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“What Are You Working On, Mitch Yockelson?”

by on December 8, 2010


Ever wonder what exciting new projects the many employees at NARA are working on? The “What are You Working On?” blog feature aims to introduce a variety of NARA employees and highlight some of the exciting projects we are working on around the agency. Check for this blog series on Wednesdays!

This week, we introduce Mitch Yockelson, an Investigative Archivist with the Archival Recovery Team.


What is your name and title?

Mitch Yockelson, Investigative Archivist with the Archival Recovery Team.

Mitch Yockelson, Investigative Archivist for the Archival Recovery Team.

Mitch at his desk in College Park, MD.

Where is your job located?

Primarily at Archives II, but I do a lot of work at Archives I and even in the field at the presidential libraries and the regions as well.

What is your job in a nutshell?

I look into NARA’s lost or theft of historical items, things such as documents and artifacts from presidential libraries or regions.  This can include everything from films to acetate recordings, documents, photographs, anything that we hold that we know is missing.  They perhaps never came to the National Archives because some agency never gave it to us, or things that are reported as being stolen that we know we had.

Its tough recognizing a document that we may not have realized was missing, but luckily with the government being the bureaucracy that it is, agencies usually marked most documents with some type of unique filing system.  For example, the War Department would register pretty much every document that came in up to a certain period and give it a unique marking that included the year.  So we can go and look at registers that will tell us that the document was indeed in the custody of the government, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us that NARA had it at some point.

We also do a lot of outreach for these items.  Besides having a Facebook page, and a Missing Documents page, we go to a lot of collector’s shows and set up tables with facsimiles of things we know have been taken, and we talk to the public and try to generate their help.  Mostly Civil War shows, we’ve been to Gettysburg, PA and Richmond, VA; we’ve even been to Tennessee and Ohio.

(To view a transcript of the video, click here.)

What are you working on right now?

There are a lot of things we’re working on right now, the big one broke recently in the news.  One of the other things I’m working on right now is an Abraham Lincoln signed document.  It’s a neat document because it’s from the Civil War period, and shortly after the Battle of Antietam, and it’s the president trying to get an endorsement for a surgeon general to help with one of the Union Army hospitals that’s overwhelmed with casualties.

What makes this interesting is that we have no proof that it actually came to NARA, but we do have the remainder of the files that are a part of the War Department records that are downtown in DC.  The document has file markings on it that match up to file markings for a collection of documents that we already have.  So we know that it was in the collection at one point, but we don’t know when it became alienated, which could have been as early as 1864.  We are trying to work to get this document back and marry it up with the rest of the records.  It could have been stolen; we don’t really know.  But we would like to get it back.


How long have you been at NARA?  Have you worked at any other NARA location?

I’ve been with NARA since 1988 (22 years!), but I’ve only worked in the DC area at Archives I, Archives II and Suitland.

What has changed since you started at NARA?

I think the biggest frustration with my job is that we don’t have the subject area specialists that we used to.  NARA used to be more compartmentalized as far as our holdings went.  It was kind of like a university setting where if you wanted to do research in diplomatic records, you had a whole team of people where that’s all they did was diplomatic records.  Because of cutback and how we go about handling our records and how we reference them, we don’t have the subject are specialists anymore.  Sadly, this makes things difficult not only from a researcher’s aspect, but also from someone who looks into the investigations that needs the help of our subject area specialists who are now far and few between.

Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?

My favorite day was when I transferred from the reference branch and started working here in this new exciting world of investigative work.  That was coming up on my four year anniversary, in November of 2006.

What are your passions or interests outside of work?

I’ve taken up golf in the past few years, and I love music; I have satellite radio, which I listen to all the time.  I also really just enjoy the passion of history: visiting historical places, traveling, and writing books and articles about history.  I’ve written a book about the First World War, which is based on my PhD dissertation.  I’m also finishing up a biography of Douglas MacArthur.

What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?

The last book I finished was written by a guy named Robert Wittman, and it’s a memoir called Priceless.  The author worked for the FBI and recounts his work on finding stolen art and their related cases.

Meet more NARA employees: http://www.archives.gov/careers/employees/


Comments

Susan December 8, 2010 at 1:38 pm

It’s great having an experienced archivist like Mitch working in the Archival Recovery Team. He understands government records and that’s a big advantage when our offices work together.
Susan Cummings
Director, Access Programs

robert wittman December 8, 2010 at 5:32 pm

Congrats for doing a great job Mitch, you, Kelly Maldonado and your team have come a long way! And thanks for the “Priceless” New York Times best seller book plug (shameless)!

Shane Peterson December 8, 2010 at 9:17 pm

Was glad to meet Mitch when he was THE go to person on a vast amount of World War I record. Glad you are happy in hunt, too many records end badly. Read your WWI book, looking forward to the next.

Marie V Melchiori, CG, CGL December 8, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Mitch said “I think the biggest frustration with my job is that we don’t have the subject area specialists that we used to.” As a NARA researcher since 1975 I totally agree with that statement. Researchers at NARA do NOT want generalists. We need “go to people” as Mitch was for WWI. Most researchers know the basics, it’s the in-depth, understanding of the records that we’re looking for. As Archivists retired or moved on they were not replaced so the Institutional knowledge has been lost. Very sad. Glad to hear that Mitch is enjoying his new position, but we miss him, and wish he had been cloned.

Rosalind Yates – UK January 11, 2011 at 8:58 am

Well done Mitch for all the hard work that you are doing. Some people think that anything to do with History is a complete waste of time, but as far as I am concerend you have to understand the past so as not to make the same mistakes in the future. All these documents and archives are important to a Nations history and should be kept and preserved for all to learn from them.

Deirdre Cleary January 26, 2011 at 8:45 pm

Hi, Mitch
Saw your name in the Washington Post article on the altered Lincoln pardon. Congradulations on your work! It sounds fascinating!

Andre Poorman February 22, 2011 at 3:16 am

Hi Mitch,
It’s great to read about you. I read with great interest your article “The United States Armed Forces and the Mexican Punitive Expedition”. I understand this period is one of your specialties? Did your expertise allow you to find rosters of the men who served in the Mexican Border Service Patrol?

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