Arrangement: (1) The process of organizing materials with respect to their provenance and original order, to protect their context and to achieve physical or intellectual control over the materials; (2) The organization and sequence of items within a collection.1
The process of organizing and arranging an archival collection is a tedious one. Containers must be unpacked, and the items inside the container must be arranged in a manner that preserves the original order as much as possible while making the collection user-friendly for researchers or anyone who needs to access the materials. Working with a collection such as the records of Zion’s United Church of Christ brings quite a few challenges, as often records are just filed into boxes/tubs/containers without much concern for how someone who would write a history of the organization would use them. Basically, unorganized drawers in file cabinets are emptied into storage containers, with arrangement to occur at a later date. As a result, I have spent the past week unpacking tubs, removing documents from file folders (along with removing paper clips when necessary), and placing the documents in new file folders, with a brief description of the contents on the tab to make it easier to arrange them for deposit.
Fortunately, the Evangelical & Reformed Historical Society has prepared a guide for arranging records that are to be deposited in their repository: 1) Annual Reports; 2) Artifacts; 3) Awards, Certificates, Recognitions, etc.; 4) Bulletins; 5) Cemetery and Cemetery Associations; 6) Charter and/or Incorporation Documents; 7) Church Records; 8) Congregational Meetings; 9) Constitution and By-Laws; 10) Financial Records; 11) History; 12) Legal and Business Records; 13) Newsletters; 14) Pastors; 15) Photographs; 16) Programs and Activities; 17) Scrapbooks; 18) Committees; 19) Auxiliary Organizations. No cemetery was directly affiliated with Zion’s, so I don’t have to worry about #5. For Photographs (#15), the historical society requests that individuals in photographs be identified in pencil on the reverse side of the picture; for one box of pictures, none of the people are identified, so I am eliciting the assistance of the daughter of the last pastor (and probably his wife) in the identification. Some of the records are in bound volumes (particularly “Church Records,” which includes the records for baptism, confirmation, marriage, death, membership lists, guest registers, etc.), while others are loose pages or booklets. Unlike a business, “Correspondence” is not organized by year or recipient/sender but is separated by topic/category—which means that letters written in 1969, for instance, could be included under various committees or under Property if it relates to church repairs.
This past week, I have encountered wills, mortgage papers, correspondence and bills relating to repairs to the church property, newspaper articles about church mergers, ballots from congregational meetings, and annual reports, among other items. The materials I have worked with so far are mostly from the last few decades of the church’s activity, although occasionally I stumble across a real gem—such as a letter from the Reverend Carl H. Gramm, second pastor of Zion’s, to the congregation shortly before his departure to a new congregation in New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Obviously, I never knew Reverend Gramm—he left Zion’s in 1927, and I was born in 1959—but he was the minister who married my paternal grandparents (at the parsonage) and who baptized my father’s older siblings. I also found a list of members of Zion’s who served in the military during World War I (two of whom died) and discussions in the Consistory minutes about air raid drills following worship services during World War II. Consequently, one of the challenges an archivist who also is an historian faces is focusing on the task at hand—in this case, arranging the records for deposit—and not get distracted by what is found while arranging the archives. Fortunately, since my sabbatical also includes writing a history of Zion’s (which, according to the list provided by the ERHS, will someday be deposited among the church’s records), I rationalize the distractions by claiming that it’s research and therefore acceptable.
Another challenge comes when handling documents that have been affected by the storage conditions. Here, it is apparent that the rubber band used to hold together the items in the folder has left its mark:
Other times, I smile at what I find:
But the best “find” so far has been a letter from a serviceman in Vietnam in 1970, who wrote to the minister and apologized for not attending worship services more frequently–and who enclosed a check to help the church financially (yes, the check has been deposited). And the part about buying stock in Staples…let’s just say I’m taking advantage of the 15% off discount for school supplies, since file folders, file pockets, staple removers, and writing implements qualify as school supplies.
1Richard Pearce-Moses, A Glossary of Archival and Records Terminology (Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 2005), p. 35.