Reflection by Alexis Kaftajian
Frances Mulkey Keys was an educator, a mother, a friend, and a collector. I decided to feature Frances in this collection because she was a teacher in Texas, but I learned so much more about this woman. The Frances Mulkey Keys collection - which was donated by her daughter Kay Keys - is 10 cubic feet. That’s 10 cubic feet of photographs, letters, medical documents, trinkets, handmade cards, graduation pamphlets, and other ephemera. Frances’s collection includes so much more than just information about herself. Frances saved genealogical information, family histories she’d written, and letters written to and from her brother, mother, husband, and daughter. I was able to learn about the Mulkey and the Keys families, giving me an even clearer picture of who Frances was and how she fit in this world.
It is apparent that family and memories are important to the Keys family as Frances saved and collected these pieces of correspondence and photographs and Kay donated them to Texas Woman’s University. I saw something very similar in the Keys as I do in my own family; however, the Keys are archived in the Woman’s Collection, and my family members are archived in keepsake boxes across the South in the grandchildren's and great-grandchildren’s houses.
The most meaningful part of this project to me was being able to hold these items and understand the importance each held to Frances. Going through her collection reminded me of going through the items left behind by my great-grandmother. I was 7 years old when my mother and grandmother had to go through Mamaw’s things. I would lift items up, items so small and ordinary I felt they couldn’t possibly have any meaning, and one of them would start in on a story about the significance of the object. Everything had meaning and everything felt like it held a little bit of Mamaw.
I experienced similar feelings of wonder as I looked through Frances’s collection. Deciding which items I wanted to feature in the Moments of Inscription digital archive was incredibly difficult because I felt the importance and the life in each little trinket and each piece of paper I held. The one difference between looking through Frances’s collection and looking through my Mamaw’s things was that I did not have anybody next to me to tell me the story behind the object. I had to make inferences. I had to construct meaning based on what I knew from the rest of the items in the collection.
I think this is where things can get sticky as an archivist. As we make inferences and create narratives for people and places we only know so much about, stories can become distorted. The best we can do is feature enough items that give a well-rounded idea of all the many things that made up that person. Each letter I featured in Frances’ subcollection shows a different side of her. Viewers of the digital subcollection will see her interactions with her Finnish pen pal, letters to the School Board asking for a teaching position, and love notes to her husband in which she describes her mother’s overprotectiveness while she was pregnant with Kay. I hope I have provided enough variety to help my audience understand Frances as I do now after analyzing all 10 cubic feet of donated items. I also hope I have represented Frances in the most honest and respectful way possible.