Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Archives Need Your Stuff

by Anita Mae Draper

This summer while on vacation, I'll be visiting municipal and provincial archives while researching family history and it's bringing up memories of other visits. Back in 1978, my husband and I visited the National Archives of Canada (now Library and Archives Canada) where we found census records that showed where his paternal grandmother lived in York County, Ontario.

In 2015, I went to the York County area - basically the area from Toronto north to Lake Simcoe - and spent a delightful day in the Georgina Pioneer Village & Archives (GPV&A) where I finally met the curator, Melissa Matt, who happens to be one of my husband's cousins by marriage. With Melissa's help, I was able to confirm that my husband's 3 x Great-grandfather, Rev Joel Draper Sr, bought land in 1807 in what was then known as Upper Canada.

Melissa brought out several old maps that I scanned in segments with my Flip-Pal scanner and then stitched them back together on my laptop. For example, this 1860 map shows 3 lots owned by Joel Draper. I know that the one on Lot 13, Concession 4, was owned by Joel Draper Jr as that was where my husband's great-grandfather was born, but the other two lots may have belonged to him as well, or to his father, Joel Draper Sr who died in 1856.

North Gwillibury, York County, 1860, South part Lots 1-17. Courtesy of GPV&A

The hand-drawn map is ripped and stained, but it's the only one for 1860 and that makes it a valuable resource. If I remember correctly, the Archives received the map collection while Melissa was going through the files of someone who had passed on after living in the area since birth. The relative who'd invited her to peruse the files to see if there was anything of worth was surprised that Melissa showed interest in the maps. The person donating the collection saw the rips and stains, but Melissa saw the historical value of the printed information.

The definition of an archives in this case is a place or collection of records, documents, or other materials of historical interest, such as:

  • land records and deeds
  • photographs
  • maps
  • books & periodicals
  • film & video
  • diaries & journals
  • letters & postcards
  • scrapbooks
Municipal, provincial, state, and national archives want the old stuff your grandmother has been storing in the attic. They want the old postcard collection your great uncle spent years gathering. They want the old letters your grandfather wrote to your grandmother when he served overseas in the war. They like old Bibles with family inscriptions of birth, death, and marriage records. 

This postcard is part of the donated collection at the Georgina Archives. The image may be Alberta, but according to the writing on the back it was sent to a local resident and deserves to be preserved.

1910 Alberta postcard found in the GPV&A postcard collection

Melissa said that someone was going to through out an old photograph album because they didn't know any of the people, and gladly handed it over to the archives when Melissa said it didn't matter because they may already have photographs of those people in the archives and can match them up. Any day, someone can walk into the archives and recognize someone and that's another mystery solved. The archives is the place to gather these different pieces of history to tell the story of the area.

This 1911 image of a Scottish immigrant and her children is one of many held at the Library and Archives Canada (LAC). This particular series was taken by photographer, William James Topley (1845-1930) who was commissioned to take photos of immigrants upon arrival in Canada. Although they don't know the woman's name, the LAC considers this image worth preserving. 

Scottish immigrant mother and her children upon arrival. Public Domain. Courtesy of LAC - Series:Topley Photographs of Qu├ębec Immigration Centre, 1911
However, an archive won't accept every donation. According to the LAC, "Various factors such as the offered material’s uniqueness, age, rareness, condition, relationship to other material in the collection, and restrictions on access or use are considered in the final decision."

Also, a donation of historical material to an archive is just that - a donation. They don't pay out for whatever you bring them.

As for leaving your old stuff at the back door of the archives and then running away with glee - DON'T. Not without leaving a note with your name and address in case they don't want it. An archive can only accept material that comes from a known source. The curator needs to know who owned it. Not only does it show that it wasn't stolen, but it helps the curator put it in perspective.


I've been using the word collection here, but there's nothing to stop you from donating one journal, or one photograph album, etc. An archives grows one historical piece at a time.

I was amazed to find funeral cards at the GPV&A, especially when I came upon those of family members, such as my husband's great-granduncle. 

Funeral card of Elemuel Draper (1840-1907). Courtesy of GPV&A

And this brings me to the collection of journals, letters, photographs, and other ephemera which my husband received from his grandmother. We posted their 1911 courtship letters and are now posting his grandfather's 100 year old World War 1 letters, including the photographs and postcards that accompany them. Once all the letters are published online for all to see we will donate the collection to either the Saskatchewan archives, the Ontario Archives, or maybe even the Library and Archives Canada. 

Regardless of where the collection ends up, we can be sure that it will be safeguarded from fire, theft, flood, etc and stored in a temperature-controlled room IF we donate it instead of hoarding it in our basement or garage.

What about you... have you visited an archives? What would you donate if you could?


Anita Mae Draper's historical romances are woven under the western skies of the Saskatchewan prairie where her love of research and genealogy yield fascinating truths that layer her stories with rich historical details. Her Christian faith is reflected in her stories of forgiveness and redemption as her characters struggle to find their way to that place we call home. Anita loves to correspond with her readers through any of the social media links found at

Readers can enrich their reading experience by checking out Anita's Pinterest boards for a visual idea of her stories at


  1. Our district denominational office donated a communion set from a closed small church to our denomination's archives a number of years ago. That was the first one they'd received!

    1. That's excellent, Elaine. Church records usually find their way into an archive as a matter of course, but it's good to know churches are donating artifacts as well. Thanks for sharing that.

  2. This is a great post about a subject that came up recently. I posted on FB about how we can't seem to find people to buy antiques anymore. So many baby boomers are trying to sell their family's things and downsize. Someone mentioned how photos and the like are especially of interest to museums and historical societies. Rather than just toss them! Awful! Thanks for sharing!

    1. Right back at ya, Deb.

      I think donating as a family would be a very positive influence on children who are growing in today's world of recyle and reuse.

      Also, whatever is donated is still available for the donor to just has to be done during times when the archive is open and not an inconvenience to anyone.

  3. Fascinating, Anita.

    I have all my dad's WWII letters to his mom. None of hers to him survived, unfortunately, but she carefully kept his to her. Such a great picture of what it was like for him in the navy back then. I will certainly see they go somewhere where they'll be preserved and appreciated when I'm gone.


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