such stories that may seem only significant to the individual but can also have significance to a broader scope of research and knowledge.

–Jamie Greene, Processing Archivist

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1 Response to Preservation Week: Connecting with the Past through Family Hi(STORIES)

  1. Shirley Gillespie says:

    I am the family archivist for the Frazee-Shanton families of Laramie. My gr grandfather’s store was at the corner of 2nd & Grand, The Leader. Today it is Cross Country Connection. My gr grandparents lived at the corner of 6th & Grand. At one time the old house was the Kappa Kappa Gamma sorority house. We have a great time visiting Laramie. It feels like home.

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