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