When your professional and personal lives collide, write about it! At least, that’s what Marcella (Wiget) Huggard did in “Family Stories,” which won our second Archives Short Fiction Contest. Huggard is the manuscripts coordinator at the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas, in charge of coordinating the processing of manuscripts in the Special Collections, Kansas Collection, and University Archives’ personal papers. Previously, she worked at the Kansas Historical Society in the State Archives, first as project archivist, later as government records archivist, and then as public records program supervisor. She received her MA in history from Colorado State University–Fort Collins with a concentration in public history and her BA in history from Knox College. We talked with Huggard about the real-life inspiration behind her winning entry and what’s on her reading shelf. SAA: What inspired the idea behind “Family Stories?” MH: I have a confession to make: the idea was “based on a true story,” as they say. In the past couple of years, both my parents have passed away and I have served as administrator for their estates. The thoughts my protagonist had in the story are very much what I’ve been struggling with through this process—what to keep, what to destroy, what to send to whom, how to remember my mother and father. SAA: Are you often tasked with archiving responsibilities in your own family? MH: My family likes to call on me with housing questions, or I like to butt in on conversations with housing suggestions or demands—“Get that picture out of that frame!” “Don’t just throw those papers in that filing cabinet, organize them!” But prior to my parents’ passing, I avoided dealing with their records at all costs, much as they did. Taking a more active role earlier with their records would have helped later, though I’m not sure my parents would have appreciated me nagging them about their tax returns and refrigerator manuals. SAA: What would you advise non-archivists going through a late relative’s files? MH: You’re going to be overwhelmed. One way to cope is to break it down into smaller chunks of effort—just focus on this box today, or that pile on the corner of the table, or this section of a filing cabinet. If you can, take your time. Sort through the necessary stuff to keep (legal documents, documents about the house or other properties, recent medical info or other matters that might have led to bills) and the stuff you want to keep or you think somebody else in the family will want. Don’t forget electronic records, which can be easy to do when it seems so invisible—make sure you have or can gain access to your relative’s email, social media, and other electronic accounts, especially if they were very active online. Deal with what you have to immediately, but if at all possible save the really emotional stuff until you’re ready to look at it. My family photos are still hiding in a closet until I can face looking at them. And if you have an archivist friend or family member, talk to them—they can help! SAA: What’s currently on your reading shelf? MH: Right now I’m reading a lot of graphic novels and history books—Alison Bechdel, Allie Brosh, a book on the history of Scotland and a book on 1215 and King John signing the Magna Carta. After I get through these I might turn to a mystery, and I’ve been meaning to reread Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series for a while now. Variety in reading, much as in my career, is a great thing. Huggard would like to thank Lisa Dickson, who has been reading and critiquing her work for almost 15 years, including this story. She dedicates “Family Stories” to her friend Jen Levin, who passed away this fall.
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