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Donating Personal & Family Papers

Please contact an archivist to discuss your potential donation before sending anything to the AJA. The Executive Director and archivists will make the decision to accept material based on the AJA collection policy. The following is excerpted from the Society of American Archivists' brochure, "A Guide to Donating Your Personal or Family Papers to a Repository."

Letters, diaries, photos, and other material collected over the years give vital and unique information regarding your life or the history of your family. And while these papers obviously matter to you, they may be important to your community, state, or nation, too. Whether or not members of your family attained a degree of fame, they have contributed to the heritage of a certain place and time. When you donate your personal or family papers to a manuscript repository, your family history becomes a part of your community's collective memory.

What to Preserve

Most repositories accept donations of as little as a single item and as large as dozens of boxes. Material need not be organized; it need not be "old"; and it need not relate to a famous individual, event, or organization in order for it to be historically significant. Generally, however, repositories are more interested in a coherent body of material rather than individual items; photos, tapes, and films should be identified. Repositories usually ask that historical material itself not be mailed or dropped off without first consulting with the staff; a repository must evaluate all material offered and ask the donor to sign a donation agreement.

Do you need to "cull" the papers or reorganize them?
Archivists are experts in identifying materials that should be transferred to a repository or manuscript library. Because the research value of records may be diminished if items are removed or if the records are rearranged, donors are encouraged to contact the repository staff before weeding, discarding, or reorganizing their papers and records.

Examples of historically valuable material.
While it is important that the archives staff be permitted to survey papers or records in order to determine which materials have enduring historical value, listed below are types of materials that are often valuable to a researcher. These lists, which are suggestive and not definitive, illustrate the wide range of documentation often useful for historical and administrative research.

Among the types of materials in personal and family papers of interest to researchers are:

  • brochures and flyers
  • business records
  • diaries
  • films/videos/audio tapes (labeled)
  • genealogical information
  • legal documents
  • letters
  • memoirs/reminiscences
  • minutes/reports
  • photographs (labeled)
  • professional papers
  • scrapbooks/photo albums
  • speeches/lectures

Also of interest are files relating to the individual's civic, business, religious, political, and social activities.

Churches, political organizations, businesses, economic interest groups, community groups, voluntary associations, professional associations, and other collective enterprises all produce records which document their purpose, policies, and activities. An individual or family may hold the records of such a business or organization, and this material, too, may be significant.