Tuesday, October 9, 2018

My First Research Visit to an Archive

The second full day of our recent visit to Quebec was spent at the archives of the Eastern Townships Resource Centre housed at Bishop's University in Lennoxville, Quebec. Before you move on to another post because you have no ancestry in Canada or Quebec or the Townships, if you've never researched in an archive before, my experience may still be helpful to you.

I first learned about the Eastern Townships Resource Centre (ETRC) a few years ago while doing online research. Most of my Canadian family settled in the Eastern Townships area of Quebec so this was very interesting to me. A real eye-opener was seeing digital copies of my grandfather's photos on their website. It turns out that in the 1970s he had loaned some of his personal photo albums dating from about 1912 to an organization that took photographs of his photographs. Those images then ended up in the hands of the ETRC.

The main focus of my research lately has been one of my grandmother's lines, though, so I when we decided to visit North Hatley, in addition to my cemetery visits, I started searching for a place to visit to see original records. On the ETRC site, I did some searches by surnames, town names, county names, etc. and found some interesting looking fonds. This one really intrigued me because my ancestors were both students and teachers in this district and I had seen some images from the school census in a local history.

Thanks to the ever-generous genealogy community, I knew that it is important to search out the rules of the archive you are planning to visit well in advance. You need to know their hours of operation, if there are set times for record retrieval, or, as was the case here, if the records need to be pulled in advance. You also need to know if you will be allowed to scan, photograph or copy records or if you will have to pay to have them do it.

So, once I made a list of the files and collections that I wanted to see, I used the contact form on the ETRC website to contact the archivist with my requests and the expected date of our visit.

Archivist Jody Robinson could not have been more helpful. She let us know which of the two days would be best to visit, made sure all of the records we wanted could be pulled and provided me an "advance" copy of the rules regarding digital photography and scanning. She also sent an email with a campus map, suggested which parking lots would be best and let us know the fees. My mother is actually a graduate of Bishop's and was very familiar with the hall that holds the Old Library, but even she was grateful for all the help.

Two of the general rules of the archive that are part of the digital camera use policy are also great rules-of-tumb for doing research anywhere:

1. Researchers are responsible for keeping records of the source of the image, including fonds/collection name, file call number, and repository name. It is not the responsibility of the archives staff to track these down after the fact.
2. We insist that researchers photograph the item with the folder title as part of the image to facilitate future retrieval requests and for citation purposes.

With all of the prep work done ahead of time, Jodi was able to very quickly show us to the boxes she had retrieved for us, review procedures, have me sign her copy of the digital camera rules and let us get to work.

Some of the records that we got to see were old newspapers, ledger books for a local general store and a butcher where my ancestors were customers, school census and administrative records, church meeting notes (including some in my great-grandfather's hand!) and old survey maps which contain lot and range numbers that appear in other documents regarding property my ancestors owned.

It was a really wonderful day, aided by advanced planning and a very helpful and knowledgeable archivist! If you do have ancestry in the Eastern Townships of Quebec, do check out the ETRC website, including Jody's blog, to see if there is anything of interest. Even if you have no plans to visit the area anytime soon, they can provide copies of many of their holdings for a fee. You just never know what you might find.

1 comment:

Tess said...

That is so cool about the photos on the website! And I think it's a great idea for them to make it a rule to photograph the file info along with the item - easy citation indeed! Thanks for sharing :)