The Archives of the First Parish Church in Beverly

Ever since it’s founding in 1667 the First Parish has continuously operated as a legal entity, generating records that document the actions of its committees and bodies.   The archival collection we have today is what remains of those early records.  Their relevance reaches across all the major social, legal and administrative aspects of the Church and, in many cases, comprise the only proof we have of its history.

 

View the Archives Catalog by Clicking Here 

Brief History of the Archives

Originally, the Church’s records were kept in the hands of the Minister.  John Hale kept his own journal of Church meetings as well as births and deaths amongst parishioners.  As time went on, and records became more numerous, they were kept by the Parish Clerk.  One of our more famous Clerks was Robert S Rantoul (1788-1858), in whose hand many of the archival documents of the early 19th century were written.  At the turn of the 20th century James A. Marsters took over the duties of Parish Clerk and initiated the first efforts at archival preservation.  During this time, many of the record books were rebound at the Essex Institute.  Because the practice of archival preservation was largely unknown during his time, some of his actions, though well intended, had a detrimental impact on the records- most notably his practice of pasting early documents into photo albums made from construction paper.

The records were kept in various locations until the mid 1970s when a committee headed by Mary Dinardo organized a Historical committee to organize and catalog them.  A locked wooden book case was purchased and the records were stored in the Prince Room on the first floor with little disturbance until about 2000 when Charlie Wainwright reactivated the Historical Committee and initiated preservation work.

The Historical Committee, working with other Beverly Churches started the Beverly Archives Project in 2003 to promote the preservation and protection of the records of Beverly public organizations.  In 2004, with grant funding through BAP, a formal archival survey was performed on the First Parish records to determine their condition and how best to maintain and protect them. The recommendations included moving the records out of the old wooden book case and into protective enclosures.

The committee obtained archival preservation training through BAP  It acquired space on the second floor in the Controller’s Office and began to conservation work.  It initially assessed the archival collection and developed a finding aid (see link above).  The collection was stored randomly in many corners of  the Church.  The major portion was kept in the Prince Room, and  additional records were stored in trunks in the Balcony and in the basement.  The archives had been cataloged about 1975 by Dinardo’s committee.  Unfortunately, the acid in the wooden book case in the Prince Room contributed to the premature deterioration of many of the older documents. In 2006 the Committee  installed a steel shelving system to house the archives.

The archive continues to grow.  Orders of service, newsletters, auction catalogs, and legal documents are added periodically after they have been taken out of “current” status  by the Church office.  We receive items from current and former parishioners and from our retiring ministers.  Sadly, we don’t have enough room to retain all the items submitted to us and this has led to an official archival policy.

Organization of the Archives

Logical Organization  (Provenance)

The archive includes items whose provenance correlates to the organization of the Church as it existed at various times through history.  In spite of its lengthy life, the Church’s structure has remained surprisingly stable over the years mostly due to its alignment with the Municipal organization model.  After some analysis, the Historical Committee developed a logical organizing scheme consisting of multiple collections each divided into sub groups and, within subgroups into series.  The scheme is at this point relatively flexible and can be modified if the need arises at least until all archival items have been processed.

The organizational structure of the archives is as follows:

  1. Church Records Collection- organized primarily by committees
    1. Worship- items relating to the religious activities of the Church

i.    Bibles

ii.    Religious Papers

iii.    Records of the committee who Seated People

iv.    Religious Service Records

  1. Religious Education- Items relating to the Sunday School as well as adult education

i.    Sunday School Service Books

ii.    Sunday School Membership Rosters

iii.    Sunday School administration records

  1. Diaconate- Items relating to the Diaconate committee
  2. Births, Marriages and Deaths- Primary vital records of the parishioners

i.    Births Marriages Deaths

ii.    Burials

  1. Financial- Items relating to the finances of the Church

i.    Church Account Books

ii.    Collection Records

iii.    Tax Assessments and Estimates

  1. Ministerial- Items relating to the various ministers who served in the church

i.    Minister’s Calendars

ii.    Ministerial Fund

iii.    Ministers Papers

iv.    Sermons

  1. Parish Committee- Items relating to the activities of the Parish Committee or Parish Board.

i.    Annual Meetings

ii.    Bylaws

iii.    Correspondence

iv.    Covenants

v.    Parish Committee Meetings

  1. Music- Items relating to music in the church

i.    Choir Records

ii.    Music Books

iii.    Church Organ and Piano

  1. Historical- Items that are noteworthy from a historical or genealogical perspective in the church

i.    Church Events

ii.    Church History

iii.    Estate Papers (i.e. wills and bequests to the Church)

iv.    Genealogy research requests

  1. Social Action- Items relating to the Social organizations of the Church

i.    Social Organizations’ Papers

  1. Building- Items relating to the physical infrastructure of the church

i.    Building Records (renovations, plans, maintenance, etc)

  1. Membership – Items relating to Church membership

i.    Membership Lists

ii.    Visitor Logs

  1. Other Committees
  2. Donated Records- organized by donor
    1. Gifts of Robert Endicott
    2. Gifts of Ruth Lewis Standley
    3. Gifts of Martha Southwick
    4. Other miscellaneous donations
  3. Media – organized by medium
    1. Photos
    2. Audio
    3. Video
    4. Electronic
    5. Other media
  4. Artifacts
    1. Antiques
    2. Service objects
  5. Special Collections
    1. Donated non-Church Records of (Martha Southwick)

Physical Organization (Storage).

Although the records are logically organized as described above, they must be physically stored such that we can place each item in an ideal storage medium and provide it as much protection as possible.  Within the Archive, each item, storage enclosure, and box is recorded with a number.  The type of storage enclosure used to store an item depends on its ability to provide protection from moisture and temperature variations, as well as from manipulation.  It is important that storage enclosures be acid free and not be prone to decomposing or disintegrating over time.   Items are stored in successive wrappers- into enclosures and then into boxes to establish a micro climate around each item that insulates it from the variations of temperature and humidity of the outside area.

 

Hierarchy of Storage Enclosures

Items

An item is the lowest level of item that is cataloged in the Finding Aid.  An item may be a book, a folder, or an individual piece of paper.  Folders in the archive contain multiple individual pieces, each of which is worthy of individual catalog but this is for now not feasible.  Instead, they are processed based on the subject of their content and cataloged in the finding aid as items.

Enclosures

An enclosure is the first level of storage for one or more items.  Each enclosure is cataloged with its own unique enclosure number

  • The most common enclosure in the archive is the manila folder.  Because our folders are being treated (for now) as items, each folder item is stored and cataloged as a single folder enclosure.
  • Books are considered enclosures and may include items within their pages, such as photographs or pasted attachments:
    • Recent books (less than ~150 years old) that are not considered to be fragile do not need to be placed into boxes.  These books will be placed directly on a bookshelf, either vertically if the spine is strong or horizontally otherwise.
    • Books of great age (more than ~150 years old) or fragility are stored in a 2-piece cardboard box that is wrapped around the book and died with a string.  This protects the edges of the book and minimizes the effects of handling.
    • The most fragile books are enclosed in a custom-fitted clam-shell box.  Clam-shells are custom made for the book and provide maximum protection.  Because of its cost, only the most fragile and important books are stored this way.
  • Many newer items are enclosed in 3 ring binders.  While not an ideal enclosure medium, binders provide a way to store large numbers of continuous pages of financial records.  Binders are not to be used for any items of great age and items enclosed in binders should be assessed periodically for removal.  For the most part, binders will not be stored in boxes.
  • Individual papers of great age (older than ~150 years) or fragility will be enclosed in Mylar enclosures to provide extra protection.  Mylar is a relatively expensive item, and this process will have to be done over several years.

Boxes

Enclosures are themselves placed into boxes, and each box is cataloged with its own box number. There are three sized boxes planned for the archives-

  • Drawers from a five-drawer legal sized filing cabinet contain the majority of loose paper materials.
  • 10”x 12”x 6” Half Height boxes used to store folders
  • Special document boxes (Docbox) to store Mylar enclosures.

There are also three large steamer trunks located outside the archive that currently contain Sunday School Records, photographs and some more recent books.  This is a temporary arrangement due to space and we hope to eliminate these boxes from the archive.

Storage areas

The boxes are stored on shelves and as part of a filing cabinet.  The primary shelving system is located in the Treasurers office on the second floor next to the Church Balcony with 5 file drawers, 4 large shelves each 24 inches high and capable of storing about 12 square feet.  Three steamer trunks are located in the balcony and one trunk is located at the vault in the Beverly National Bank across the street from the Church, which contains our most precious documents as well as the Church Communion and Baptismal silver.

Funding- The Historical Committee

The First Parish Historical Committee is the body that governs the policies around the Archival collection.  Since about 2004 almost all of its attention has been focused in this area.  The Historical Committee is represented in the Church Council by its Chair person and presents an annual budget, some of which it spends on the maintenance of the Archives.  Additional funding may be secured by grants from the Mass Historical Society, the National Endowment for the Humanities and other organizations.

Other Organizations-BAP

A principal funding mechanism for the Church’s archival preservation efforts was the Beverly Archives Project, a collaboration between many religious, public and private institutions in Beverly and the immediate vicinity. BAP developed common expertise in document preservation through grants to assist its member organizations in this work.  The First Parish was one of its founding members.  Through BAP the Church benefited from the services and training of a professional archivist, Christine Kobialka from theFirst Unitarian Church in Salem.

The Finding Aid

With so many items of great value and interest stored in our archive, it is important to be able to find an item quickly.  The Historical Committee has developed a computerized finding aid to help in this area.  The finding aid is a database application that contains entries for all items, enclosures, boxes and shelves housed in the archival collection as well as information on the logical organization of series, sub groups and collections.  In addition,there is a keyword search that makes finding items of a particular topic easier.  The Finding aid is currently available here on Google Docs.

The Process of Processing Archives- an Introduction

Due to the great age of the archives, preservation has been our priority for several years.  The science of document preservation has advanced greatly, and we today benefit from agencies like the New England Document Conservation Center as well as the expertise of document repositories around New England for knowledge in this area.  As part of the Church’s latest efforts in conservation, members of the Historical Committee attended several seminars sponsored by the Beverly Archives Project that were funded through grants to obtain the necessary training in preservation techniques.

The task of conserving and protecting items in the archives is known as processing.  There are many specialized techniques and guidelines involved with processing that vary with the kind of item, its age and condition.  The processing of an item in the archives requires a careful assessment of an items age, condition, subject matter and source.  This information is recorded and the item is prepared for long term storage.  Several principles apply when processing an item in the archive:

  • Only items of direct relevance to the Church or its members should be retained and processed.
  • Items should be unfolded and stored flat
  • Items should have all staples, paper clips and other metal retainers removed
  • Items of great age (older than, say 1850) or very delicate condition should be placed in protective Mylar enclosures to afford extra protection and stored separately in document boxes
  • Items should be stored together with other items of similar origin
  • If an item is a copy or duplicate of another item, only one or at most two copies of that item should be retained
  • If an item cannot be processed without damaging it, it should not be processed without an archival expert

Processing Principles for the Archives

One box in the Archives includes all processing materials and should be kept handy whenever you process items in the archives.

Although we order our supplies on an annual basis, we do have a small inventory of supplies at the BAP office at the Beverly Library.

Since this is a working document, the items below will contain high level information only until we can be more certain of the process.

Whenever you work on a box, enclosure or item make sure you mark what you do in the Finding Aid, particularly if you move it,

Boxes

  • For the most part, our boxes consist of the half-height cardboard boxes stored on our shelving system.  However, there are other types of boxes that we keep:
    • Clam shell boxes are custom made clam shell boxes used for our most precious books.  It provides a tight sealed fit for the book for maximum support t and protection. (we currently use Gaylord Brothers as our supplier)
    • Small bits of old paper and very fragile items are stored in our DocBoxes.  These are actually enclosed photo albums with three ring clasps to hold Mylar storage sheets.
    • Some boxes are custom sized for oddly shaped items.
    • The Church has several trunks in which are stored large items and framed photographs.  These trunks are not ideal storage because they are made of wood and contribute acid.

Enclosures

  • Books are considered enclosures.
  • Manila folders are pre-numbered as enclosures.  Each item within a folder is assigned an enclosure number where it resides.
  • Folders are arranged in half height boxes.  Currently these folders are arranged alphabetically by subject but this may change to series.

Items

  • Wear gloves when working with very old or fragile items.  The gloves found in the processing box are disposable but should be used for as long as possible due to their cost.
  • Enclosures contain items of varying dimensions, and pages.  The rule is to remove any staples, metal paper clips or anything else that may corrode or cause accelerated deterioration.  Look for the general condition of the item.  If it is folded, consider flattening it out (unless doing so would cause it to tear).  Use a pH pen to determine acid content and, if acidic, place acid free papers around the item or place it in Plasticine.  Papers may be reconnected using plastic clips but only if the paper can withstand the stress.  Sometimes, folding an acid free sheet of paper around a collection of papers is all that is necessary.
  • Newsprint items are very acidic must be placed in Plasticine at a minimum.  Newspaper is only designed to last about 50 years, and so unless it is processed correctly it will disintegrate.  Make a Xerox copy of the article contained in the newspaper and discard it (no matter how old it is!)
  • Many enclosures contain items made up of individual papers.  Those of great age or fragility should be placed in Plasticine protection.  Those that are small and most fragile should be removed from the enclosure and place into Mylar and stored in a Docbox.

Photos and Art

  • The archive is sprinkled throughout with photos and artwork, and currently these are not fully inventoried.  They should be cataloged as items.  If possible, scan the photograph so that it can be referenced later without having to access it directly (but only if this can be done without damaging the photo or the underlying page).  Photographs that are taped or pasted into books or other items should be left there.  Otherwise, they can be moved if necessary to improve their storage situation.
  • Photographs and art that are currently stored in frames present a problem.  The frame protects the object but takes up excessive space.  Presently we have not removed art from frames but this may become necessary especially if the frame is damaged or is causing storage problems.

Media

  • The archive includes a small but growing number of media items such  as disks, tapes, CDs or video.  These items should be cataloged as items for now (although we may want to change this in future).  We currently have no special storage provisions for these items.
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