Finding the Meaning Behind Objects: Analyzing Artifacts for Genealogical and Family History Research

SESSION: T227, TIME & DATE: Thursday May 9, 2019 at 11:00 a.m.

Ellen Mays

Family heirlooms are a treasured part of many family history collections.

The stories that family artifacts carry with them are invaluable to family historians. In addition to telling family stories, family artifacts help provide new insights into the lives of ancestors. Museum curators and historians often develop “biographies” about the artifacts in their collections through careful cataloging, classification, and analysis.

Using similar methods, family historians can also discover the hidden stories behind their heirloom objects. Developing a method for researching and analyzing family heirloom objects will help expand on the information discovered through historical records and documents.

Using principles based on Chenhall’s Nomenclature for Museum Cataloging and research practices from Dr. E McClung Fleming of the Winterthur Museum in Delaware, you can develop better systems for understanding your family artifacts.

Topics covered in this lecture will help you create own research plans. These include object categories, artifact properties, and operations.

Whether you have actual objects, photographs of objects, or just family stories about important objects that at one point passed through the hands of an ancestor, you can learn more with careful research practices. Treating your family heirlooms like treasured artifacts will lead you to more clues about your family history, and help you preserve the stories of these objects for many generations.

Once you have developed a research strategy for your family heirlooms, it is sometimes challenging to find resources. In addition to helping you develop a research strategy, I will share some wonderful resources with you that are available in the History and Genealogy collection of the St. Louis County Library.

I look forward to helping you discover the stories behind your family heirlooms!

 BIO: Ellen holds a MA in Public History: Heritage Education from Southeast Missouri State University and a BA in History from William Jewell College. She currently works for the History and Genealogy Department of the St. Louis County Library.

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