Preserving a Complete History: YOU Are the Key

My name is Atlas Eccelstone. I am a recent graduate of MacEwan University’s Library and Information Technology program. As part of a capstone course for this program, I spent a month at the City of Edmonton Archives gaining hands-on experience in a variety of activities. During my time at the Archives, I was inspired to take a look at my own personal records as well as to have open conversations with friends and family about their plans for their own records. It may not come as any surprise that I was met with some strange looks and questions. My friends and family could not fathom just why it would be of any interest to them to consider donating their personal records to the archives. And that is precisely what prompted me to write this blog post.

All too often people think their personal records (such as contracts, diaries, and photographs) have no value past their original purposes. In the words of my grandmother “who’s going to want to read about a normal person like me?” As it turns out a lot of people would!

The following image is the first page of a diary which the original owner certainly never expected to have historical value. You can find the fonds this record comes from here.

MS-18 File 1 “Schoolwork diary of Margaret ‘Greta’ McPherson Grant” 29 August 1905 to 24 October 1905.

MS-18 File 1 “Schoolwork diary of Margaret ‘Greta’ McPherson Grant” 29 August 1905 to 24 October 1905.

Archives and other cultural repositories around the globe are currently faced with a gap in their holdings detailing the lives of persons from demographics less favoured historically. In Canada, these demographics include women, people of colour, and the SAGA (Sexuality And Gender Acceptance) community. Records from these demographics help to tell a more complete version of our collective history; in a way that a collection made up of records from historically advantaged groups does not.

EA-10-3200 “Aboriginal Portraits” [ca. 1900]. A framed panel of head and shoulder portraits of four unnamed Aboriginal men.

EA-10-3200 “Aboriginal Portraits” [ca. 1900]. A framed panel of head and shoulder portraits of four unnamed Aboriginal men.

Furthermore, we at the City of Edmonton Archives hear nearly every day from a researcher looking for photographs or textual records of a relative. Unfortunately, these records often do not make it into our holdings. These records are often destroyed (by a disaster such as fire or flood, or consciously in the vein of thought mentioned at the beginning of this post) or may be sitting in storage somewhere waiting to be rediscovered. And unfortunately some of the records we do have in our holdings have little to no information attached to them. The image below is just one example of this.

EB-31-35 “Aboriginal Woman” [ca. 1940]. View of an unnamed Aboriginal woman sitting on snow with a wooden fence in the background.

EB-31-35 “Aboriginal Woman” [ca. 1940]. View of an unnamed Aboriginal woman sitting on snow with a wooden fence in the background.

Records lost to damage may never be discovered, but those kept and those yet to be created may hold permanent value. And through the accounts of witnesses we are able to piece together the history and significance of the records we already do have. Together we can preserve a more authentic and complete history for generations to come.

EA-10-1122 “High Level Bridge Construction” 1910 or 1911.

EA-10-1122 “High Level Bridge Construction” 1910 or 1911.

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