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We often talk about preserving documents. A large part of knowing what to preserve and for how long (in perpetuity, for 10 years, or what duration), comes from a record retention policy.
Every household, has an explicit or implicit policy about what records to retain. Do you keep your tax files? car maintenance documents? medical files? birthday cards, newspaper clippings, etc. Do you throw out and/or shred credit card slips, bills, etc. Every time you make a decision to keep or throw out/destroy documents you are implementing (or not) a policy regarding what records you retain.
The same happens in government offices, corporate offices, and in any place where paper is generated and/or received (as well as digital files, and other media formats). And, obviously, in archives and libraries and other repositories who are in the business of collecting records.
SO, we ALL need to think about records retention. We ALL also need to appreciate records retention as often such a policy determines why we might NOT find some of the records we seek.
This all came to mind when reading A Beginners Guide to Record Retention (posted by the Library of Congress).
Google search on “Records retention” and archives and you will see many entries for the various state archives (NY, WA, UT, NC, OR, and AZ showed up on the top of my search list). Search on the same except substitute libraries and I came across Library of Virginia, Texas State Library and Archives Commission, etc.
University Records also fall under a records retention schedules, as well as local government entities, and more. Again, if records are created, there is a very good chance that there is a records retention policy in place. Sometimes these are to meet legal requirements, sometimes to meet technical needs, and sometimes the needs of the entity and/or its users. Obviously, as genealogists we like to see the preservation of documents whose “function” may have been served years, decades or centuries ago, and yet are of interest to us.
Often though, these desires have to “realistically” be balanced with storage space and other factors. Ultimately, we CANNOT keep everything and we do try to judiciously keep what we think will have perpetual value.
If you have a personal “record retention” policy – what are some of its elements?
What advice would you give to those looking to create a personal “record retention” policy?
Editor’s Note: Related Upfront with NGS blog post -- Lots of Unsorted (and Unindexed) Documents Waiting to be Discovered by Family Historians
Editor's Note: Corrected it's to its in University Records paragraph, 5:16pm 28 June 2016
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