Managing Mennonite Memory: Archives of the Mennonite
Church, 1937- (Fourth in a Series)
by Dennis Stoesz
In this article I focus primarily on the archival stage of
records by looking at how incoming materials are handled at the
Archives of the Mennonite Church.
This year, forty-four out of eighty-five collections that
came into the Archives were from organizations. In describing
these collections I will note the patterns of records management
that they represent. In the archives, these organizational records
can be called "record groups" since each make up a
distinctive group. In particular I will note anything in these
sets of records which will help distinguish which are "inactive"
and which can be considered "archival".
It has been this work with incoming collections that has led
me to propose a more conscious approach to records management
system for the church. This approach includes: a) working together
with each of the organizations who deposit records at the archives,
b) devising a way to work with inactive records,
and c) cataloging the archival records, so the organizations
and researchers can have easy access to the activity, faith and
heritage found in these Organizational Archival Collections.
Inactive and Archival Records
Before writing about specific collections, I want to explore
the nature of inactive and archival records.
When I think of an archives, I naturally think of old papers
that are at least fifty to a hundred years old. In working at
the Archives of the Mennonite Church over the last ten years,
however, I find that collections can date back as early as 1820
and as recent as 1999. In this age of computers and e-mail, I
keep hearing of how electronic files are "archived"
every month or at least every half-year after they were created.
The past seems to be creeping ever closer to the present.
More often than not, organizational records deposited into
the Archives date anywhere from three to 30 years of age. Personal
papers on the other hand tend to be much older when they are
given to the Archives. They tend to range from 20-80 years of
age. The reason is that personal papers are usually kept by individuals
until they are elderly. And it is often during this senior part
of their life that they pass on relevant historical materials
to the archives.
Because organizational records are so much younger, it is
harder to give clear guidelines on when records are inactive
or when they become archival. It is still useful,
however, to use these distinctions. Inactive, or semi-active,
records are those that are no longer needed for the daily, weekly
or yearly operation of an organization. Archival records are
those that are not needed by the organization at all, yet have
a secondary, and much broader use in that they reflect the long-range
activity and heritage of that organization.
Boards of the Mennonite Church
Thirteen of the collections that came into the Archives in 1999
were from Mennonite Church boards. The Mennonite Board of
Education, 1905- deposited its 1986-89 central files. This
three-year set of files (1986-89) became ten years old and were
identified as archival in 1999. The Board also deposited
its files of the Pastorate Project, 1986-95. Although not yet
10 years old, these files were no longer needed because the project
had come to an end.
The Mennonite Board of Missions, 1906- deposited the
1970-80 files of its Home Missions department. Since 1982 this
department has been known as Evangelism and Church Development.
The Mennonite Board of Congregational Ministries, 1971-
deposited records from several of its programs: 1980-90 files
from Peace and Social Concerns; 1977-92 files from Stewardship;
and 1982-94 from its Administration.
Included in all of these six shipments were itemized listings
of all the files. Inclusive dates indicating the beginning date
and end date of the materials in each file was also included
on the file label. A brief administrative history of the department,
and a list of staff who had worked in that department over the
years, was included at the beginning of each file list. It is
this "Inventory Listing" which then becomes the basis
for cataloging each set of records, and for placing them in the
appropriate sections within each organization's archival collection.
Mennonite Board of Education
It is also instructive to compare the first set of files (1986-89)
deposited by the Board of Education with the five other sets
of records. While all these files were considered "archival"
and were 10 years old, the first set spanned a three-year time
period while the others were ten years in length. This shows
how a specific time period can aid organizations in identifying
when its files become archival.
The Board of Education has worked hard over the past few years
to set clear dates for inactive and archival
files. Earlier the Board had worked with a large quantity of
inactive records which dated over a 10-25 year time-period. This
became overwhelming and unmanageable. This large section of inactive
records was brought to a realistic size by deciding to work with
these records in three-year blocks.
Today the 1997-2000 files are considered current, and are
found in accessible filing cabinets. The 1994-97 files are identified
as inactive, and are found in accessible filing cabinets in case
this information is needed. The 1991-94 files are ready to be
archived, and are stored in closets. And the 1989-91 files are
archived, and are ready to be sent to the archives at the point
when they span a three-year period, 1989-92.
Sandi Bromley, Administrative Assistant, and Ruth E. Schrock
sort the files each year, and transfer a years-worth of
files to the next appropriate section. In July 2000, the 1997-98
files will become inactive and will be transferred to that section.
The 1994-95 will get transferred to the closet. And the 1991-92
files will join the 1989-91 batch to be archived.
Bromley will then type out the "Inventory Listing"
for the archival files, 1989-92. A copy of this list will be
kept in the office so the staff knows what records are at the
Archives. Another copy will be sent with the files to the Archives.
When these archival records are cataloged, this three-year list
of files, 1989-92, will join the other listings of archival records
that exist for this Board from 1905-1989. These combined listings
become the main access point for researchers to search through
the 87 years of archival records on the Mennonite Board of Education.
This is an excellent example of how the categories of current,
inactive and archival records helps manage records well.
Five Other Boards and Committees
A greater variety of records can be seen in the collections deposited
in 1999 by five other boards and committees of the Mennonite
Church. Two individuals brought in photographs of the 1929 and
the 1939 general conferences. These were placed in the Mennonite
General Conference, 1898-1971, Photograph Collection. Today
that organization is known as Mennonite Church USA Executive
Board, 1999- ; earlier it was known as Mennonite Church General
Board and General Assembly, 1971-1999.
Photographs on the activities at the Archives from 1990-99
were placed in the Historical Committee of the Mennonite Church,
1911- , Collection. The John Horsch History Essay Contest
Papers from 1994-96 were also added to that collection. Mary
K. Oyer brought in her 1988-89 files on the Hymnal and Hymnal
Sampler Project, 1982-1992. These were placed in the Mennonite
Church, Music Committee section, which documents the many hymnals
the church has published through the years.
The 1983 postage stamp with the ship Concord, and which commemorates
the 300th anniversary of German Immigration to the United States,
was placed in the Mennonite Publication Board, 1908- Collection.
This board published a special church bulletin during 1983 that
focussed on this stamp and the anniversary, 1683-1983. And finally,
the official dockets, 1997-1998, of the Board of Directors for
Mennonite Mutual Aid, 1945- were deposited in that collection.
These last seven sets of archival records look much different
from the first six I mentioned. They date as early as 1929 and
as late as 1998, instead of from 1977-95. They were not deposited
in regular three-year or ten-year blocks, which demonstrates
a less organized management of records.
Three of the collections that came in 1999 were deposited by
two conferences. Staff from the Indiana-Michigan Mennonite
Conference, 1854- cleaned out some inactive files from 1988-92.
Included were some older handwritten minutes from the annual
conferences, 1969-90. Later in the year the conference deposited
its 1993-94 official records. Five years of files are kept in
the office, 1994-1999, and each year the oldest year's-worth
of materials are taken out of the files and transferred to the
Archives. This usually takes place around the annual summer conference.
Some older mission records that belonged to Andrew Levi Glick
of the North Central Conference of the Mennonite Church, 1920-
came to the Archives from Ervie Glick of Harrisonburg, Virginia.
This correspondence,1952-59, reflected Glicks work as president
of this North Central District Mission Board. Included with the
material were also the Certificates of Transfer of
church membership, for the years 1946-48.
Again this shows some variation in the management of records.
A larger conference office staff should sort through their files
annually. Records from a smaller organization are often maintained
by a single individual, who may hang on to them for a longer
time before transferring them to an archives.
Eight record groups that came into the Archives in
1999 were from a variety of Mennonite organizations. The Mennonite
Nurses Association, IN, 1942- deposited its financial
records of 1994-96. That included bank statements, bank books,
expense reports, membership records and correspondence. The
Mennonite Association of Retired Persons, IN, 1989- deposited
its official correspondence files from 1989-98. Included here
were also the minutes and correspondence from the earlier organization
known as the Inter-Mennonite Council of Aging, 1981-87. In this
case the director of the organization was retiring, and so it
was an appropriate time to transfer its records to the Archives.
The Mennonite Health Services, IN, 1947- deposited
a variety of older files which they found after the office was
transferred from Pennsylvania to Indiana. It included two sets
of project files, 1989-92, and 1992-94, cassette tapes from 1971-97,
a video tape from 1988, and photographs from the 1980s-90s. The
Mennonite Health Assembly, 1952- deposited some more of
its official minutes, newsletters and plaques dating from 1952-94.
Included were some photographs, 1981-93 and 1996-98, as well
as older booklets, 1947-65. This organization had maintained
its own archives for many years, but began transferring materials
to the Archives in the early 1990s. In 1999, they finished transferring
materials dating up through 1994.
A former executive secretary deposited records which reflected
his 1982-91 involvement in Mennonite Renewal Services, 1975-
. The secretary of the Mennonite Aid Association of Indiana
and Michigan, 1911- deposited his two-years-worth of
correspondence and reports, 1996-98. It included information
on the organization known as the Anabaptist and Brethren Agency,
Inc. A duplicate set of these Aid Association documents
was also deposited at the Bluffton College Archives, Ohio, which
has maintained a Mutual Aid Archives for many years.
The Laurelville Mennonite Church Center, 1943- deposited
its program files from 1986-97. Included were photographs ranging
from the 1940s to the 1990s which had been used in its 50th anniversary
history book. And finally, Precision Audio, 1967- deposited
the audio cassette tapes that it had recorded for a variety of
Mennonite conferences held between 1988-97: MEDA convention,
Indiana-Michigan Mennonite Conference, Ministry of Reconciliation,
Breaking Silence, Bringing Hope, Mennonite Health Assembly, and
the Conservative Mennonite Conference.
What can one say about the pattern of records management represented
by these eight collections? One conclusion is that all these
organizations consider their current records as anything
from one to five years old. So inactive and archival
records can be identified as anything older than one to five
years. That seems to provide quite a loose definition and gives
quite a latitude to what is considered old. This,
however, seems to hold true for the collections from the conferences
and the congregations cited above.
Another conclusion is that organizations seemed to be less
structured in their scheduling of records than the boards of
the Mennonite Church records. Most of these records are transferred
during transitionoffice relocation, change of director,
or a shift of direction within the organization. Here the same
difficulty arises in distinguishing inactive from
archival records as shown previously.
Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), 1920-
This large organization which serves the broader Mennonite and
Brethren in Christ churches in North America manages its files
through a regular scheduling of records: the latest three years
of materials are considered current, the previous
seven years are considered semi-active, and anything
that is older than ten years is archival. In keeping
with this schedule, MCC deposited its official 1987 and 1988
correspondence and report files to the Archives in 1999. This
material is found on thirty 16mm microfilm reels. Microfilming
its records has been one way MCC has worked at saving costs on
Several other sets of MCC records were also deposited in 1999.
They included workbooks, minutes, personnel listings and news
releases from 1986-94. This series of records is on a shorter
year schedule, where they are identified as archival after they
are five years old.
The history and development of MCCs records management
system deserves a longer and separate treatment, which will come
in a future issue.
International Voluntary Service (IVS), 1953-
This organization, based in Washington, D.C, began in 1953 as
a non-sectarian, non-partisan agency. In 1997 IVS designated
the Archives of the Mennonite Church as its official repository.
One of the reasons for this was that a parallel organization,
Mennonite Central Committee, had its archival collection located
at the archives. That year IVS sent photographs, 1959-93, and
program files, 1989-96.
In 1999 IVSs volunteer, Roderick MacRae, added to this
collection by depositing his won records in the Archives. It
included field records from Laos, 1963-66, and Washington, D.C.,
1966-68. It also included materials MacRae collected on IVSs
involvement in Cambodia and Vietnam during the 1960s. The rest
of the papers reflected MacRaes ongoing collecting of annual
reports, newsletters, and information sent out by IVS from 1968
to 1996. These records ranging from 1962 to 1996 will make a
valuable addition to the IVS collection.
This example illustrates the important contribution that individuals
can make toward keeping materials from an organization in which
they served. Although these papers could be placed in a personal
collection, since they reflect MacRaes own involvement,
I felt the range and breadth of the records would warrant placing
them in the official organizations collection. MacRaes
field records will be clearly identified in the collection as
being generated and collected by him.
In addition to those noted above, 12 collections came in from
Congregations, and eight collections came from Goshen College,
1894- . Space in this article does not allow me to provide
a description of these record groups.
I want to conclude by writing specifically about what makes
records archival. There are six values which determine
whether a given set of records are archival. Those
values are a) administrative, b) fiscal, c) legal, d) intrinsic,
e) evidential, f) and/or informational. If a set of files has
some or all of these values, it would justify the long-term preservation
of these records. This definition comes from the Glossary
for Archivists, Manuscript Curators, and Records Managers,
Society of American Archivists, 1992.
A similar definition of archival values is given in the document
entitled Guidelines for Retention and Disposition of Records
... for Mennonite Church Boards and Agencies, 1989. It notes
the determination of how long records should be retained
will be based on a number of factors. Records may be important
for legal reasons, for historical and research purposes, and/or
for the ongoing administrative and financial functions of the
organization. These must all be reviewed in making judgments
on retention and disposition of records.
My hope is that we can put meaning behind this definition
by developing records schedules that are useful for all of us
in managing each of our organizations records through their
entire life cycle, from current to inactive / semi-active to
Denis Stoesz has served as archivist since
Mennonite Historical Bulletin, October 1999