A look at some archival favorites

Since On King Street launched over three years ago, I've had the privilege of sharing items from our archival and library collections with our readers near and far. As I move on to new employment, and in honor of Archives Month, I'm going to take this opportunity to share my favorite item from the archival collection - the last will and testament of James Otis, Sr. Probate documents are some of my favorite resources for research, and it is exciting that we have one from a prominent 18th century family in our collection - and that it is in such good condition!

Page two of James Otis Sr.'s will (MS0190, 02/04)

Probate documents such as this will and testament provide a good deal of information about a family. They pin a family to a specific location and time. They show a family structure and can help to verify relationships. By looking at a listing of their belongings or the state of their finances, we get a sense of how they lived their life. In some cases, you can even trace a specific family heirloom through generations of probate records.

James Otis, Sr. (1702-1778) was a lawyer and politician, active in the Province of Massachusetts Bay, but don't confuse him with his son, James Otis, Jr., a famous lawyer, political activist, pamphleteer and legislator. A close look at the Otis will reveals a notation on the back that states that he wrote out this document in his own hand and it was proved after his death in Barnstable, Massachusetts in November 1778. In his 16 page will, Otis bequeathed a sum of money to each of his children and grandchildren, but in some instances he left specific items to a family member.  Note that he leaves his library of law books and a silver headed cane to his son, James Otis, Jr.

Archives Month is about more than just promoting the resources available in our collection, but also about how a collection is used. Here in the archives we address reference requests on-site and through email, monitor archival items on display in the Old State House, and share collection items through social media. Occasionally, we have some out of the ordinary experiences in our archives, and here's a look back at two of my favorite "in the archives" events:

A time capsule full of paper-based artifacts was discovered in Fall 2014. While the whole process of discovery and extraction was exciting, my favorite part was the day I opened up four sealed letters.

In September 2015 we had a special visitor to the library. Colin Meloy of The Decemberists stopped by and I was able to share some of our archival items with him.

I think that archives are dynamic and exciting places, and not just when we have special activities or visitors like the ones listed above. Archivists provide access to rare and unique materials that can be of importance to someone's research or just their general interest. These documents help to form a tangible connection to the people, places, and events of the past. It has been my pleasure to share our collection with researchers, visitors, and blog readers over the years and I hope that you've enjoyed my library and archives posts!