“Seek that person with things you want to know or that person with memories you want to capture…Start with those family stories that you have grown up hearing, connect with community members who have recollections that need to be preserved, and then go on from there.”
—Bernetiae Reed, Project Documentarian and Oral Historian, Community Driven Archives Team, Southern Historical Collection, UNC-Chapel Hill
Want to start your own personal or community archive, but don’t know where to begin? Below are guides and other resources to help get you started.
Do you have documents or photographs in your house that you would like to keep for your children or grandchildren, or materials that have been passed down to you? Are you the default archivist for records related to your family? Do you document your community or town by collecting historical materials or oral histories?
As a home archivist, you play an important role in caring for historical materials and keeping them for future generations.
Think about the documents stored on your computer: milestones relating to your career, photographs of your kids, a long email from a beloved family member. Many people have items on their computers, on hard drives, or in emails that hold important personal meaning and tell significant stories about their lives.
These materials can include items created in digital form (sometimes called “born digital”) or scanned photographs, documents, videos, and audio recordings. Digital materials are fragile and require special care so that they can be used in the future.
Personal Archiving, Preserving Your Digital Memories from the Library of Congress
Working with Archival Repositories
If you have deep knowledge or have built a collection of materials about a town, community, historical event, or social movement, you may be looking for ways to preserve and share this information.
Partnering with an archive, museum, library, or similar organization may help you achieve your goals.
One of the most lasting things you can do is contribute your own historical materials to an archive, special collections library, historical society, or museum. Your collection contributes to a more inclusive historical record. A repository can provide long-term preservation of your materials, while also allowing current and future researchers to learn from them. Even more importantly, the work you have done can enrich your community.
When people come together to preserve and share their history, the result is a community-based archive or memory project.
You may operate your community memory project independently, or you may wish to partner with a local cultural heritage organization that can help you collect, store, and display materials. You may even consider setting up an independent museum, history center, or archive.
Conducting Oral Histories
How many times have you heard someone say, “I wish I had made a recording of my grandmother while she was still living, to hear her voice and hear her describe our ancestry?”
Oral history interviews and genealogy projects are a wonderful way to document family stories and create bonds around your shared history.
Ready to get started? The webinar “Conducting Oral History Interviews” introduces researchers to best practices for oral history interviews.
These Archivist in a Backpack question cards feature suggested topics and prompts to guide you through conducting an oral history interview.
Download the printable PDF. You can print multiple question cards on one piece of paper and cut them apart to use them for your next interview.
Oral History Resources from the Southern Oral History Program, UNC Center for the Study of the American South
A wealth of scholarly research and writing as well as community-led projects informs our work. Read more about community-driven archiving and how it intersects with activism through this selection of resources.