We asked Shapell Manuscript Foundation researchers at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., about their work and experience there. The team is working on the Shapell Roster – an updated and accurate roster of Jewish soldiers who served in the American Civil War.
Responses from Adam Geibel, Shapell Roster Researcher.
“What’s been your favorite discovery so far?”
There’s tons of good guys and heroes, but the villain Max Rossvalley (a Confederate faux-Surgeon/crappy spy, who turned coat for the Union) and Rabbi Wise’s post-war mission to expose him as a dastardly liar. This guy is straight out of a Victorian melodrama and I’m still expecting to find out he tied damsels to train tracks while twirling his mustache.
“What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about work at the national archives?”
I do Open Source research (anything that I can reach online, with forays into Philadelphia-local archives). I… occasionally hit libraries, museums and even gun shows.
“What’s the longest you’ve gone without making any headway on a soldier/case? How long does it usually take to qualify or disqualify a soldier from the Roster?”
I don’t think my figures can be used for a statistical deviation, because 1) I get tossed the ‘hard cases’ and 2) I’ve worked out a ‘firing rotation’, where I work about two hours and if I can’t make headway, I mark my last position and shift to another active information request. That reduces time wasted and frustration levels. Also, Adrienne (Adrienne Usher, Head Researcher) and I have worked out a way to ‘hot potato’ our hard cases – when we hit walls, she looks at mine & I look at hers, so rarely does evidence escape our researcher cross-fire. When it does, that can be an indicator that the subject had a hinky past/event (fake names, mis-remembered stories, hidden crimes, hidden social or moral shenanigans, & etc)
“What have you learned from your research and the research process?”
Like the French say, “plus ça change plus c’est la même chose.” I did some time as a solider and when I’m building up an almost three-dimensional profile of these guys, I’ll frequently think ‘yeah, that sounds like when… he reminds me of…’etc. Soldiers (particularly those from citizen armies) tend to act the same way, the biggest difference being the uniforms and the names on the payroll rosters.
The least favorite is when I’m unraveling someone’s story like a loose thread in a sweater and hit a blank wall – generally this’d be something like records for a synagogue, county or unit having been lost or burnt long, long ago. It also happens when a period newspaper hasn’t been preserved in a morgue somewhere. *I* know exactly where the answer *should be*, it’s just that the tome it’s hiding in may no longer exist. Bang head against wall, rinse, later, repeat. If you’ve ever seen the movie Brigadoon, it’s like the research version of that. Kinda. Sorta.
Interested in staying updated with the latest research news and discoveries? You can follow the research team’s progress as it’s made at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation Facebook Page and Roster Project Album, or by following @ShapellManu on Twitter, #ShapellRoster, or check back at our blog for more interviews and news from the archives.