Researching Unit Histories


Accessioning is the act of recording or processing an acquisition into the permanent collection. An accession number is assigned, and the file that has been made to track the potential acquisition becomes the accession file. The file contains the basic legal documents relating to the object as well as the worksheet, incoming receipt, shipping invoices, and curatorial notes. The file becomes the repository of all information that comes to the museum regarding the object and the file becomes filled as research, photography, condition reports, loans, conservation work and publication take place. The file will also contain information relating to credit line, reference notations, and the exhibition histories.

The file is housed in an archival, legal size folder. All foreign material, e.g. staples and paper clips are removed. 100% cotton paper is used for all legal documentation. Non-archival paper is interleafed with archival paper or placed in archival sleeves.



Each page is numbered with the accession number (pencil). File information is placed in a pre-set order to facilitate locating information. The folder is labeled with the object number, description and file number (1 of _). The folder is housed in a fire resistant, lockable file cabinet by accession number.


The accession file contains photos taken before and after stabilization. Prints are made of an overview of the flag and any other associated items, e.g. finial, tassel, staff. Each unique feature and individual part of the flag is photographed and a thumbnail page of all images is also included in the folder. In addition to documentation, the digital images are used for research, merchandise, marketing, and on exhibit labels for the project.


One signifcant piece of information in the accession file is the unit history. Dave Holmgren has invested hundreds of hours researching Iowa troops, first as the full-time Project Historian, and now as a volunteer Project Assistant.

Unit histories are invaluable to staff, researchers and the general public. Dave’s work can help piece together the story of the flag itself; where it was made, how it was attained, where it served, who carried it and other important information.

This information can also help identify flags, or even separate fact from fiction in the stories surrounding the flag or the unit that carried it.
These unit histories also provide the content used on exhibit labels when the flags are displayed. This allows the public to better understand the significance of the flags they see.

Dave has written an in-depth article for would-be researchers on the primary and secondary sources available to all of us. (see below)

Secondary and primary
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