Saturday, July 29, 2006

Thank You, Nettie

Nettie Grace of West Virginia made my day after she sent me a transcript of an obituary for Lt. Kirkbride Taylor of the Eighth Virginia Infantry. In addition to her kindness, I am especially grateful for the detail about his wounding at Gettysburg during Pickett’s Charge. I knew his was wounded there, but did not know the nature of his injury. Now, thanks to Nettie, I do!

Arriving at the Truth

Just completed the draft profile of a Missouri man who belonged to William L. “Bloody Bill” Anderson’s gang of guerrillas. Numerous sources have been investigated, and they yielded several interesting anecdotes about my subject, Lee McMurtry. The most dramatic is an account of McMurtry severe wounding during the raid on Fayette, Missouri, and was rescued by fellow guerrilla Jesse James — yes, the future outlaw. It’s the kind of story I would normally have no hesitation in making the lead of a profile. However, I’ve now learned that this account of Fayette, and the rest of the history of the guerrillas as told in this book, which was published in 1875, is highly inaccurate and very sympathetic to James and others who went on to lead a life of crime. So, I’ve decided to give this anecdote a small mention towards the end of the profile and endnote it accordingly, and use another interesting anecdote from a much more reliable source.

The larger question remains: How do you arrive at the truth? One answer is to seek out and find as many sources and references as possible, then analyze them to determine which information is, in probablity, the most accurate.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Archives Copying Tip

Making microfilm copies at the Archives (and anywhere else for that matter) has been frustrating. It is not unusual to make several copies, none useable, as I tinker with the lightness and darkness controls until landing on the setting that delivers the best possible print. Even then, print quality is far below that of digital scans, and probably never will be equal. The digital image is scanned from the original, and the microfilm copy is generations removed (original to negative to film to printer) to the source document. Until the day arrives when the Archives digitizes its records, I will be content with this little trick: Instead of messing with the lightness and darkness controls to find the right setting, I purposely print the copy dark. When I return home and sit down to make notes from the copies, I hold the print up to a strong desk lamp, and, voila! All is revealed.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Archives Fix

The recent flooding of the National Archives building did not damage any records or artifacts, but it prevented my weekly research fix! I’ve missed my Wednesday trips to the first floor: The whirring of the microfilm machines, the slide of the large metal file drawers, and the occasional satisfied gasp of a researcher discovering a “new” fact about their ancestor. The building is now reopened, and I’ll be there bright and early next Wednesday — perhaps more than ever thankful for this most unique repository.