From acquistion to preliminary inventory: The Burleson Family Papers

While sorting through donations, we occasionally come across materials that really aren’t suited for the Archives of Appalachia. Maybe we already have several copies of whatever it is, or maybe it’s not relevant to our mission. If the donor has agreed that we can “dispose or disperse” as we see fit, our first step with materials in good condition is to try to find an appropriate home in another archives or library. This kind of sharing between repositories is not uncommon since no one place can (or even should) collect absolutely everything.

Recently, we found ourselves on the receiving end of this sharing process. Milligan College has a very small space for their archives and a large collection from the estate of Christine Burleson was taking up a lot of that space. They had already transferred some of her papers to ETSU; did we want the rest?

Since Burleson was a professor of English at East Tennessee State College until her death in 1967 and her father had been faculty dean at ETSC, we were definitely interested in learning more. After reviewing the inventory, we decided that we couldn’t ignore the wealth of correspondence and regional history that these papers promised.

The papers arrived in over 100 differently sized boxes, many half full and one that was completely empty (and was listed on the inventory as being an empty box). It was immediately obvious that if we wanted the papers to fit on our shelves we were going to have to do some preliminary organization work.

Student assistants Sierra, Kat and Amos spent their first weeks of the fall semester combing through the boxes combining like items, separating out books (which we would either donate to the main library or catalog separately for our own collection) and determining if we needed to keep things like empty envelopes and cancelled checks (we don’t, for the most part). The goal was to condense the collection into a smaller number of boxes that would be more manageable. In doing so we discovered a fascinating family.

The Burleson Family Papers are now in 29 records cartons which include correspondence, photographs, typescripts of novels, travel journals and a variety of other things created and collected by Christine Burleson, her father, her mother and her sister. While the papers aren’t fully processed, meaning that they aren’t arranged in any particular order yet, they are open for research.

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