The Importance of Story

April 11, 2010

I have been reading some Chris Brogan material lately and stumbled onto a thread about the importance of story, Brogan cites author Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.” I haven’t read it yet although I’m half way through Miller’s “Looking For God Knows What.”

Archivists seem susceptible to missing the importance of story. We get wrapped up in preservation, organization and access (which are important). But we miss the story. The whole reason we work so hard to maintain and provide access to historic records is so we can help people tell THEIR story. That’s a big deal. Maybe not to a group of academic peers or government bureaucrats or technocrats but to the user, it matters (or at least it should).

Telling your story shapes communities, creates civic-minded people, and gives our lives depth (I’m certain Donald Miller has more thoughts on this). I’m excited to look forward at my archival work as story teller as well as assisting others in telling their stories.  What do you think?  What’s your story?


I need to catch up with what has occurred at the Archives of Michigan in the last few months.  Nothing has been more time consuming than the launch of We went live yesterday and the site teetered for 3-4 hours before succumbing to high traffic.  It illustrated a typical problem with a new website launch.  Namely, you don’t know what you are going to get for traffic.

This site is already a Frankenstein mash-up of OCLC’s CONTENTdm and WordPress. The php nature of CONTENTdm, caching issues, high site traffic, high link traffic and our server situation all played into the temporary demise.  We started the site on a virtual host thinking there would be demand, but not huge demand and we failed to consider load testing the site (not that it would have helped in the end).  As I write this, we have seen site traffic increase 2600% since the beginning of the month.  We are in the process of moving to dedicated servers on both ends (CONTENTdm and WordPress).  It may be overkill but will help us as we launch huge record sets.

We do DO other work besides Seekingmichigan.  Archivists are working on the private collections of the Campbell Construction Company, Detroit, MI.  They pioneered the construction of prefabricated steel buildings.  Final steps are being made to open the North Country Trail collection and a large collection of Mackinac County Clerk records.

New acquisitions and collections on the horizon include the Wexford County naturalization records and the Washtenaw County Probate Records.

I will be presenting at the National Archives Preservation Conference on March 26 in Washington D.C.  The topic will be an overview of our NHPRC grant project, “Thank God for Michigan.”

Drop us a line on Twitter @seekingmichigan or visit us on or


We have been steadily moving forward with our launch of Seeking Michigan.  If you have not heard me talk about this, it is a new joint effort with the Library of Michigan.  It appears that we are slated to launch on February 1, 2009.  We will hit you with a news blast nearer that date.  

One component of the site is “Look.”  This will feature fun and interesting stories about Michigan’s past and present.  A team of twenty-seven history professionals will be adding content.  We hope to open it up to the public so you too can share your stories and photographs.

Our November projects include:

1. Trout Unlimited 50th Anniversary celebration.  Art Nuemann is one of the founding fathers of Trout Unlimited.   Art is a Michigan treasure.  I had the privilege of interviewing Art on three separate visits to Saginaw.   We are working on a book detailing TU’s early history.  It will come out next year to coincide with the anniversary.

2. Legislative Advisory Committee: Archives staff has created a committee to seek the advice of current legislative leadership.  The bi-partisan committee makes recommendations on significant legislators and important issues.  From these recommendations, the Archives works to preserve the records of certain outgoing legislators.

3. Internal Strategic Plan:  With the assistance of Archivist Bob Garrett, we have completed a draft of the Archives policies and procedures.  We hope to post this online in the near future.

4. Donations: The Archives will soon officially announce some major donations of archival materials.  Keep in mind,  these have not been processed and are not quite ready for public access.  

Military records continue to be a strong topic area.  We took in the Freeman McClintock papers this month.  Mr. McClintock worked in the motor pool for senior dignitaries in World War I.  He cared for the vehicles of Woodrow Wilson and General Pershing, among others.  After the war, he came back to Lansing and opened McClintock Cadillac (now Capitol Cadillac).  There are more donations that we will highlight in months to come.  

We must make special mention of donors Wallace and Jane Ewing.  The Ewings recently donated the Mac and Nan Ewing Civil War letters.  The collection includes a 291-letter conversation between Mac and Nan during the Civil War.  We are actively scanning all the original letters.  We will then present these scans online with transcriptions that Wally Ewing has already prepared.

Jane and Wally Ewing donating the Mac and Nan Ewing Civil War letters.

Jane and Wally Ewing donating the Mac and Nan Ewing Civil War letters.

5. Workshops: On November 20th, I made a trip to the Algonac Public Library and delivered three consecutive workshops on naturalization, military and other genealogical records.

Here are some more highlights:

Collections completed:

Clark, Beverly. MS. 92-21. Civil Rights Commission Material. (Clark a Commissioner from 1983-1991) 1983-1991. 8.5 cubic feet.

Balcolm Family Collection, 1827, 1847-1863, 1887, 1907. 10 items. Family letters. 3 during the Civil War, documenting William and Justus Balcom, who were in the 21st Michigan Infantry, Company G. Justus died of disease during the War. 

Barnett, Leroy. MS 2004-1. Maps of Michigan Lower and Upper Peninsulas, compiled using land grant documentation from 1820 to 1900. (Compilation date: 1980) 2 items (45 inches x 74 inches) 

Michigan Archival Association,1964-2001
Accession number: MS 2004-6
Cubic Feet: 6.2
Series: 1. Michigan Archival Association Records. 2.Open Entry 3.Photographs 4. Video, VHS—WLUC TV, Marquette Workshop at NMU, 1988.


Archivist Julie Meyerle gave three tours for Crossroads, an alternative education program for disadvantaged youth.  Julie also provided a tour for the Advent House program, a local homeless shelter that provides education programs to assist with personal productivity.


Archivist Bob Garrett is processing the North Country Trail Collection (MS 2008-28).  This collection documents the life of Peter Wolfe, advocate for the NCT and one of the first to walk the entire length of the trail.

Web Updates:

December image of the month: Ozz Warbach (Bob Garrett collaborated with Helen Taylor on the article.) go to:

For January, we’ll have an article on Governor John Swainson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Oral Histories:

Archivist Bob Garrett attended the 2008 Michigan Oral History Association Conference in Rogers City, Michigan on November 7-8. Bob spoke at the oral history workshop (It was a basic overview on “How to do oral history”).  He also reported on veterans’ oral histories in the Archives of Michigan.

Bob completed an oral history with local resident Ernest Floeter, a German POW and professional photographer.

Next MAA Board Meeting is scheduled for February 27, 2009.

Seeking Michigan

April 23, 2008

The Archives of Michigan is excited to announce that is will be redesigning it’s existing content management site,  This is a joint project with the Library of Michigan.  Plans include expanding content including over 1,000,000 death records, 70,000 land patent records, photographs and maps.

We have contracted with Greg Storey and Airbag Industries, Inc.  The new site will be rebranded to “Seeking Michigan” or a similar concept.  The idea is to convey a broad approach to the “heritage collections” available at the Library and Archives.  You can see samples of Airbag’s work at:

We hope to launch in late Summer or Fall 2008.

Here is an interesting article from the NYT on March 17.

Dusting Off the Archive for the Web

Visitors to the Sports Illustrated Web site will be able to check out the George Steinbrenner cover story from 1993, along with Magic Johnson in 1991 and Casey Stengel and Yogi Berra in 1964.

Published: March 17, 2008

As magazines and newspapers hunt for the new thing they need to be to thrive in the Internet era, some find that part of the answer lies in the old thing they used to be.

Sports Illustrated back issues are to go online, with covers like the 1971 Ali-Frazier fight.

Publications are rediscovering their archives, like a person learning that a hand-me-down coffee table is a valuable antique. For magazines and newspapers with long histories, especially, old material can be reborn on the Web as an inexpensive way to attract readers, advertisers and money.

Sports Illustrated, which faces fierce daily, even hourly, competition with ESPN, Yahoo Sports and others, has something its main rivals do not: a 53-year trove of articles and photos, most of it from an era when the magazine dominated the field of long-form sports writing and color sports photography.

On Thursday, the magazine will introduce the Vault, a free site within that contains all the words Sports Illustrated has ever published and many of the images, along with video and other material, in a searchable database. already draws more than six million unique visitors each month, according to Nielsen Online (publications insist that the true numbers are much higher than Nielsen’s ratings), and executives of the magazine predict the Vault could add five million monthly readers.

“The real hidden value of this is what it does for search,” said John Squires, executive vice president of Time Inc., the Time Warner subsidiary that publishes Sports Illustrated. The move quadruples the site’s volume, he said. “We’ll have to work our way up the search algorithms over time, but eventually, someone searches Johnny Unitas, and is going to pop up.”

Many publications, including most major magazines, still offer little or no archive access online. And of those that do allow readers to look deep into their histories, many charge for it, like The Washington Post or The Atlantic Monthly, whose online archives both go back to the 19th century.

But a growing number of publications are opening their own vaults — if only partially — or dropping pay requirements, and they say it makes a big difference in attracting readers.

Industry executives say that although old articles attract less interest from advertisers than current ones, any increase matters at a time when many newspapers and magazines are struggling to hold onto print ad revenue. They say that while building an archive for readers is time-consuming, it is not prohibitively expensive — people at some major magazines gave estimates in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The material is already available, and the databases cost very little to operate.

Mark Ford, president of the Sports Illustrated Group at Time, said the Vault was expected to account for 5 percent of the magazine’s online revenue in its first year, and more in the future.

Popular Mechanics, a Hearst magazine, says about 35 percent of its online readers enter the site through a free archive that contains printed content back to the mid-1990s, and 15 percent enter through Web-only material.

The company does not share specific financial information, but James B. Meigs, editor in chief of Popular Mechanics, said, “we get good ad revenue from this traffic,” in part because it invites the reader to linger, digging more deeply into a particular topic.

Until recently, opened its archives only to people who subscribed to the print magazine or who paid an online fee, and content reached back to only 2000. “All it did was limit people’s interest in even looking at our archives,” said Deidre Depke, editor of

Last fall, the magazine — part of the Washington Post Company — made its online collection of past articles free and easier to navigate, and expanded it to go back to 1990; Web traffic to the archive quadrupled. Next month, it will add articles from 1975 through 1989, and then work will begin on everything back to the magazine’s founding in 1933.

“It’s an incredibly difficult project because we have to open up old computer files of every story, correct errors, change the coding, add computer tags,” Ms. Depke said. And issues from before the digital era have to be scanned, page by page.

For two years, The New York Times allowed only print subscribers and people who paid an online fee to read its editorials and columnists or to delve into the archive. Last September, it ended the pay requirement and made most articles accessible back to the mid-19th century.

Since then, search traffic to archive pages has more than doubled, and the archives now represent 10 percent of the page views on, said Diane McNulty, a spokeswoman.

Time Inc. has been ahead of this curve; two of its publications, People and Entertainment Weekly, give access to articles going back about a decade.

A few years ago, Time magazine put every issue cover and every article it had published, back to its founding in 1923, online free, though that feature is not prominent on the Web site.

Like most publications’ online archives, Time’s has few pictures, which can be more difficult to scan and store than articles, and often have thorny copyright issues. When news with a historical angle breaks, the magazine can put together a page on the subject using old and new articles, which the company says makes the archive more attractive to advertisers.

But the Sports Illustrated project, three years in the making, goes several steps further. It includes many of the magazine’s photos, along with links to related video on other sites.

The Vault’s search engine lets a reader search by athlete, coach, team, sport, decade and year. Want to see every Sports Illustrated cover with Magic Johnson, or all the articles that mentioned him in 1986? Easy.

The site also allows a reader to see high-resolution images of old issues of the magazine as it appeared in physical form, including ads, using a mouse to “turn” pages. Jeff Price, president of SI Digital, said, “We’re confident that there’s nothing else like this.”

Michigan Elections Database

January 15, 2008

With Michigan’s primary right around the corner, the Department of History, Arts and Libraries today announced the availability of Michigan’s Precinct Results Databases online at The Precinct Results Databases – used to certify and distribute the official results of each election – were created by the Michigan Bureau of Elections, Department of State, and recently transferred to the Archives of Michigan for permanent preservation.

“The preservation of Michigan’s history and the assurance that there will be an accurate, accessible record of the political process is a tremendous responsibility and a great gift to current and future generations,” said HAL Director William Anderson. “As Michigan gets into the full swing of this election year, interest in information like this will certainly climb.”

The Archives of Michigan (in collaboration with the San Diego Supercomputer Center) converted the data from its original format into a search engine for public access. This work was conducted as part of the Persistent Archives Testbed (PAT) Project that was funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission. The PAT project was a multi-state initiative to investigate new and effective methods of preserving electronic data as the original technology becomes obsolete.

State Archivist Mark Harvey said that data for 1992 through 2004 is available online and can be searched by year, county, office, city and township. In addition, he noted that GIS maps (showing color-coded counties according to party majority) were developed for statewide offices to represent voting trends. Data for 1970 through 1990 is not searchable, because the metadata needed to translate the data codes has been lost over time. However, the data can be downloaded by researchers who are interested in trying to interpret the data themselves. Additional information about this data and the PAT Project is available at

“This is a valuable research tool for anyone with an interest in Michigan elections,” said Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land. “I’m grateful to the Department of History, Arts and Libraries for its work to make this important data accessible to the public through the convenience of the Internet.”

The Archives of Michigan is part of the Michigan Historical Center, an agency within the Department of History, Arts and Libraries. HAL is dedicated to strengthening the economy and enriching the quality of life for Michigan residents by providing access to information, preserving and promoting Michigan’s heritage and fostering cultural creativity. The department also includes the Library of Michigan, the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Michigan Film Office.

Written by Casey Kremers, HAL Communications Office, 1/14/07

The LANSING CITY PULSE magazine published one of our staff’s article on Lansing’s
African-American neighborhoods this week. You can read that at the CITY PULSE website.

This is one in a series of Lansing history articles. You can link to others via
the Archives of Michigan homepage