The first stage of my consulting project has now been finished with the completion of the accession inventory for the Shafer/Motherway Papers. This project has been the first full appraisal/acquisition that I’ve completed and the process has been very illuminating. Throughout the past three months, the collection has developed into an impressive archive that will not only be valuable to future research and scholarship, but will also support the activities of the preservation association in its restoration of the Hamilton Willard Shafer Farm.
Overall, the collection incorporates three groups: Manuscripts, Objects, and Textiles/Apparel. The manuscripts group includes six series which follow the progression of the Shafer and Motherway Families over a period of over 150 years. The oldest documents in the collection date back to the American Civil War and the group is particularly strong in materials from the 1920s, the Great Depression, and the World War II eras. There are 169 folders of records in the manuscripts group, covering 4 linear feet.
While this collection is small in the larger-scheme of things, it is double the size I originally assessed it to be. As the recovery process at the farm grew from 2-3 weeks to 2 months, I quickly realized that we would have a larger amount of material to work with.
This inventory is essential not only for formalizing the accession of the collection to the Burkittsville Preservation Association, but it is also vital for planning the next steps of preserving the collection and making it accessible. Our next step in the process will be estimating the cost of supplies (boxes, folders, photo envelopes, interleaving, etc.) that will be needed to rehouse the collection. While inventorying the collection, I took measurements of every 3-dimensional object so that boxes or other housing can be procured to store them.
Most of all, I’m excited to see how the collection has evolved from just a few records detailing the life of one member of the family to a multi-generational assortment of documents, objects, and textiles that provide exceptional context to the history of the Hamilton Willard Shafer farm and the Shafer Family who lived there for over a century and a half.
All archivists know that the records they care for contain remarkable stories to be discovered. After all, this is one of the most alluring aspects of the profession. These stories make our collections valuable for research but they can also offer benefit to the organization that preserves them. Such is the case with a recent discovery in the records I’ve been processing in the Shafer/Motherway Collection.
In brief, we know the general timeline of who lived in the house in the Hamilton Willard Shafer House which the Burkittsville Preservation Association is currently stabilizing and preparing to restore. The Shafer Family lived on the farm from the late-1880s until 2004. However, there are points in the timeline that are less clear than others and members of the family who's stories aren't as well documented as others. A recent discovery in the collection being archived from the Hamilton Willard Shafer House has helped to shed light on one of these family members and an important era in the timeline of the property.
The recovery of these stories demonstrates the research value that the Shafer/Motherway Collection provides. However, the collection is also proving its value to the preservation association, the organization that is overseeing its archiving. As work progresses to restore the Hamilton Willard Shafer House, these stories will be vital for interpreting the property for visitors. Understanding the lives of those who lived in the house provides an opportunity to attract visitors who will in the long-run support the activities of the preservation association. Archive collections not only provide value for intellectual activity, they can also be invaluable tools for supporting local cultural and economic activity.
With the last batch of artifacts delivered to the records storage facility for the Shafer/Motherway Collection, I have met the initial goal of my project, completing the inventory in preparation for appraisal and accession. Since this collection is being constructed with little to no input from its creators, this inventory phase has been crucial to understanding the materials and also planning for their preservation.
Last weekend, I spent a few hours sorting documents which we recovered from the attic of the house. Interesting discoveries continue to abound, including lecture notes and exams from Mary Shafer Motherway’s years as a medical student. An important realization brought about by these documents is that Mary continued her education even after she received her initial Registered Nurse License and moved to Panama with her husband, James, to work in the Canal Zone.
I look forward to also beginning the description of the collection and preparing a database that is DACS and EAD compliant for development of future reference tools. I will be using Microsoft Excel to store descriptive information since this is a widely-accepted tool that can be imported into most software programs that could be obtained in the future for storing this data.
In the past two months, I’ve worked with the members of the Burkittsville Preservation Association to recover a collection of historical records and artifacts from the Hamilton Willard Shafer House. The process has been illuminative in many ways, not only considering the unique environment in which I’m working to process a collection, but also gaining the experience of essentially constructing a collection from scratch.
When this project began, I had first impressions about the size of the collection I would be working with. Having toured the site and spoken with members who were actively working on clearing out the house, I assumed that at most we would find a dozen or so boxes of materials that would constitute the collection. Setting to work, I initially saw rooms full of debris and trash from years of vandalism, leading me to assume that little if anything of historical significance was left to be found.
I was wrong!