In a blog post in February I wrote about the fire at the warehouse where our boxes were stored for many years before this project began. For the past 3 1/2 years our workflow has been to bring 100-200 boxes into our offices at a time where we do what we do with files (officially called “processing”). As I mentioned in the February post, we had 305 boxes remaining in storage before the fire.
We requested delivery of the remaining boxes in two shipments; the final count of boxes lost in the fire was 123. For the most part the lost boxes were scattered among the different departments represented in those 305 boxes, but a high percentage were from Overseas Services, Immigrant Services, Administration and Government Relations. Except where there were fewer than 5 boxes from a department, at least some of the material in each department survived; we will in the end have a slightly smaller snapshot of the work of these departments. The largest portion of these records is from the second half of the 1990s.
To look at the loss of these boxes philosophically, records from many non-profit organizations that are ultimately transferred to the archives for permanent retention seem to have survived almost at random. UJA-Federation of New York was more organized than many non-profits, having engaged the services of a consulting archivist for many years – Colonel Seymour Pomrenze, who we have written about in this blog before. The colonel determined the fate of many of UJA-Federation’s older files in an organized, professional manner. Because of his professionalism many of the hundreds of boxes of files that were not of permanent value were destroyed long ago, saving UJA-Federation thousands of dollars in storage fees.
The material that remained and which became the core of this archives project, is in the process of becoming the permanent record of the legacy of UJA- Federation of New York and its predecessor organizations. What files ultimately remain is what historians have to sift through to tell the story of an organization – a movement, a certain time in a community when a group of men and women took care of those less fortunate than themselves. The surviving files, whether through careful determination according to a retention schedule or to random placement in a warehouse, become what we ultimately learn and remember about the past.