Records Management Program Blog
To celebrate Archives Month, the County Records Program will be conducting tours of the archives on October 24th. Come meet real, live archivists in their natural setting. Discover the county’s history -- told in photographs, maps, books, and letters. Find out why archives are important, not just as heritage, but as vital community resources.
We are located in the Yeon Shops (1620 SE 190th Avenue) and are the first office on the left as you walk down the walkway. The tours will last approximately an hour and will start at 10:30, 1:30 and 3:00. There will be light refreshments at the end (not in the archives!) of each tour.
There is bike and car parking available and we will provide shuttle service to and from the #4 bus stop and the Ruby Junction max stop from a half hour before each tour starts. Contact Terry Baxter (503.988.3741) for shuttle details, with questions, and to RSVP. We’re looking forward to seeing you!
left: County Records Manager Jerry Royer ca. 1980
We’ve already posted about Managing Personal Electronic Records, focusing on backups and archiving, but what about your personal physical archives?
We all have a story to tell, but we tend to document that story in many different forms. Many of our personal records are now digital: email, digital photos, online banking. We live in a time where all but the youngest adults remember writing letters on paper, using film cameras, and having to make a visit to the bank to transfer money to a savings account, but few of us still use those methods. Chances are you’re not holding on to your old bank records from 30 years ago, but what about letters from when your kid was away at camp, or how about the photos from your honeymoon? (If you are holding on to your old bank records, please check out our post on Managing Personal Paper Records: Getting Started on Organization.)
Common items found in personal archives include letters, photo albums, scrapbooks, greeting cards, diplomas and other certificates of achievement, kid’s artwork, and clipped articles from the newspaper, among other random paper that holds sentimental reason or historical significance to us. Often these items have a place when we first decide to keep them: at your desk, on a coffee table, or held by a magnet on the refrigerator. Inevitably, new letters, photos, and artwork come along, and the time comes to make a decision on what to do with what we already have. Many of us relegate these objects to the proverbial shoe box in the closet, though other people meticulously document our lives through scrapbooking and others just throw the majority of it into the recycling bin.
One of the most fascinating aspects of personal archives is seeing what people decide to keep and what they’ve decided to discard. Often time we create accidental personal archives purely through just keeping what we already have because it is easier to just keep something than to decide whether or not to get rid of it. These can be some of the most interesting collections to find again when cleaning out old storage space or moving to a new house. Other times we intentionally put these collection together after a milestone in our life.
Three primary factors should be taken into account when organizing or reorganizing your personal paper archives:
- Context: Typically our own memory can aid us in remember the when, where, and why of these collections, but we often forget the details with time. Other times we discover the personal archives of a relative but have difficulty determining the details. Jotting down a few notes on the back of a photograph or on the outside of a box can help provide context later on.
- Preservation: We have a few Preservation Tips for Family Records [http://web.multco.us/blog/preservation-tips-family-records] that provide some advice on how to preserve what you decide to keep. In short, some basic steps made in advance will help to ensure the stability of your personal archives in the years to come.
- Access: How will you be able to look at this stuff again? With proper preservation, photographs and paper seem like a pretty simple answer, as long as you keep them in a handy place. If you want to share any of what you have, digitization is often a useful method for sharing your documents and photographs. Library of Congress has come useful tips on Scanning Your Personal Collections.
The momentos we gather now become the memories of the future.
When Robert Phillips retired last week, it seemed half of the county was there to wish him well. Commissioners, employees, civic leaders -- even Portlandia star Sam Adams -- attended events to honor a key architect of both Multnomah County's and the City of Portland's diversity and equity programs. February 28th was proclaimed Robert Phillips Appreciation Day!
In addition to all of the well-deserved love that people showered on Robert, there were a number of people who praised both his encyclopedic knowledge and the meticulous documentation he maintained.
I can personally attest to Robert's love of archives. The County Archives recently accessioned the records accumulated by Robert in his 27 years working for the county. Dozens of boxes of records, covering events from the late 1960's to the present were transferred to the County Archives.
They include records of the earliest inclinations of the county towards a more diverse and inclusive workforce and community. These documents from the late 1960's, just a few years after the Civil Rights Act, are key in providing perspective on how far we have come in forty years. Other documents in the collection tell us how much further the County still has to go.
Other records tell the story of how the Diversity Conference began and grew into a regional force. Or how the employee resource group, Managers of Color (see image), was developed. Or most importantly, how affirmative action evolved into diversity and then into equity and inclusion.
The County Archives is currently working to arrange, describe and make these records available for research. This often takes some time with a collection as large and complex as this one. But these records, and the irreplaceable information they include, would not exist if it wasn't for the foresight and dedication Robert showed in documenting his work for future users. They provide us with a view of the past, understanding of the present and information for the future.
We all owe Robert our gratitude for insuring their preservation.
One of the earliest manuscript documents in the county archives is the lease for the original courthouse. Multnomah County was formed by the Territorial Legislature on December 22, 1854 and needed space to comnduct official business. Signed on January 29th, 1855, this document leased the second floor of the Robinson Building, located on Front Avenue (now Naito Parkway) between Salmon and Taylor. If the building still existed, this would be its view, familiar to most Portlanders.
The lease was for two years at $200 dollars per year. This was for a 1200sqft courtroom and adjacent offices. In today's dollars, this would be about $4600 per year. This would be a great deal in today's market -- less than half of what it costs to rent my little 500sqft apartment just across the river.
The owner of the building was Colburn Barrell, a Portland businessman who also owned Lone Fir Cemetery and the steamboat Gazelle. The Board of County Commissioners who leased the room consisted of George W. Vaughn (who served a couple terms as Portland Mayor soon after); Elmsly Scott (a Portland merchant who left for the southern Oregon gold fields in 1860); and James Bybee (whose 1856 house is still one of the area's most loved attractions).
Click on either image for a full-size view.
In a town with a million places to eat, it's always a challenge to find something new. The allure of "char-glo" hamburgers or barbeque is hard to understate, though. And fish and chips for 75 cents?! Unfortunately, you'd need a time machine to visit the Silver Spur. This picture was snapped in 1959 as part of the County Road Department's project documentation activities. The photo is identified as Stark Street. If anyone remembers this place or where it was, feel free to comment.