In 2006, the Abruzzo Archival Recovery Project saw a need to help preserve the smaller church archives. The first visit was to a local church in the mountains of Abruzzo where the volumes from many of the other town churches were condensed to a single archive (largely due to the closing of these churches). These collections of books, manuscripts, letters and church records were stored by baptism, “state of souls,” marriage, death, confirmation ranging from the late 16th century to the early 20th century, in addition to the hundreds of letters, and documented family donations and special collections. As there were specific activities that we wish to incorporate to prolong the life of the archival, manuscript materials and relics, the first step was the examination of the material, followed by preservation and ultimately, restoration.
As the latter is far more complex and bigger than our budget will currently allow, the examination and preservation of these archives and relics have been the priority and sole purpose of the Abruzzo Archive Recovery Project.
The digitalization, identification, inventory and, when necessary, translation of documents has resulted in thousands of pages of documents to be digitally recorded, inventoried and given to the parish priest. In turn, these archives now can be used for a multiple of purposes, and give new life to old history as the documents can be enhanced and viewed with great legibility. The digitalization also will help in the preservation (or backup) of the endangered materials and the wear and tear on the archives will lessen significantly, as they will now be handled less frequently. Our current effort with the church relics has been to inventory, match the bones or remains (hair, clothing, blood) of saints, or saint remains with specific "authentic" (certificate) and to provide restoration and new reliquary and theca (vessels to contain the remains) for veneration. These relics and authentic often dating back to the archdiocese from the later 17th and early 18th century.
The archive housing (church) itself is over 400 years old making the environment itself is not conducive for archives storage. The storage of the materials is a priority in such an environment. The vast collections are reviewed and stored in dark, PVC-free plastic vessels in protected sleeves, as well as accumulated and stored in archive boxes where the “mass” storage would harm the documents further. An effort to contain the deterioration of the archives as well also required review and deterrent of insect damage and further foxing issues that are evident in several of the pages. In the archives such as this, the environmental stresses, such as flooding and water damage, are not issues- but as they are often times stored in rooms without air conditioning in the summer or heat in the winter, preservation, and conservation is significant and an ongoing problem.
The Abruzzo Archival Recovery Project began as a historical research project that is specifically intertwined with the archives it is now preserving. The understanding that the smallest document can yield a tremendous amount of information and connection to the past makes each document or book important. The priests in the Abruzzese towns that oversee these collections do all that is possible to manage the archives. Their large list of other priorities leaves them little time to spend on archival preservation. This is understandable, and something we are excited to assist in any way possible.
The archives we are currently working with have been beaten and battered over the last 400 years. While these archives started out fresh and were able to take the various challenges from climate, wars, and handling, the reality that they may not exist for another 400 years without our intervention is dubious.
As we move through the region and look at various archives throughout the continent or wherever our services are required, we hope the recovery and preservation of the archives, especially the digitalization, will provide a solid footing for documents and special collections to be viewed and studied for centuries. Our project uses state of the art equipment and backs up the thousands of digitized photos in several locations with a more modest goal of providing a computer to be used exclusively to store the several TB of data created.
RIGHTS TO THE RECORDS
The Abruzzo Archival Recovery Project has a vast amount of information and documentation spanning centuries. This information from various Abruzzese towns is not a tool for profitability or a tool for guiding in research from our perspective. The records and the digital documents are still the property of the parish priests and the information given back to them is theirs to allocate and distribute. The Abruzzo Archival Recovery Project does not profit or distribute any of the information collected. archival restoration digitization archives conservative matthew
Page from notary Claudio Paglione, 1580-1598, 1600-1609. Archivio di Stato di Lanciano, Abruzzo, Italy. Photo by Matthew Larcinese