Interview with Kelsey Sawyer, Archives Assistant

What do you do at work on a typical day?

I am usually working on something for the digital archives. This involves prepping a collection to be uploaded by making sure the scans are with the information they are supposed to be with and cropping and quality checking the images to make everything looks its best. When not working on the digital archives I process physical collections and write the finding aids, which give the historical or biographical background of the collection. I also help with reference requests sent in to us as well as coordinating our social media.

How did you first become interested in archives or history, and what led you to AJHS?

I have always loved history and following my graduation from UMass Boston with a degree in it, I realized I had very little work experience in the field. I researched places that had volunteer programs and contacted the New England Historic Genealogical Society about coming in to volunteer. During the tour they brought me to AJHS as a possible fit for me. It worked out perfectly as AJHS was still pretty new in the building and was also looking for volunteers.

I really had no skills or knowledge about working in an archive. I just wanted to learn what someone interested in history might be able to do for a living, and build up some skill sets. And working here at AJHS has definitely done that for me.

Do you see yourself continuing to work in archives in the future?

I could definitely see myself staying in archives and continuing on to get a degree in it.

What’s your favorite collection or item in the archive?

That’s a really tough one to answer but based on collections that I am constantly going back to and looking through for something to use on our social media, for example, it would have to be the collections we received from the Jewish Heritage Center of the North Shore. There are so many great photos in the collections that really show what people were like in the early to mid- 1900’s outside of your typical professional portrait; lots of informal snapshots of everyday life that people don’t always see from that time period.

What would you say to people wandering down Newbury Street wondering if they should come into AJHS?

They should stop and come in for a visit. The Boston Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society collection is a great resource if someone is interested in looking at their own family’s history. I would also say we aren’t just limited to people looking in to their Jewish genealogy. Our resources are used for all kinds of research from Jewish history to Boston history and anything in between.

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