Take Note: The Importance of Keeping Detailed Records

Take Note: The Importance of Keeping Detailed Records


Take Note: The Importance of Keeping Detailed Records

By Kieran Robertson

The way archives and museums collect has changed a lot over time. Many organizations in the United States started collecting during the mid to late 1800s, right around the same time the Ohio History Connection was founded.

The ways we think about and study history change frequently and so does the way we collect primary sources. When archives first began collecting, they often had few rules about what to take- as long as it was historic in nature, that was okay. Without the technology archivists have been blessed with today, records of incoming objects were marked in paper ledgers or, even worse, preserved only in the mind of the archivist.

This means a lot of history organizations now have items in their collections that don’t really fit their current mission. At the Ohio History Connection Archives and Library, we often stumble upon an item collected years ago that has no Ohio connection. We try to send these types of items to an archive that collects that sort of material. This helps us keep our collections in order, and it helps researchers know where to find what they are interested in.

Sometimes an archivist in a library somewhere else around the world finds an item related to Ohio and contacts us. Quite often, they don’t know how the item came to be in their care, because the records were lost to time. This can be a heartbreaking moment for an archivist, because knowing who or where a collection came from can be key to understanding it. This is why we record copious amounts of information in archives now- we learned from the results of our predecessors mistakes.

Recently, the Ohio History Connection received a collection from another archive about the Snyder family of Ohio. This collection holds some great stories, but there’s also a few that have unfortunately gone missing with time.

The collection includes lots of great family photographs, likely of the Snyder family, but nothing has been labeled with names or locations. I tried to follow the few clues I had (a house number, a few names, a few dates), but I have hit a wall. Perhaps when these photographs were first donated, the donor described them to an archivist, but now we will never know for sure.

If you are preserving your own family photographs today, try to clearly identify the people in the photographs. Even if these photographs don’t make it to an archive, future generations of your family may not be able to recognize a relative that died seventy five years before they were born. They will be thankful that you thought ahead. (The best way to label a photograph is in pencil on the reverse side.)

There are a few stories we were able to uncover this collection, because there were many more context clues.This collection includes two World War II scrapbooks, one about Karl Snyder of Indiana (by way of Columbus) and one about his brother in law, Donald Devis, also of Indiana (by way of Massillon). And that is where the similarities between these two scrapbooks end.

Devis’s scrapbook seems to have been kept by Martha Snyder Devis, Karls’ younger sister. The two grew up together in Columbus, Ohio, where their mother, Mary Snyder still resided. For a portion of  World War II, Martha was able to stay with Donald on base. The scrapbook is filled with happy memories and souvenirs from Donald’s time in Europe.

The other scrapbook in this collection was kept by Mary Snyder, Martha and Karl’s mother. Karl went missing in Burma in October 1944 when his plane ran out of fuel. Mary kept everything from official updates from military offices to the letters of sympathy she was receiving from friends, family, and even Karl’s former employers. Eventually Karl was liberated from a Japanese prisoner of war camp and returned home. Mary kept the jubilant letters she began receiving at this time as well.
A telegram from Karl, letting his mother know he had been freed and was going to be alright.

While it is unfortunate that we have lost many stories of the early Snyder family to time, we are lucky that Mary and Martha took such care in compiling these scrapbooks. There is a lot to be learned from the items that they saved. Preserving our past is complicated, but we are getting better at it, one collection at a time.

               KIC-Image-0004.jpgOne last piece of information- Karl’s mother Mary Snyder also served in the military. During World War I she was an accomplished stenographer, working in New Mexico.
Posted March 2, 2018
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