12 February 2016

U.S. National Archives Archival Recovery Team -- Trying to retain our heritage

So many valuable artifacts, documents, and more get “legs” and walk out of repositories and elsewhere – with some human help of course.

I will admit to being oblivious to the scale of the issue until I started following the US Archives National Archival Recovery Team on Facebook.  This page shares both newly identified losses of artifacts along with successful recovery stories. So far I have seen more of the former. Its scope is worldwide.

Lost and stolen documents are an issue at any repository.  NARA has a web page dedicated to “Recover Lost and Stolen Documents” including a fairly long list of currently identified “Missing Historical Documents and Items” along with select images. You are provided information on how you can ensure that United States government documents are returned to NARA. The Washington Post did an article, National Archives hunts for missing treasures with recovery team, back in 2011 and even 60 Minutes on its web site has a piece, Historical Treasures Missing from National Archives dated 2012.

And, it’s not just NARA, other national archives and big repositories that have this issue.  Lost or stolen items are a problem for any facility that holds unique, one-of-a-kind type material.

When I saw the most recent posts by the US Archives National Archival Recovery Team on my FB page, I was reminded of being reminded on Monday (as part of a behind the scenes tour at the State Archives of North Carolina), that a few key NC documents had both been “lost” and then “recovered” through time. Probably the most famous one was the NC copy of the Bill of Rights (recovered in 2003) and you can read about that on the U.S. Marshals Service web page.

You just have to Google on recovering + stolen + artifacts to see how big the problem is.

We are all stewards of historical documents.  Even though this guidance provided by NARA focuses on professionals, we can still heed the same advice.

If you are a document collector, dealer, or a staff member at another archives, library, or museum, you can:
·        avoid buying, selling, or trading in lost or stolen historical U.S. government documents.

Let’s do all that we can to help preserve our heritage.  

Does your state, local archive, history or related museum have an active “recovery” program?  

Like NC, has your state or another repository somewhat recently recovered an official document?  Or, has something recently gone missing?

Creating awareness about “lost or stolen” items helps aid in their recovery and hopefully in preventing future thefts.

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