20 December 2008

University Archives

Early in December, I had a meeting with the pro tem Archivist of my alma mater and a member of the Alumni Association staff. Since I'm friends with the archivist, it was more to gauge how the staffer would react. I don't know that I was hoping for more but I certainly wasn't surprised by the lack of ability to help--mostly because she was told upfront by HER boss "don't give it too much attention."

However, I had two cards in my pocket--but I could pull only one--and I had to hope that the one I pulled was the ace. I played the card on Tuesday by having lunch with the university's outgoing Chairman of Trustees. He was very receptive and promised to speak with the President and current Chairman during the Executive Committee meeting which took place Thursday. Yesterday I received an email stating that both were enthusiastic and "willing to help". The President assigned one of the VPs (actually the boss of the Alumni Association Director!) to work with me on the project. The card turned out to be an Ace.

I am not a fan of going over anyone's head simply because I don't like the answer. I am, however, also not a fan of saying "no" simply because you think it will cause you more work. If there are legitimate reasons, and sound thinking behind the 'no', it's ok. So, while I broke on of my own personal 'rules' and went over the heads of everyone, it's honestly for the right reasons and will be for the benefit of the school, students, faculty and alumni, in the end.

More to come as events unfold.


01 December 2008

Lost and Found

I'm a firm believer in teaching the new generations of historians to do hard core, in your face, hands-on research in archives, libraries, etc. I am agog at the growing information available on the web these days. The two came together for me. Let me back up a bit.

My grandmother died in March. She had a falling out with her mother DECADES ago and in the end, never knew when/where/how her mother died. Neither did anyone in the family, including her only living grandson. So in an attempt to help my uncle, I began the search to find out.

Some answers came when I was going through my grandmother's papers. I found old letters from a name I didn't recognize. The chances were good that great-gran had remarried--while a good hunch, the letters were from 1964. She could have remarried dozens of times in the decades. However, thanks ancestry.com's free trial, I was able to get great-gran's DOB and other needed info to begin the search.

Then, next to the wonderful online database Social Security Death Index. I've used this for work so many times. I started plugging in the information I had on hand. After about thirty minutes, I FOUND HER! I had her date of death. I couldn't believe it. She lived until 1989--amazing that she lived so long after the letters were dated and no one in the family knew it.

Next--confirm it with an obituary. For those who've done searches in newspapers, you know that this is spotty at best with papers that aren't the national ones (Wash Post, NY Times, etc). BUT! I lucked out, the local paper had joined an online database and you could search for free (for those obits from 1987 to present). What luck! I began searching. No luck, until I decided to change the spelling of the last name and bingo! There she was. It confirmed the date of birth I had, the date of death and her 'childhood' home state!

I had to find out where her remains were, however, the funeral home AND hospital were no longer in existence. This was going to be a little harder. This is where the personal skills come in handy. I called the city's Public Records office and spoke with a very nice woman who sympathized and offered the names of a couple cemeteries that were near the former hospital location.

From that point forward, it was a matter of calling the cemeteries. As I struck out left and right, I was starting to worry that her remains were not buried and that she was scattered. But, today, I found her. Holy cow, I found her. After 45 years, my great-gran is known to the family once again.

~Cheers, Netter

24 November 2008

We're famous--sorta

So the Pentagon Channel decided to do a story on the History Division, but alas, when the story aired, it wasn't right. However, it got the idea down.

Check it out at www.pentagonchannel.mil under "Around the Services" for 24 November--and yes, I'm the one fiddlin' with the microfilm! It's the first story in the program :) Enjoy, Cheers Netter

10 October 2008

Plotting a Coup

Sorry for the disappearing trick--work, class, life, blah blah....

As a newly dubbed member of my alma mater's alumni association board of directors (wow that's a mouthful), I am gearing up for my first board meeting later this month. Long before becoming a "director", plotting began. My mentor and I have been seriously concerned with the state of the university and particularly the History Department AND the University Archives.

In the past decade the school has focused on growth outside it's traditional roots--into the health sciences and all the buildings that go with that. The Arts and Sciences (and particularly the History Dept) have largely been left to their own devices. Yes, there is a new building, but that's really a cosmetic band-aid covering a weakend department. One of the long-time professors retired. Some say he cut and run (and rightfully so). He had fostered an Institute that was perfect for the school and it's location in a city wrought with Civil War history. That Institute has languished since his departure. His replacement? Not real sure what her strength is.

The University Archives, if you can call them that, should be a source of pride and cultivation. It should be the center for the school's records retention policy but also the lifeblood of the school's past. However, it occupies a room the size of a small classroom, has no funding, no dedicated fulltime staff and the school has no records retention policy--well, that we can find. Again, a school so enveloped in Civil War history, it should be flourishing.

Thus, I have taken it upon my shoulders to drawing attention to, via my board membership, a few things:

1. With the economic crisis, what are the school's plans for "holding the line" but yet attracting and enrolling students who are willing to pay the private school tuition?

2. If the school honestly does not have a records retention policy, then a committee should be formed from alumni, trustees, faculty, and outside archival professionals to create one.

3. What are the goals for the Arts and Sciences department?

There are more but you get the gist of it all. This is a time for the school to tighten the belt, pull up the bootstraps and hunker down for the long haul. They need to focus on the heart of the school--liberal arts education--and pour energies into rebuilding a stable, sound and attractive history program that teaches the kids about sound research and writing skills and provides practical experience (ie see university archives).

The years coming up are going to see a hiring freeze and yet large numbers of baby boomers retiring from a variety of academic and federal history program jobs. BUT, opportunities are going to still exist and giving these students of history a leg up is going to be the edge the school can exploit--if it so chooses.

Off to the family homestead where the leaves are just beautiful this year....

28 July 2008

Not in right now...

You've reached Netter's blog. Netter is unavailable at this time due to relocating her home. She will return after the move is complete. Thank you for stopping by, please leave a message after the beep.


19 July 2008

Singing the Praises

As a historian who spends a great deal of time conducting research and not alot of writing, I'm often confused with librarians. In the past, I have taken great offense to this. "I'm a professionally trained historian! I do more than simply look things up!" However, in the course of this latest research project and the Texas one, I have come to respect librarians much more.

It was a librarian who found copies of the Senate hearings and had them inter-library loaned to me. It was this librarian who found several sources for me that I was unable to find on my own. All hail the talents of the librarian!

Speaking of the Senate hearings--oh what a treasure trove of information this is. In some places its nearly a verbatim repeat of the court martial so while I wait for those records, I'm at least getting a glimpse into those proceedings as well! Only one problem--it's on microfiche--and at last check, I don't have a microfiche reader at home where I like to do my reading and note taking on this case. However, one new innovation in microfilm and fiche technology is the reader than can be connected to a computer and create digital copies of the film or fiche! We have this at work, albeit not yet hooked up, but it will be on Monday! I can't wait!

Happy weekend to all,

09 July 2008

Lastest Research Project III

Finally, another nut cracked. I think I found the son of the Lieutenant! I wrote a letter asking him if he is the son of the Lt and if so, if he'd be willing to meet with me to discuss his father. I know it's a long shot but I'm hoping that maybe it will yield some good information.

I am still waiting to hear from several repositories for records or any additional materials. I hope to hear something soon. The more I read, the more I think that the Lt was railroaded and drummed out of the service wrongly.

More to come as it appears.

05 July 2008

Latest Research Project II

The Marine in question was seemingly a well respected aviator, he was sent to France ahead of all Marine aviation units to scout out locations for the squadrons. Somewhere along the way, he ended up in a British aircraft, shot down 5 enemy planes, crash landed behind enemy lines, captured a German soldier, saved a French colonial soldier and made it back to friendly lines---all unscathed.

This is the bone of contention. The story was picked up by Frazier Hunt of the Chicago Tribune and made headlines back in the states. There was an unwritten regulation that stated no publicity was to be had. The Lieutenant was put in for commendations and as the fervor was building the British began an informal investigation as to the exact exploits. Before too long, the Lieutenant found himself charged with falsehood. Court-martialed for spreading lies and garnering publicity falsely.

The trial gained more headlines in the press than the exploits. Several 'giants-to-be' of the Corps were called to testify, and if the local press was to be believed, the Lieutenant was going to be found not guilty. However, that was not to be. The young Lieutenant was tried, convicted and dismissed from the Marine Corps in 1919.

All this was gained from the biographical file on the Lieutenant. However, there had to be more information. A random two line entry buried in a 1921 newspaper stated that the Lieutenant (by then a private citizen) had testified before a Senate subcommittee regarding his court martial. Further research yielded that the Lieutenant's hearings lasted into 1925!!

The materials of the History Division exhausted, the next steps were mandatory if the truth was to be discovered. What did his service record indicate? Does his court martial records still exist with the Navy JAG? What about the Senate Subcommittee hearings? The Commandant of the Marine Corps and Secretary of Navy were both involved at various stages--what do their records indicate?

Soon --- as records are consulted and copies are received, the truth will be revealed.


28 June 2008

Latest Research Project I

While I am a historian, I am not employed as a writer. I conduct detailed research, but 99% of the time, am not involved in the writing or the final product other than an as an acknowledgment in a published book or article.

I don't think writers are superior to the type of historian I am; however, they are more often the ones who get noticed. I also have had my own qualms about my writing. I have never thought very highly of it but in the past 5-6 years, I have seen it improve and many have commented that it has improved drastically. I published my first full-length article a couple months ago and received several compliments--two of which were from very respected men. I was honored and humbled.

I found it very easy to write about the brigade in Texas. I was anxious to tell people, through words and images, about these men who served there time outside of France. I think that is what made the difference in my writing—finding that aspect of history that had not been written about a million times, but something that I could dig into (using those research skills) and then write about.

Recently, while using the Proquest database, I found a short article from 1918 heralding the exploits of a Marine aviator. The article stated that the aviator had been recommended for the Victoria Cross AND the Medal of Honor. I wanted to know a little bit more about this aviator so I checked our website to see what is biography stated—all MOH receipients are on our website. His name wasn’t there.

Why his name wasn't there and what happened to the aviator is just the beginning. More to come....