A Visit from the Past

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

As archivists working with the Florida Photographic Collection, we often receive phone calls and emails from patrons looking for specific images. Sometimes photos are acquired for news articles or academic publications, but other times pure curiosity fuels their inquiries. Whatever the case, we archivists become detectives for the public. The research process can be tedious and frustrating, but it can also be quite exciting and rewarding—especially when we are able to uncover surprising material for our patrons.

A few months ago, we received a question from patron Katie Godwin. Her family has an old portrait from 1951 of her late grandmother Mary Lou Bisplingoff. At the time, Bisplingoff, who had not yet married, was on the edge of twenty and a student at Florida State University. While Katie was replacing the broken glass of the framed picture of her “Nana,” she discovered something interesting about the photo: “When I took the frame apart to install the new glass, I found two surprises: one was a baby picture of my mother. The other was that the picture we had admired for so long was actually an ‘unfinished proof.’ A stamp on the back said the picture had been made at L’Avant Studios.”

With a sense of mystery, Katie began her quest. This is her story:

“You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone.”

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

While the new glass was being cut for the frame, I searched online and found that L’Avant had been a prominent studio in Tallahassee for decades. The studio closed in the 1980s and donated their inventory to the State Archives of Florida. I began to get excited. I hoped that I could find the original version of this beloved picture and get a clearer, brighter copy to share with my family.
The next morning I called the Archives and asked about the photograph. I was referred to Photographic Archivist Adam Watson, who knew the collection well. At his request, I sent a copy of the image and the stamp on the back, as well as an approximate date for the photograph. As promised, I heard back within just a few days; however, I was only partially prepared for the response. The image I was searching for was not there, but Adam found eight other pictures of Nana. Upon seeing the photos, I recognized only one of them. The rest were entirely new to me and my family. Nana has been gone for two years now. You don’t get new pictures of people once they’re gone. It was surreal. These pictures were taken just before she turned twenty, over sixty years ago!

“Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana.”

Initially I thought I would print all of the pictures and surprise my mother with them for her birthday, but I couldn’t keep something this big to myself. Instead, I immediately told her over the phone and then sent the proofs to her. I also texted the photos to my sisters. It was all so out of the blue and unexpected. As for my grandfather, who struggles the most with losing Nana, we decided to wait to tell him until we had the prints. I worked with Jackie Attaway to purchase high resolution digital scans of all eight images and then had them printed at a local print shop.

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplighoff, 1951

“…they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her.”

Seeing and holding the photos felt like having a visit from Nana. My Mom noticed that in one picture you could see Nana’s resemblance to her father’s side of the family. Another was my favorite because I thought you could see the glint in her eye and the sparkle she was trying to contain. In one of the photos, we noticed that her shoes were almost the same as the shoes my sister wears now; and in some you could see the shadow of a huge lamp that made the whole scene look like something from the movies. All of the photos were glamorous, and they gave us a glimpse of who she was before we knew her. My grandfather could hardly speak when he saw them.  They were bittersweet for him, but he has told me several times how much he loves the pictures and how he took them around to his friends in town, showing her off. I had no idea that the State Archives could hold such a treasure for our family. Working with Adam and Jackie was pleasant, easy, and more rewarding than I could have imagined.

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

Mary Lou Bisplingoff, 1951

At the State Archives we use our institutional knowledge, tenderness, and care when assisting patrons like Katie. Each day we have the privilege of being the custodians of a vast and wonderful collection of historic treasures. Katie’s story is an example of how a little archival research can allow patrons to connect with history on a personal level. As archivists, those are the most rewarding days for us.

What will you find in the Archives? This October, join us in celebrating Archives Month by exploring the Archives yourself. You can search for pictures of your family members on the Florida Photographic Collection, then further your research in person at the State Archives. In addition, the Photographic Collection provides high resolution scans and prints to the public for a nominal fee. Did Katie’s story inspire your own family research? Let us know in the comments section below!

Meet a Researcher

Every October, archives across the United States celebrate Archives Month. This year, the State Archives of Florida is focusing on how archives change lives. Join us throughout the month as we share stories about the impact the Archives has had on staff and patrons like you!

Meet Braeden Belcher, a historian at Florida State University who is using the State Archives of Florida as a resource for his master’s thesis. Originally from Brighton, Michigan, Braeden is a student in the FSU Historical Administration and Public History Program and “hope[s] to one day work in a museum!”

Braeden uses the State Archives as a resource while he conducts research for his master’s thesis.

Braeden uses the State Archives as a resource while he conducts research for his master’s thesis.

Belcher brought some archival experience with him on his research trip to the State Archives.  While in college, he worked as a research assistant in his university’s archives.  In this capacity, he was in charge of researching and developing displays that highlighted the archives’ collection and, according to Braeden, he “loved it!”

Braeden’s master’s thesis explores how Floridians celebrated the 200th anniversary of the American Revolution in 1976.  Braeden is using the records of the Bicentennial Commission of Florida (Series 787), which was the group responsible for planning bicentennial celebrations and activities throughout the state in the 1970s.  These archival records are helping Braeden “get a picture of how Floridians were planning for America’s 200th birthday, and what being an American meant to them.”

To plan his research trip, Braeden made frequent use of our online catalog and the Florida Memory website, as well as consulting archives staff in the research room.  “The finding aids available online have a lot of useful information about the collections, but the staff is always willing to help me if I have extra questions,” he says.

Through consulting the archives’ catalog, website, and staff, Braeden acquired the materials he needed for his research project.  He also has this advice for potential researchers: “Make sure you have a general idea of which documents you want to look at, the more information you can give to the staff the better! They will always be able to help you out and answer any questions you have, so feel free to ask!”

If you’re conducting research at the State Archives of Florida, remember that the reference staff is always available to answer questions and to help point you in the right direction. The Archives reference room is open Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Upcoming Special Events at the State Archives

October is American Archives Month, and the State Archives of Florida is celebrating with special events to help you make the most of our state’s archival treasures. Are you interested in genealogy? The history of your local community? A topic in Florida’s past? Archives Month is an excellent time to visit and see how we can help!

On Tuesday, October 6th and Tuesday, October 13th, the State Archives reference room will be open from 9:00am to 8:00pm. This is an excellent opportunity for patrons with busy work schedules who are unable to visit during our usual hours of operation.

Read more »

The Archives on the Radio!

Everything you wanted to know about the Archives and Florida Memory, but were afraid to ask… well here’s your chance!

Jody Norman, Archives Supervisor, and Jon Grandage, Archives Historian, will join host Tom Flanigan for Perspectives (88.9 WFSU-FM) today, October 3, from 11 to 12 PM. During the live call-in show, Jody and Jon will promote special events coming up in October in celebration of Archives Month and discuss what’s new and exciting on Florida Memory and at the State Archives.

Please join us on the air Thursday morning!

Red Barber and Fred Astaire share a microphone, Tallahassee, ca. 1950

Red Barber and Fred Astaire share a microphone, Tallahassee, ca. 1950

October is American Archives Month

Join us for special events at the R.A. Gray building in Tallahassee in celebration of American Archives Month 2013.

2013 Archives Month Poster

On Friday October 11, 2013, visitors will be treated to free food, drinks, and a slideshow in the lobby of the R.A. Gray building. The slideshow will feature images from the Tallahassee Democrat, many unpublished, showing scenes of life in and around Tallahassee from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. Refreshments for the slideshow event, which will run from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m., are generously provided by the Friends of the State Library and Archives of Florida.

On Saturday October 12, 2013, the Archives’ Imaging Lab will be open to the public from 10:00 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. Residents of Tallahassee and the surrounding area are encouraged to bring in their original Florida-related family photographs for possible inclusion in the collections of the State Archives of Florida (no digital images please). Many of these images will eventually be made available on the Florida Memory website as part of a special “Big Bend Area” photographic collection.

Both events are free and open to the public and will take place at the R.A. Gray building, 500 S. Bronough St., Tallahassee, FL, 32399.

Email Archives@DOS.MyFlorida.com for more information.

An Archivist’s View, Part Two

By Bethanie

Hello, again! Earlier this week I discussed my thoughts and experiences as a student of archives and as an archivist.  This time I’d like to move from past experience to a discussion of the archives profession as I see it today.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to pursue a career in the archival field.  In the midst of economic and budget issues, archives have downsized in order to survive. Today, many archives are run by a single person. These archivists, commonly referred to as lone arrangers, take on all archival responsibilities.  They are responsible for acquisition, appraisal, arrangement, description, preservation and access. The lone arranger advocates both for their repository in order to promote use and to maintain proper security of their archival holdings.  Here at the State Archives of Florida, we’re fortunate to have multiple archivists that work towards these goals.  

R. A. Gray Building, home of the State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee

R. A. Gray Building, home of the State Archives of Florida, Tallahassee

Although staffing is a common concern, the role of the archive within society remains strong.  This is particularly apparent in the continual shift to digital.  Our culture’s increased awareness and participation in the digital sector is changing the process of records creation, storage and long-term access. In this sense, technology serves as a catalyst for constantly evolving archival operations.  Archivists have a commitment to preserve all mediums of recorded and collected information that they accession.  Technological advances constantly challenge the archivist’s ability to adapt to change. New mediums call for new means of preservation.  However, these advances also promote the archive within society through online dissemination and access. Technology connects the archive to a larger community.

I’m constantly reminded of these concepts here at the State Archives of Florida. I believe that Florida Memory is a prime example of the bond between the archive and technology.  Through the digitization and web design efforts of the Florida Memory team, the State Archives brings centuries old documents into the digital age.  The myriad online collections, coupled with the use of educational resources and social media, provide outreach far beyond what was possible pre-internet.

That being said, this shift does not negate the traditional archival collection and access methods. If anything I think it calls for an even more firm foundation within arrangement, description and collection management. The digital age expands our responsibilities as archivists.  Each format expands existing preservation concerns. File migration of born digital records, format and software obsolescence, and digital metadata programs will join the storage and environmental concerns of existing collections.

Now I find myself back at my elevator speech, so here it goes.  Archivists protect the historical and public records of the institution in which they work. These record groups are as varied as the archives that house them where they act as evidence of past events. By following professional guidelines and best practices we ensure their long-term preservation, appropriate arrangement, and availability for future users.  To quote Theodore R. Schellenberg’s The Management of Archives, “Use is the end of all archival effort.”  I agree with Schellenberg.  While we work at all stages, the final goal of an archivist is to provide proper access.  It both justifies and validates our continued existence.

Theodore R. Schellenberg, The Management of Archives, quoted in Mark A. Greene, “The Power of Archives: Archivists’ Values and the Value in the Postmodern Age,” The American Archivist 72 (Spring/Summer 2009): 33.

An Archivist’s View, Part One

By Bethanie

In the spirit of American Archives Month, we’ve decided to discuss the role of the archivist in a personal fashion.  That being said, a brief introduction is in order.  As you can tell from above, my name is Bethanie.  My presence on Florida Memory up to this point is with the series of blog posts on the Koreshan Collection.  I work at the State Archives as a Project Archivist where my main responsibility is arranging and describing the aforementioned collection.

Each archivist comes to the field in a different way.  Some seek out the profession directly while others happen upon it. On the whole, I identify most with the former rather than the latter method. What follows are my thoughts, opinions, and experiences as an archivist; my metaphorical archival soap-box. 

A portion of the Koreshan Collection

A portion of the Koreshan Collection

So, what is an archivist? Or, more importantly in terms of this post, what does it mean to be one? One of the first bits of advice I was given when I started as a student in an archival education program was the importance of an archivist elevator speech. In other words, a 20 second speech designed to explain and justify my role as an archivist to anyone who asked.  Fast forward two years, and I’m still working on it.  I suppose part of my problem is in my inability to condense my thoughts.  A much easier, though longer, way for me to explain begins with my experience.

I decided I wanted to be an archivist while at my internship for my history degree. I worked in a historical society in Western Pennsylvania where I transcribed correspondence written by a member of an expedition to the North Pole.  I enjoyed learning about the early 20th century through one man’s life in letters.  Needless to say, I was hooked.

Next step: master’s degree.  Fortunately, I lived within an hour of a university where an archives specialization in the Library and Information Science program was offered.  Thus began my archival education.

Theories and best practices, arguments and discussions.  Debates over Sir Hilary Jenkinson and Theodore R. Schellenberg.  Functional analysis vs. Macroappraisal vs. Documentation Strategy vs. countless other approaches to appraisal. Drills on provenance, original order, and a determination to always, always respect des fonds.   I, along with my classmates, spent many months in a theoretical think tank. After a long class of discussing a topic ad nauseum, we’d eventually come to the same question: why?

Enter, experience.  While interning at a university archive and participating in collaborative projects with a local museum, the endless discussions started to make sense. Their relevancy beyond the classroom became apparent as we applied best practice and theory to the task at hand. 

As a project archivist I draw from my education and that of fellow archivists daily.  It’s a constant back-and-forth activity.  There seems to be a divide between a concentration on theory and on the reality of everyday archival operations. I think the truth of the archival profession is somewhere in between. While theory and practice are necessary in the archival sphere, theory requires experience in order to be fully appreciated. Of course, that’s just my point of view!

Stay tuned later this week for my thoughts on the archives profession today!

Genealogy Resources on Florida Memory

Looking for your relatives on Florida Memory? Several of our online collections provide excellent materials for researching genealogy and family history.

Did your relatives serve in World War I? Were they from Florida, or entered the service while in Florida? On Florida Memory, you can search for their World War I Service Cards.

World War I Service Card for Albert McLeod Bethune, son of Mary McLeod Bethune

World War I Service Card for Albert McLeod Bethune, son of Mary McLeod Bethune

 

Did your relatives serve for the Confederate Army during the Civil War? Were they from Florida, or lived in Florida after the war? You can search for their Confederate Pension Applications on Florida Memory.

Confederate Pension Application for Joseph H. Haddock of Duval County, submitted by his wife Martha Haddock

Confederate Pension Application for Joseph H. Haddock of Duval County, submitted by his wife Martha Haddock

Did your family live in Florida before the United States took control of the territory in 1821? On Florida Memory, you can find Spanish Land Grant claims. These records represent claims made for land purchased in Florida from the Spanish government prior to 1821.

Confirmed claim of Reuben Hogan

Confirmed claim of Reuben Hogan

Photographs are a great resource on family history. We have over 170,000 photographs available online, some of which contain unidentified persons. Perhaps your relative is waiting to be identified on Florida Memory? Search the Florida Photographic Collection.

Portrait of an unidentified family: Gainesville (ca. 1900)

Portrait of an unidentified family: Gainesville (ca. 1900)

Found a great photo or document from your family’s history on Florida Memory? Share it with us in the comments.