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Donating Records

Most families today face the prospect of downsizing, or placing an older relative in a seniors’ residence or care centre. That process includes deciding what to keep and what to give away or dispose. Often when confronted with the records of a lifetime, people’s first reaction is to haul the whole mess off to the dump. For most of us, the records we have created do not seem to be of importance to anyone but ourselves. Unfortunately, too many women over the generations believed that, and the stories of their lives have been lost.

If you are facing such a task contact your local archives. Even things that might not be connected to the historical development of the city or province can be important to an archives. Photographs, old cookbooks (especially with hand written notes about ingredients or the occasions on which they were used), diaries, letters and the paraphernalia of daily life can add much to our understanding of how women and families lived in our community and how they affected our society.

Many archives have specific topic areas for which they are collecting material. For instance, if your relative was a member of a sports association and an amateur player, there might be a place for their records at a sports “hall of fame”. Local municipal archives are interested in material from women who served on community committees, in business organizations, and as volunteers in educational institutions. These are just some examples. Other organizations like the Girl Guides and individual churches have their own archives that hold the records of dedicated women who worked on their behalf. You can find suitable archives by contacting the Archives Society of Alberta (see resources page) or looking up your local municipal archives and asking for help.

The benefit of talking with archivists is that frequently they can help you with the process of sorting out all those papers. If they have the resources they may be able to assist with the boxing and transportation of those records to their own institution. It may be tempting to try to sort the material yourself but this is not necessary. Archivists are skilled at putting material in the proper order, and they will want to see how it was arranged and stored by the individual who created them. If you suspect there may be sensitive personal material in the records there are mechanisms, such as placing a restriction on that portion of the material for a number of years, to protect living relatives.

It is especially important that records remain intact. If the individual was both a good amateur golfer and a businesswoman, her records should be placed together in one institution rather than trying to separate the sports archives from the business archives. Individuals rarely fit into such separate compartments and even the researcher looking into the sports history will want to know the whole person who achieved success at their favorite sport.

Contact us if you have material you think you might want to donate.

Student & Academic Services for The Alberta Women's Memory Project - Last Updated October 11, 2012

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