Presbyterian Research CentreThe Archive and Library for the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand
A Guide for Archives Management in the Parish
Our parish archives are valuable and delicate documents:
- they are strands of memory
- they are collective memory
- they help us converse with our Presbyterian past
- they convey visions
- they tell of hope
- they tell us about the progression of faith in the community
- they act as reminders where we have erred
- they are important in charting a future of Christian witness
The primary responsibility for a parish archives belongs to the congregation. Archives are the collective memory of our Congregations and the Presbyterian Church. In order to preserve the entire history of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand, well maintained and accessible archives are needed in each parish.
- our parish archives are part of the story of a wider faith journey
- our parish faith journeys are connected
- they require to be viewed in relationship to each another
Our parish archives stand together with the other archives of the whole church as a resource for New Zealand Presbyterian history and as evidence for the wider history of Christian life and mission in the world.
Appoint an Archivist or Archives Committee
The most effective way to ensure that records are gathered together to receive the care they require for long-term access is to appoint and archivist or archives Committee. For those who enjoy history and the study of society and culture caring for the parish’s archival treasure (taonga) is not only fun but a ‘ministry’. An archivist is not necessarily the historian or interpreter of the congregation's history, however.
The Archivist should work in close cooperation with those parish courts and organisation creating records. For out of today's records will come tomorrow's parish history.
- Compile a list of records that are considered the main collection. They are best grouped according to the parish structure e.g. Session, Board of Managers, Women’s organisations – PWMU, APW etc. **
- Note the type of records and the date it covers e.g. Marriage Register 4/1927-3/1940; Session Minute Book 1/1919-6/1945; etc listing the dates of each volume separately.
- If there is damage, make a brief note about the nature and extent of it.
- Note the location of each item. (This will reduce the chance of any losses occurring)
- List photographs with title and dates.
- List artefacts and note any blemish or damage.
- Ascertain what is not among the records which is highly significant eg Session Minute Books or Marriage Registers
- Thoroughly search out any records stored away from the main parish collection – church cupboards, private homes, especially former office-bearers.
- Advertise in the parish newsletter and consult long standing members.
- Most of all enjoy!
The parish archivist is not directly involved with the records until they no longer have any day-to-day use. At certain times, perhaps annually, the parish archivist should collect those records that are complete and place them in the parish archives; the end of the financial year could be an ideal time to gather them up.
** Please forward list of Archives to the Director of Archives to be included in the Presbyterian National Register of Archives.
The proper preservation of archives is as important as collecting them. The archives should be located in a locked, fireproof room, area, or filing cabinet that is least affected by extremes of light, heat, dryness or humidity.
Records should not be stored in areas subject to extreme heat, marked fluctuations in temperature, or high humidity, such as under a corrugated roof, or old refrigerators. NO PLASTIC BAGS! Papers should be periodically inspected for atmospheric and vermin damage and adequate protective measures taken.
Particular care should be taken to check for the presence of mould and insects pests such as borer and silverfish as the have a devastating effect on records and archives by eating into them. Most of our parish buildings are old and the spores of these insects will be present in the woodwork, walls and floor.
It helps if an archivist is a little paranoid! The archives should never be loaned without a close supervision. Experience tells us that if they are removed they will seldom find their way back. Parish archives are not like library books that can be loaned out!
What Should Be Preserved
- Membership lists, transfers and additions.
- The parish registers recording baptisms, communion, marriages, worship, and burials if maintained.
- The minutes of the meetings of the congregation, Session, Board of Managers, parish committees, and organizations.
- An annual list of all the names of officers and members of boards and committees.
- All official correspondence (i.e. concerning congregational matters and any personal papers that involve discipline, appeals or commissions).
- Copies of Annual Reports of the Congregation and all parish organisations.
- Copies of all calls extended to ministers and appointments to teachers and other servants of the church that are accepted by them.
- Printed materials including the Sunday bulletins, congregational newsletters, pastoral letters, orders of worship, and programs for special events.
- The non-current treasurers' records, such as general ledgers and annual reports.
- Copies of the deeds and descriptions of the church properties, titles, leases, surveys, etc.
- All contracts for the construction of congregational buildings, and facilities, as well as contracts negotiated for special services. All plans, specifications, blueprints, and drawings should be included.
- Mortgages should be retained even after they have been discharged.
- Photographs or other graphic depictions of the congregation's building(s), ministers, organizations, activities, and events.
- Other media items: sound or video recordings of worship services, special events, musical presentations, and activities.
- Histories of the congregation and papers relating to historical anniversaries.
Additional materials created by, for, or about the congregation provide further documentary evidence and also should be preserved:
- Source materials, such as original returns of surveys or questionnaires.
- Statistical and comparative summaries on finance, attendance, and membership, particularly copies of reports submitted to the Presbytery.
- Local newspaper articles or histories that include information on the congregation.
- A chronological account of the major events and activities of a congregation.
- Unpublished studies, theses or dissertations about the congregation by students or other researchers.
- Biographical information gathered from various resources on persons from the congregation.
- Certificates such as Temperance, Sunday School Attendance, Long Service, Youth Organisations, Illuminated Addresses, etc.
Storing and caring for Archives
- Sellotape should never be used on archival records.
- Use PVA type glues not gum glues as they will eventually loose their stick, come off and leave a ‘yukky’ yellow stain.
- Tape already found on records should be carefully removed, but only if it is ready to come off easily, as should steel paper clips, staples, and rubber bands. All these fixing agents deteriorate and can cause irreparable damage to paper.
- Documents should not be marked with permanent ink. If any marks are made for identification purposes, pencils must be used.
- All papers should be unfolded.
- Leave plans and other items rolled up if that is how they have been stored.
- Do not unroll a photograph as it will crack.
- Archival materials should be placed into archival friendly folders or envelopes made of acid-free paper. If open shelves are being used, folders are then placed into suitable wax-lined boxes. Contact the Presbyterian Archives for suppliers of Archival material and boxes.
- Oversize materials, such as blueprints, photographs, and other large items should be stored flat.
- Volumes in good condition are best stored upright and outsized volumes stored flat.
- All folders and boxes should be labelled.
- All newspaper clippings and photographs should be identified and dated.
- Nothing should be pasted into scrapbooks.
- Series of Sunday bulletins and newsletters may be bound for convenience and security.
- Blueprints and other oversized documents should not be folded but carefully rolled around a tube.
- Photographs, negatives, slides, audio and video recordings and artifacts should all be filed separately from paper documents. Negatives should be stored separately from associated prints.
- Archives should be stored at least fifteen centimetres off the floor – higher if possible.
Use of Records and Archives
In order to reduce the possibility of the occurrence of accidental damage to records and archives while they are in use it is wise to follow some precautions:
- Hands should always be clean and dry.
- Keep fingers off prints and the surface of photographs.
- Keep records out of the reach of children.
- Leave nothing in the proximity to records that is likely to spill or leave marks such as food and drink, ink etc.
- Do not lick fingers to facilitate the turning of pages. A finger stall is useful.
- Do not write on paper placed on top of documents, registers, photographs etc.
- Always use pencil.
- Place records flat when in use.
- Researchers should always have some supervision.
- Archives and records must not be left in the sunlight.
- Watch fluorescent lighting as it also fades paper if left out for a time.
Serious consideration should be given to depositing parish archives in the Regional Repository. Refer to the Presbyterian Church Year Book for your officially approved Repository but contact the Presbyterian Archives first to ascertain the status of the Repository. Depositing archives in a Repository would provide better preservation than a local parish could give and would also make the records more readily available to a wider base of researchers. Such a transfer would not relieve the parish archivist of their responsibility for collecting and initially preserving the records of the parish.