October is American Archives Month

National Archives. Washington, D.C., Library of Congress photo collection.

October is American Archives Month, and institutions throughout the country are celebrating! Here are seven ways you can get involved:

1) Attend an event

Many archives will be having special events throughout the month. These might include open houses, lectures, tours, exhibits or other activities. Check the websites of nearby repositories, including college campuses, public libraries, church archives as well as the more common institutions like state and county historical societies and archives. And did you know the National Archives has regional branches throughout the country?

2) Volunteer

Most archives are always in need of volunteers to help with a wide range of tasks. These might be helping with an event, filing, labeling folders, preservation activities, research, responding to inquiries, or any number of other activities.

3) Visit

Not sure how an archives differs from a library? Feel intimidated because you’ve never visited an archives? Want to take your research another step deeper by exploring offline, original resources, but not sure how to start? Plan a field trip to an archive in the geographic area of your genealogical interest, or visit a local repository just to explore. If you’re a first timer, call ahead to learn the basics. Most institutions have limited hours, and will appreciate an exploratory call in advance. Even if you live far from where your ancestors lived, you can still learn much about how archives operate and learn the basics of archival research, just by visiting a repository close to home.

4) Go Virtual

Although Ancestry is home to a wealth of resources, there are many virtual exhibits and digitized holdings beyond Ancestry.  Calisphere from the University of California system is one example, and a tremendous  variety of resources and subjects are available from the Wisconsin Historical Society, as well. Smaller projects may not have as many digital images, but nevertheless provide a great deal of help by providing online indexes to treasures in local county records, like the online resources from the Limestone County Archives in Alabama.

5) Help Make Records Accessible

More and more projects and institutions are using crowdsourcing to transcribe and describe the resources in their holdings. The National Archives has its “Citizen Archivist” program; the Library of Congress just launched its first Labs project featuring “Beyond Words” to transcribe information from newspaper images; and the Smithsonian Institution has its “Digital Volunteers” program.

6) Preserve Your Own Family Treasures

Get guidance on best practices for preserving “born digital” material, like digital photographs or computer files, from the Library of Congress, or learn more about caring for records and images in traditional formats. Check out a number of free guides from the Gaylord company that provide preservation recommendations for books, documents, scrapbooks, photographs, and even recommendations for artifacts and wedding dresses!

7) Donate or Join

Some archives and historical organizations have Friends groups, charitable foundations, or other ways you can become a member or donate money to support their efforts. Many historical organizations are chronically underfunded, so any support you can lend by donating time or money is welcome. With the recent national disasters, this is a prime opportunity to contribute to the National Disaster Recovery Fund for Archives, operated by the Society of American Archivists Foundation.

However you choose to celebrate American Archives Month, you will benefit in terms of learning more about the unique resources available in our nation’s genealogically valuable institutions and in helping them to continue the great they do in preserving our heritage.