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American Archives Month: Celebrating The Documentation & Preservation of Our Stories

Tanzy Ward

In honor of American Archives Month, the historic preservation of sentimental materials and objects connected to our stories is celebrated and emphasized.  Our family portraits of loved ones are significant materials reflecting the meaningful stories connected to historical events and places. Physical objects relating to the past are primary sources connected to our ancestors' lives. To continue their legacies and uplift their accurate stores, historic preservation work should include the materials that were sentimental in their stories. What exactly are 'archives'? Archives are historical records documenting the places, stories, and objects connected to our lives and the ancestors before us. Even after the removal or expiration of a physical structure or entity, archival footage and materials can continue to live on.
The documentation and preservation of our stories include the tangible objects that are a part of our ancestor’s memories and sentimental treasures in the present day—antique jewelry courtesy of the Zanathia Jewelry Collection. 
When we preserve our family photos and other sentimental materials, we assist with the archival research and study of the past. We are also helping to protect primary sources that will aid in historic preservation efforts. Even if the actual object or place no longer exists, archival documentation is the proof that will assist us in identification and research. For example, a treasured locket may be a sentimental jewelry piece that belonged to a loved one, and they may have worn it often in photos. The locket may no longer be wearable, but it is still a part of that ancestor's story, which will always be included in their photos. A historical building may no longer be intact, but its legacy is still ongoing and significant. The documents and other materials we preserve can help us research its history and physical characteristics.  Although the historic preservation of the actual physical objects was not successful, the archival documentation proves that they existed and were substantial. 

Antique real photo postcards of early 20th century dapper men included 'Unsung Portraits: Anonymous Images of Black Victorians and Early 20th Century Ancestors'. The photos represent the accurate and non-distorted representation of African-Americans and truthful Black Americana memorabilia. The preservation of archives can help us emphasize their stories without the stereotypical caricature-based images plaguing societies. 
Much detail and historical context are connected to tangible objects and historical documented materials. We can identify jewelry, clothing, people, periods, historical events, and locations within a photo. We can also preserve other features that assist with studying history and individual stories. The facial expressions, gestures, postures, and meaningful personal chronicles behind a person's photograph can assist with authentic storytelling. How our ancestors dressed and posed in a photo can help debunk distorted societal views of who they were. I love collecting antique photos of Black Victorians dressed in their stunning 19th-century garments and jewelry, which is the opposite image of what has been emphasized in society. Archives are important when preserving someone's story through objects, the enduring physical aspects of their legacies. It is not only crucial to historic preservation, but it is a significant part of our stores as well. These precious photos and films of our loved ones and ancestors can continue to live on and speak. Our stories and memories will also be reflected in the archival materials that we create. 
Sentimental antique jewelry is a significant object that assists with researching and preserving archive files. This monogrammed sterling silver pendant from the early 20th century belonged to someone's ancestor and was a part of their memories. Observing tangible materials like ancestral heirlooms are excellent primary sources that assist with proper history research—courtesy of the Zanathia Jewelry Collection. 
A collage of antique photos featured in ''Unsung Portraits: Anonymous Images of African Americans and Early 20th Century Ancestors''. 
American archives month may only be for a month, but the preservation and makings are continuous. Many stories and memories are captured and preserved daily. Historically, our ancestors saved precious moments and sentimental tangible objects, which became pivotal insights into the past. Historic preservation efforts and activism include protecting our family archives and the sentimental materials that mean a great deal to us. May our stories and the legacies of our ancestors continue to be preserved appropriately through the treasured archives that we are the gatekeepers of. 

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