Growing Stronger in Our Ministry

Just a note that the Tennessee Conference Commission on Archives and History, which has suffered several setbacks in recent years because of sickness, injury and death among its members, has added several new faces who have joined because of a strong passion for history in the church. Leland Carden is serving as president as we have worked to prepare budgets, address staffing needs, prepare for our role in the SEJ Historical Society Meeting that will be held in Nashville in a few weeks, and generally coordinate the work of the committee.

The CAH has also had joint meetings with the leadership of the Conference Historical Society while planning the SEJ meeting. These meetings have been productive enough that there has been talk of continuing in this format to further extend the connection between the two entities. (Of course, any official business by either group is conducted solely with the votes of the members of the group involved.)


Damage Response and Planning for Your Collections at Church or at Home: Part 1

Nashville and surrounding environs have been hit hard in the recent floods. I have had more requests for individual assistance than for institutional assistance. I have never seen or heard of more family, or otherwise “special,” Bibles in need of salvage at one time. I have promised to put some links up so people can find sources of information useful to both plan for and react to disaster. I have some here, but first I a few tips that come from my experience and that I have found helpful:

  1. Plan. Like having insurance, an escape route, knowing your doctor’s phone number, etc., a disaster plan needs to be in place before disaster hits. In most cases, 48 hours is the outside time to take action if you wish to salvage things. In some cases, it is less. A good disaster plan includes prevention and reaction/salvage.
  2. In the past several weeks, I have discovered that this really needed saying. Review your plan; practice your plan; and make sure everyone who needs to know it does know your plan!!! The people who were on site at my shop were supposed to call me in an emergency, but did not. Our damage was not something that I would have known about had someone else in the building not informed me. Several people told me the same thing or something similar has happened to them. Others told me they had a plan, but had forgotten where some of the things needed to carry it out were. Ooops. We got stung.
  3. Have a Plan B. And prioritize. Make sure you decide  what is most important to get done, what resources you have available to do what tasks, and plan on what you will do if you can’t get it all done. Decide what you will do if things don’t work. For that matter, it can’t hurt to have a Plan C, Plan D, etc.
  4. Plan for your plan not working! Our local church has most of its records copied on microfilm backups and kept at our conference archives in case we cannot recover the originals. Many of my family records have been copied, digitized and spread around the family so there are copies. They won’t be the same as the originals, but they are better than nothing. We have also donated some items to archival repositories, both to make them available to others, and because we know the repositories have a better chance of preserving them than do we.
  5. Learn from your mistakes. Drill. See what happens. Get someone else to review your plan, and listen to their suggestions. (We did both, but still took a hit. It was, however, much less of a hit than it could have been otherwise.)
  6. Collaborate! Find out what resources you have that others need and what others have that you need. We have a list of available freezers in the area where we can freeze water damaged items. My wet-vac and fans have been borrowed by others, and I borrowed an extra dehumidifier I needed. I also took in some material to hold for others when there was no room for it elsewhere. I knew who had what before I needed it, and my colleagues knew what I had. We also share expertise. As soon as possible after the floods started, and before I started answering too many questions from those in need, I was on the phone to the Tennessee State Library and Archives to see if they would be available for conservation referrals (they were, of course,) and there were others who volunteered to help as needed. I talked to several folks that were connected through the Society of Tennessee Archivists. We made the most of available resources.
  7. Make a kit with emergency salvage supplies to keep on site, but have others at other places where you can reach them in a hurry. You will likely feel most foolish if your bucket of rescue materials floats away in a flood. The same is true of your disaster plan and contact numbers.
  8. Know who to call and make sure others know as well.
  9. Do take training. Do take training. Do take training.
  10. If it is really important, get a professional.
  11. Remember, mold is not your friend and it can be there when everything seems to be clean and dry.
  12. Vital!!! As important as it all is, as much as we value the things that preserve our history, remember: It’s just “stuff.” No matter what an item represents, even a religious item, it is just a piece of “stuff.” If you can’t save it, let it go. Don’t make it an idol. If folks are alive, rejoice! If you have to let “stuff” go to help others heal, let it go. Most of us can’t begin to imagine how much “stuff” we have lost over the years (okay, those of us who have been doing our family tree might be able to begin to feel it a bit; “Why didn’t someone write down that name?”,) or will loose in the future, without the world slowing down for a nanosecond.

Now for a few of my favorite conservation/disaster planning/disaster recovery links:

I am not a big one for promoting specific products, but the Heritage Emergency National Task Force site (FEMA and Heritage Preservation) has a neat little wheel and guide book that make designing basic disaster plans and responding to emergencies easy. It is not all one really needs, but is better than nothing and very easy to use. It is particularly useful for folks who are not trained in archives work. The wheel even has little magnets so it can be put on a refrigerator or metal file cabinet. I have used it for workshops, and ordered more to place in offices of non-archive staff who might end up being first responders. Their site is here. It has other information as well.

Salvage techniques including tables that make for easy quick reference, here and here.

Short guide to emergency drying procedures from the Library of Congress here.

Preservation leaflets for books and records here,  and for photos here. (There are also links to more leaflets by Northeastern Document Conservation Center.)

Emergency stabilization and conservation procedures here.

Salvage for films here.

Conservation subjects from National Archives and Records Administration here.

Minnesota Historical Society’s list of links for disaster recovery. (Dated, meaning all links may not be good, but a great resource in my opinion,) here.

The General Commission on Archives and History will help with developing disaster plans for the UMC. Be sure to check your local church, archives, museum or associations that include these for more resources.

The American Association for State and Local History, the Society of American Archivists, American Association of Museums, International Council of Museums, and the National Trust for Historic Preservation all have resources available for purchase.

Hope these are of service. We will post a bit o what we have had to deal with, including some pictures, soon. As requested and promised, we are working on some quick, “down-and-dirty-minimum-required-actions” tutorials for this blog using some actual materials. We will post more tips, and encourage others to do so through the comment section.


Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. He holds a Masters in History and is a Certified Archivist, working in the public sector in addition to his work with the church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with practice focusing on religious history, oral history, and user advocacy. His primary area of historical expertise is the creation, preservation, perpetuation, dissemination, and use of information and technology, as well as religious history. He can be reached at He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.

Disaster Planning and Action for Your Historical Collections

In Tennessee and adjoining states, in general, and in the Nashville area in particular, we have just suffered major flooding and loss of property. We should first remember that we have had loss of life as well, and the bottom line on the property is that it is just “stuff.” Even if it is irreplaceable, it is still just stuff. Nothing is more valuable than the lives, so pray for those who have lost loved ones.

I still opened this post with the property issue because I have had some contacts from church folk who want to know what to do about their damaged records and historical items. Here is a preliminary list of responses to some questions.

  • Unfortunately, in some cases there will be little that I can do to help. In others, I will send (and have sent) basic preservation information or offer advice. I will be meeting with a couple of folks regarding their collections later in the week. I am willing to help as much as I can if time allows, but I do work full time and have other responsibilities as well. If you are trained in such things and able to help, please let me know. If you are in need of help, contact me via e-mail,
  • If you can’t reach me, try to reach a trained archivist, curator, or conservationist immediately!!!! Time is vital! Chances are I will send you to someone with more training than I have anyway. I have had or conducted workshops and seminars, passed my conservation and preservation section on my certification exam, and have some practical experience, so I can help. If you can find someone better at it than me or I can direct you to a better authority, that will be in everyone’s best interest. Those who work day-to-day with this are the best. I consult them when I can myself, so I suspect you will wish to as well.
  • There are copies of suggested disaster plans and recovery methods used by the UMC available. I will try to get them to whomever needs them.
  • If you are a member of another denomination or confession, I will happily help if help if I can, but I also will try to put you in touch with your structure. They may know of resources available to you of which I am unaware. They will certainly know better than I what is the biggest priority in your collection based upon types of records kept, what is most valuable to your practices, and where there may be other copies.
  • Remember that anything that has been submerged or exposed to flood water should be treated as toxic!!!! Gloves, protective clothing, clean-up well afterward. Tetanus shots are in order if there are any scratches or open wounds, no matter how small the injury or contact.
  • COW-MMM, Clouds of Witnesses-Memory Ministry and Missions, will be refining its “Basket or Bag” training to help people prepare for personal disaster by learning to prioritize and prepare what records and documents one most needs to take along in an emergency and how to prepare to minimize damage to the rest. It will be available again soon. There will be more on this as we develop a larger staff, but if you know of someone in need of this, please contact me. (Basket or bag refers to getting things down to what will fit in a large handbag or a basket that can be carried in one hand. We work on that, steps than can be taken to help preserve other items or the history they represent, and developing a mindset that helps us let go of the rest. I say “us” because I’ve been there.)
  • I have spoken with a colleague who is an archivist for a large church connection and with whom I have worked on other projects in the past. We hope to work out plans for special workshops or training for local churches on disaster planning and recovery. The idea will be to pool resources, hopefully including experts from different fields and professionals from different confessions who work at multiple levels of organization (local church, diocese, convention, denomination, historical society, etc.) We are archivists and historians, so records and historical collections are our focus, but we may work out ways to present this in a larger context of disaster planning and recovery for life in general. More to come.
  • The Society of Tennessee Archivists has potential resources that may be accessed as well. There are professional conservators among our membership.

Stay tuned for updates. Email if you need to.


Jim Havron, MA, CA

Archivist- TN Conf. UMC

Some Methodist Documents Stolen From Drew Recovered!

Some of a number of letters written by John and Charles Wesley that were stolen from the Methodist archives at Drew University have been recovered. The letters, along with other documents of historical and intrinsic value, were found in the room of a student who had worked with the Library/Archives as part of a work study program. Further examination of the collection showed more documents missing, but the speed in which these were recovered gives hope that the others will also be found and returned.

The details of the story may be found here.

Where are You as Far as Keeping the Faith?

During the past year I have had both struggles and blessings when it comes to the way I have been able to approach and execute my job as Archivist for the Tennessee Conference. The biggest items in each of these categories center around the attitudes that local churches take towards their own role in keeping the evidence of their heritage of faith and the importance of that heritage to the churches.

In the blessings category, I rarely have a week go by that I do not receive a request from some church (granted, not always a Methodist one) for advice regarding the proper way to record and preserve their history, on methods for presenting the history of the church, or for suggestions on how to stir interest in that history. When members of some churches tell me that such things are not really that important, that churches rarely do or should spend resources in trying to preserve their history in a professional manner because they are not filled with history professionals, I am supported by the fact that for every one lay or clergy person who tells me such things I have requests for help from about two. Amen!

In the struggle category are not only those who suggest that professional and informed methods are a waste of resources rather than a ministry of the church, but those who are frustrated by the absence of records regarding their churches to be found in the Conference archives. They do not understand that the records that we have are what are given to us and that we do not have a staff to actively record the information on each church so that it will be here at some future date. If the church does not choose to keep it, and furthermore to give copies to the Conference, we do not have it, unless it has fallen into our laps by chance. That means that when, 40 years from now, one of the churches that does not now think much of the importance of keeping its records celebrates its bicentennial, we will not be able to fill in the gaps in their records for them.

Properly, the records of the various districts and the Tennessee Annual Conference no longer in active use but deemed to have historical value (hopefully through the criteria set forth in a good records plan such as that suggested by the General Conference) should come to us. We also should be available to take records that a local church cannot care for or to take copies they may wish to deposit with us for safekeeping. We are quite willing to do all of this. We are also supposed to receive the records of closed churches in the Conference. We do, however, rely upon the local churches and districts to provide us with their records. The Discipline gives the Annual Conference Commission on Archives and History the responsibility and authority to set up records management for the actual records of the Conference.

I would like to bring attention to a change in the wording of the Discipline over the last couple of editions regarding the role of the Local Church Historian. In the past, it was just suggested that the church have one and his or her duties were vaguely defined. In the most recent editions of it is still not mandatory for a church to have this position filled, but in the event it is, the duties are well spelled out. The Historian has “custodial” authority over historical records and objects. This is a specific, professional and legal term. I urge local churches to take their duty to preserve the faith seriously, and church historians to do all they can to exercise their authority in a faithful manner. This is not only their call and duty in a moral and ethical sense, but quite possibly in a legal one as well.

Keep the Faith.


Tn Conf. Archivist

Jim Havron is a Certified Archivist and  currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. His primary historical research expertise is the history of communication and information theory and practice. He can be reached at He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.

One More STA Related Honor; This One From Georgia (of all things.)

At the present time, there is not a blog for the Society of Tennessee Archivists (STA), so, as some of our historians and the Tennessee Conference Archives itself (I’m not sure about Memphis and Holston. I need to check, since they pretty much cover the rest of TN) are members, I will use this forum to let them know news that I hope to eventually post and link to on the STA blog (when it exists.)

In that tone, and as an addition to the previous post on awards given at the annual meeting of the Society of Tennessee Archivists, I would like to report that I recently found out that STA member Dr. Ellen Garrison was named a Fellow of the Society of Georgia Archivists (SGA). Dr. G is a history professor at Middle Tennessee University, Certified Archivist Fellow of the Society of American Archivists, and former Methodist (if I remember correctly,) among many other things. The list includes being thesis advisor to yours truly when I attended MTSU, so she is at least partly responsible for your reading this blog post as I otherwise would not likely be in the position to post it. (It is, of course, up to you whether that is a good thing or not.)  Her past with SGA is extensive, and I am assured that she considers such recognition by her colleagues to be a great honor, as well she should. I offer her congratulations from the TN Conference Archives and on behalf of STA, knowing that members of the organization and any others who might know Dr. Garrison will likewise extend their best wishes if this posts enlightens them on something of which they were unaware.


Tn Conf. Archivist


Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.


Society of Tennessee Archivists Gives Awards to Students and Professionals

The Society of Tennessee Archivists (STA) had its annual meeting and workshops this year from November 11-13, 2009. This year two awards were given to students in the form of scholarships to allow them to attend the meeting and three members received special recognition for their work in the archives field.

The recipients of the student scholarships were Natalie Goodwin of Middle Tennessee State University and Sarah C. Shippy Copeland (second time winner) from the University of Tennessee (Knoxville.) We should celebrate the interest of these young folk as at the recent SEJ history workshop weekend one topic of conversation and prayer concern was the need for younger folks to provide new blood to the practice of history and related fields.

There were also three recipients of the John H. Thweatt Award for the advancement of archives and archival issues. This year’s recipients were Gordon Belt (whose Posterity Project blog is both in our blog roll and has provided links to this blog,) Suzette Raney of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library, and Mary Helms, of that same institution. Congratulations to them all.

Two other scholarships, the Mary C. Barnes Award and the Sam B. Smith Award were not awarded this year. The first is usually given in memory Mary Catherine Barnes, an archivist who worked for the Tennessee State Library and Archives and the Metropolitan Archives of Nashville & Davidson County. (We supply no link to the award as we have been advised that the qualifications are under revision.) Her concern to further her archival education and training was the inspiration for the scholarship. The last award is a privately funded scholarship offered in honor of Dr. Sam B. Smith, former State Librarian and Archivist, professor of history, member of various boards and commissions promoting history in the United Methodist Church, and mentor and ongoing inspiration to undergraduate and former undergraduate history students. It is a new scholarship for undergraduates who wish to explore the  archives profession as a possible career goal, and its criteria may change from year to year. Although there was originally a recipient this year, she withdrew her name when she discovered she would be unable to attend as required by the criteria of 2009. There will be a scholarship or award offered for another history event in its place as the funders wish to honor Dr. Smith and his impact on their lives.

The Tennessee Conference Archives as well as some of our church archivists and historians are members of STA. Until November 13, I had the honor to serve as vice-president/president elect of that body. I now have the honor to serve as president. There are at least three archivists of religious institutions among its officers and board members, so our unique points of view are added to those of our secular brothers and sisters in the profession.



Tn Conf. Archivist


Jim Havron currently serves as archivist of the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church. The opinions expressed, however, are his own, unless otherwise stated. His education and experience is in history with additional focus on public history, archives and museums, and with research and practice focusing on religious history, oral history, user advocacy and where the craft of history meets technology. He can be reached at He also blogs at other sites (his own and as guest or designated blogger,) under both his own name and pseudonyms.