“A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact.”
Pidgeon’s column triggered many rapture memories from my days as a research librarian. The opportunity and challenge of engaging in the research of faculty and students over the years has been one of the joys of my professional life. Some of my favorites: the archaeologist tracing the history of turpentine from the Middle East to Europe by analysis of Renaissance painting paint fragments; an Abigail Adams quote from a letter to her husband inscribed on the fireplace mantle in the East Room of the White House; details of Pablo Neruda’s life; details of a Congolese form of voodoo practices in Cuba; and, who said “We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities,” Yogi Berra or Pogo?
In each case, except the last, the search for an answer resulted in lots of sidetracks and lots of new related information—some for the researcher, but all for me!
As a Navy veteran I have a particular fondness for U.S. Navy records, especially deck logs. From my first days here at the National Archives when I discovered that we had the actual deck logs from the US S Constitution including her service during the War of 1812 to the day I was handed a deck log of the USS Sanctuary, AH-17 , covering my time aboard that hospital ship in Viet Nam I have been hooked on this record series!
So, it was a real treat to learn that NOAA had approached us in April of 2011 with the idea of digitally imaging the logs of Navy and Coast Guard Revenue Cutter vessels as part of their work with OldWeather.org to document weather conditions in the North Pacific Arctic region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a wonderful crowd sourcing venture, volunteers working with OldWeather.org transcribe handwritten weather observations as well as log entries on vessel movement and activities. It is a win-win cross agency collaboration—NOAA gets the weather data and NARA gets the digital images for posting.
Scanning began in July 2012 and so far the logbooks of ten vessels have been completed and 65,000 images posted to our Archival Research Catalog.
Pressed flowers were found in the USRC Corwin log entry for 14 January 1891 from Port Townsend, … [ Read all ]
Growing up in Beverly, Massachusetts I was familiar with the legend of young George Patton rescuing three people whose sailboat had overturned off Beverly Cove. Last week we had a visit from a group of Coast Guard personnel and among the records selected to show them was the file documenting the incident. Imagine my surprise and delight to read the actual evidence. It actually did happen!
The records tell the story from both sides—the rescuers and the rescued.
George Patton Life-saving Medal file, ARC ID 568559, RG 26, USCG General Correspondence, 1910-35, File Code 181, Box 286, Patton, George S.
Beatrice Ayer Patton writes that on August 21, 1923, she and her husband, Major George Patton, were sailing just off the coast in “an seaworthy 14 foot skiff” when the weather became squally. “Our boat began to leak badly and become almost unmanageable.” Heading for shore, they “…heard a shout… The water was covered with white foam and black squally patches, making it difficult to distinguish any object. At last we saw three boys, apparently standing up to their armpits in the sea…As we approached the boys, they sank to their chins..One of them called to us that his two companions could not swim.”
Patrick T. Jackson, Jr., age 16, one of the three rescued writes that they had been in the water for … [ Read all ]
The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) at the National Archives has been hard at work this year developing recommendations to the President of the United States to transform the national security classification system. PIDB is an advisory committee established by Congress to advise and provide recommendations to the President and other executive branch officials on the identification, collection, review for declassification, and release of declassified records of archival value. In addition, PIDB advises the President on policies regarding classification and declassification of national security information.
Through their “Transforming Classification” blog, they have solicited hundreds of public comments and ideas on ways to reduce inefficiency and increase public access to improve our classification and declassification system.
The work of the PIDB embodies the principles of open government, transparency and participation, and I encourage you to provide your feedback on their blog as they continue to tackle the challenge of improving the national security classification system, especially as it relates to digital records.
On Thursday, December 6th, the Public Interest Declassification Board will host an open meeting to discuss its recommendations to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. The full Report to the President will be published online on December 6th . The meeting will focus on the Board’s fourteen recommendations, centering on the need for new policies for classifying information, new processes for declassifying information, … [ Read all ]
Veterans Day has special meaning for us at the National Archives where we hold the almost 112 million individual personnel files and medical records of the men and women who have served in the military. Housed in St. Louis, Missouri and Valmeyer, Illinois, more than 800 staff process, protect, and service those records to ensure that veterans and their families can receive the benefits due to them, can document family histories, and can received replacement medals and awards. More than 5,000 requests are received each day and I am so proud of the dedication the staff brings to their work, often going the extra mile to ensure that our veterans get what they need.
Photograph of San Francisco Yeomen attached to the Naval Reserve, June 1918. National Archives Identifier: 533764
Another more than 10 million military service records and pension files from earlier wars—American Revolution through the Philippine-American War—are serviced in Washington, DC.
Each one of those records, as is the case with each record in our custody, tells a story. Two of thousands of stories:
A veteran’s family wrote hoping to confirm a story regarding a real “Great Escape” during World War II. Staff discovered that the veteran had been captured by the Germans in 1944 and sent to a labor camp in Poland. He escaped by tunneling under the wire fence, disguised … [ Read all ]
I hope that you and your families are well and safe after Sandy’s visit to the Northeast.
The National Archives buildings were largely spared, thanks to extensive preparation based on “lessons learned” from similar weather events. I am grateful to all of our staff and especially to our facilities and emergency staff for their ongoing work in keeping personnel and records safe. None of our records were damaged as a result of Hurricane Sandy, thanks to our staffs’ careful preparation.
At Archives I, in Washington D.C., our facilities staff took several precautionary steps prior to Hurricane Sandy’s arrival, including pumping down sump pits and pre-deploying the flood gates at the A1 moat openings. Additional measures implemented after the 2006 flooding including the installation of coffer dams and watertight doors, successfully limited water leakage to a minimal amount. The generator fuel tanks were filled and ready in case power was lost.
East Flood Wall (7th Street), Archives I Building, Washington DC:
West Flood Wall (9th Street) Exterior, Archives I Building, Washington DC:
(Photo credit: Timothy Edwards, National Archives Facility Manager)
At Archives II, our facility at College Park, MD, advance preparations included pumping down the rain water storage tank and securing the exterior of the building, as well as filling the generator fuel tanks in case power was lost. Power service remained throughout. There … [ Read all ]
This week we had an opportunity to honor volunteers who contributed more than 100 hours of their time to the National Archives this year in our Washington and College Park locations—295 volunteers who contributed 42,284 hours! These amazing numbers demonstrate their love of history and the work that we do.
A parade of staff supervisors took the stage to brag about the work of their volunteers who wrote hundreds of item-level descriptions, created thousands of photo captions, scanned tens of thousands of files, indexed tens of thousands of records, inventoried rows of stacks, answered researchers’ questions, improved access to our online holding, and even used social media to broadcast information about our records. Some wrote articles for our Prologue magazine as well as blog posts about the records and some presented lectures to the public.
The work of our volunteers leads to a better understanding of our records and better service to our users. In particular, this year volunteers shed light on the records of Fort Monroe, the Army Signal Corps color photographs from Vietnam, the military service of Marine dogs in World War II, the role of Clara Barton and the Missing Soldiers Office during the Civil War, the Brooklyn Navy Yard glass plate negatives, the preservation status of our diplomatic cables from the 1930s to the 60s, and the relationship between the FBI … [ Read all ]
October is American Archives Month, a time when we celebrate the work that archivists all over the country do to ensure that the records of their institutions are created, collected, and protected in a manner that allows their clientele to find what they need. Here at the National Archives that means ensuring that citizens can hold our government accountable, can learn from our history, and can explore family histories, to name just a few ways the records are used.
What do I love about the National Archives? The discoveries made every day in the records of our country, such as:
Last week a veteran arrived in College Park by motorcycle from Nevada. He has been searching for 43 years for information about his platoon leader killed in Viet Nam. The staff found the information he needed “in 30 seconds!”
An archivist in St. Louis learned of a family bible in our pension claim records for his Revolutionary War ancestor
Letters with checks for the pennies collected by school children, teachers, and Elks Lodges around the country in a campaign to save the Navy’s oldest ship, the U.S.S. Constitution during the late 1920s.
The fact that my grandfather, Paolo Ferriero, was 15 years old when he arrived in Boston from Naples in 1903. And that he was met by his father, Antonio, who had arrived three
Last Saturday I spoke to an enthusiastic crowd of Wikimedians at the Wikimania 2012 Conference here in Washington. Over 1400 people from 87 countries came together to talk, hack, and share their expertise and experiences at the week-long event. I was glad to share in their joie de vivre and to talk about our common missions at the closing plenary session.
Check out the enthusiasm for the National Archives at Wikimania 2012:
So you may be asking why the Archivist of the United States is so interested in working with the Wikimedia Foundation. As I noted at the conference, 42% of Americans turn to Wikipedia for information.* It is a terrific way to make Archives content more transparent and available. If we are serious as an agency about our mission to provide access to permanent federal records, and indeed we are, then we must consider working with the community and using the power tools available through the Wikimedia Foundation.
Our Wikipedian in Residence (pictured above) has already worked with our staff to upload over 90,000 digital copies of our records to the Wikimedia Commons for use in Wikipedian articles. We have several more projects in the pipeline, too, all in an effort to increase access to our records.
Here’s what I said to the crowd Saturday afternoon:
The conference had a robust backchannel of information … [ Read all ]
Last week the staffs of the National Archives and the Canadian Embassy here in Washington gathered to commemorate the War of 1812 in a special way—The Great Doughnut War of ’12, pitting Dunkin’ Donuts and Krispy Kreme against Tim Hortons. Three celebrity judges—two from the National Archives and one from the Canadian Embassy participated in a blind taste testing (below left).
And the attendees all had a chance to vote (ballot box, above right) as the doughnuts were served on separate unlabeled platters. Lest you think the two to one odds—doughnuts and judges—were unfair, let me point out that the event was held in MY HOUSE!
The tension built during the day when we learned that the delivery of Tim Hortons to the Embassy resulted in potential disaster.
Claiming SABOTAGE by the competition, the resourceful Embassy staff hoofed it to Baltimore for replacements.
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