Category Archives: Emily’s Corner

PRESERVE.us – Nostalgia for Americana or Just Some E-commerce?

I discovered  Preserve.us  by stumbling upon this little write-up on handwritten letters by Christina Black.  I applaud her attempt to build the case for handwritten letters as things to be treasured, and certainly the idea of being more thoughtful when we write in general (though, I would point out that handwritten letters were being eclipsed well before the advent of texting – by the use of typewriters, and then computers. And just for a historical tidbit, the first “text” was sent in 1992…)

But then, as I scrolled down, this nostalgia heavy page tried to start selling me stuff.  Hmm. As I attempted to locate other thoughtful articles on the site, or really anything to do with preserving, I realized my definition was rather different from that of this site’s “Preserve-ing.”  If they’re  trying to accomplish something other than thinly veiled consumerism, they’re not doing a great job of it.  So kudos to the artisans featured, but I’ll take a pass on the shallow write-ups that are trying to caress me into spending mucho $$.  When I’m interested in reading up on the meticulous workmanship that goes into creating these unique products of a bygone era, I’ll do it somewhere else where the writing is worthy of the subject.

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Tip of the Week: USGS historical topo maps

I love a good historical map. If you do too, you’ll love this interface!

History Tech

Maps are so cool. Historical maps are way more cooler. And online historical maps are even way more cooler. (I like saying way more cooler cause it makes me feel like a rebel.)

A couple of weeks ago on the helpful GoogleMapsMania site, I ran across a way cool tool created by the United States Geological Survey. This is the group that, among other things, is responsible for creating topographic maps.

The cool tool that the USGS has created is called USGS Historical Topographic Map Explorer.

Basically, you do a map search with a Google Maps-like interface, click on a specific place on the resulting map, and the Historical Topographic Map Explorer will provide a timeline with topo maps from the past.

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Why History?

David McCullough, on the value of learning history.

The Bully Pulpit

David McCullough

“History shows us how to behave. History teaches, reinforces what we believe in, what we stand for… History is — or should be — the bedrock of patriotism. Not the chest-pounding kind of patriotism, but the real thing: love of country.

At their core, the lessons of history are largely lessons in appreciation. Everything we have, all our great institutions, hospitals, universities, libraries, this city, our laws, our music, art, poetry, our freedoms, everything is because somebody went before us and did the hard work, provided the creative energy, provided the money, provided the belief. Do we disregard that?

Indifference to history isn’t just ignorant, it’s rude. It’s a form of ingratitude.

I’m convinced that history encourages, as nothing else does, a sense of proportion about life, and gives us a sense of the relative scale of our own time on earth and how valuable it is.

What history teaches it…

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David McCullough: National Treasure

Matt Ongie

McCullough sits at his backyard writing studio McCullough sits at his backyard writing studio

July 7 marked the 81st birthday of author/historian David McCullough. His accolades are much too numerous to mention at once; among the most notable are two Pulitzer Prize-winning books and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which is the United States’ highest civilian award. Biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman (which I am currently reading) were the books that earned McCullough the Pulitzers, however it was his release of 1776 which helped trigger my desire to enthrall myself in history.

My story is not unlike many others who become involved in the study of history. As a student I enjoyed the stories covered in history classes through the years but found myself bogged down by the process of memorizing dates and documents. Not only does this create boredom, but it also ensures the student will only remember the subject long enough to take…

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Research at the U.S. National Archives, with Alexandra Skerry

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 Alexandra Skerry, Shapell Roster Researcher.

Alexandra Skerry, Shapell Researcher.
Alexandra Skerry, Shapell Researcher.

“What’s been your favorite discovery so far?”

It’s so hard to choose just one “favorite discovery” so far because I feel like every day is a hunt for something exiting!  Anything that I find that can help me imagine what the soldier’s life or experiences may have been like are a treasure.  An exciting discovery that sticks out to me is finding a photograph in a soldier’s service record.  Soldier Louis Sholem has a photograph of himself attached to his Certificate of Disability for Discharge.  Proving he was also Jewish was icing on the cake!  I also love when we find connections between soldiers in the database.  I have come across a few soldiers who have given affidavits for each other saying they knew each other during the war and stayed friends for years after.  Even better, is finding connections to soldier’s that we don’t already have.  Every time we add new soldiers I feel like someone else’s story gets to be told.  This week, Adrienne (Adrienne Usher, Head Researcher) added soldier Aaron Dreyfuss who had one brother Gustave already in the database and I was able to find an additional brother Max who also served.

Click to view full-size images.

“What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about work at the National Archives?”

I love working at the National Archives!  There are so many documents just waiting to be discovered.  The staff there is so knowledgeable and I feel like the girls and I have made some great connections with people who have been able to bring our research to the next level.  I honestly can’t think of anything I dislike about working at NARA.

“What have you learned from your research and the research process?”

I have definitely learned that if you get stuck in your research, there is always somewhere else you can look or someone else you can ask.

“How long does it usually take to qualify or disqualify a soldier from the Roster?”

This depends on what records we have to look at.  Sometimes if a soldier has a Pension Record, I open it up am there is a marriage certificate or a death record that confirm the soldier is Jewish immediately.  Other times it takes some digging online or looking at additional records.

“What’s the longest you’ve gone without making any headway on a soldier/case?  

Usually not too long, because we have so many resources (and so many soldiers) to look at.  One case sticks out in my mind where I was looking for a soldier named Paul Bauer that was only mentioned as having served in his obituary.  The only record that could be found didn’t mention his first name and just that he served in the 5th US Cavalry.  After exhausting online resources I went to “Finding Aids” at NARA on four separate occasions to see if they could pull the muster rolls of the 5th US Cavalry for me (something they don’t normally do, because of their fragile state).  Adam (Adam Geibel, Researcher) was finally able to contact a researcher who had them pulled for him because he knew the exact location and box numbers of the documents I was looking for.  Even though we didn’t find our guy in the end, this experience helped me have a better relationship with one of the employees in the Finding Aids office, who has helped me again since!

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.

Research Work at the National Archives, with Kim Lindner

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 Kim Lindner, Shapell Roster Researcher.

Kim Lindner, Shapell Roster Researcher.
Kim Lindner, Shapell Roster Researcher.

What’s been your favorite discovery so far?

Of course the best discoveries are when we are able to prove a soldier Jewish but these stories are just interesting all on their own. My favorite discoveries tend to be when I find a letter written by the soldier himself that contains information on his background. I love reading about soldiers emigrating to the United States and fighting for their new country.

Esslinger, Isidore (Record number 12029) – He had a very interesting letter in his file. He immigrated from Germany and became a naturalized US Citizen. But back in Germany he had been in the military. It seems like he was supposed to report for another service but came to the United States instead. So in Germany he is considered a deserter. Now he is Captain of his regiment. He asks in his letter for a 90 day furlough to go back to Germany. His father had passed away and the government was trying to take some of his inheritance from his mother since he deserted the army. His furlough was rejected, so he was forced to resign.

Click to view full-size images.

Samuel Davidson (Record number 11294) – In a pension questionnaire Samuel Davidson writes that he was struck in the forehead by holy electricity. Unfortunately he ends up losing his property and is sent to an insane asylum, and then his wife divorces him.

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Joseph Greenhut (Record number 11385) – Joseph was born in Austria, moved to the US and advanced to the rank of Captain. He resigned for a very interesting reason. He claims that his father and uncle were business partners in Austria and they had a large amount of wealth and real estate. When his father died his uncle convinced his mother to emigrate to America with her children, and promised that he would support her. Joseph says his uncle never helped his mother and took all the land that was rightfully his fathers. Joseph resigns because his uncle had passed away and he wants to return to Austria to claim his fathers stolen real estate. The resignation letter is attached to his record.

Click to view full-size images. 

What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about work at the national archives?

My favorite thing about working in the archives is learning about all the different resources that are available to the public. It’s crazy what just anyone can come here and look at.

It’s (least favorite) a tie between my commute and receiving rejection slips. I take an hour and a half train ride to and from Washington DC, it’s nice because I can do work while I’m on the train but being closer to the city would be great. When we request a pension or service record we fill out a slip and hand it in to the archivists. Sometimes we’ll get rejection slips that say they were unable to find our records. Chances are if you put the same slip in again you’ll get your record the second time around.

What have you learned from your research and the research process?

The main thing I’ve learned through the research process is to read everything and double check your work. When reading through pages and pages of handwritten affidavits it’s very easy to miss some information here and there. After I finish working on a state in the database I will go back and look at the records to make sure everything looks correct and clean.

What’s the longest you’ve gone without making any headway on a soldier/case?

I usually don’t spend more than a day looking for a soldier or trying to make a connection. Adrienne (Adrienne Usher, Head Researcher) is amazing at finding information on soldier’s we can’t find on the internet, so if i’m not making any headway and feel like i’m beginning to waste my time, i’ll ask her to see if she can find anything.

How long does it usually take to qualify or disqualify a soldier from the Roster?

If a soldier has a pension we can qualify them or disqualify them pretty quickly. When looking through their pension we usually come across a death or marriage certificate. If the soldier was married by a priest and buried in a Catholic cemetery chances are he didn’t follow the Jewish faith. He could of course be Jewish through his parents but the chances are slim. We won’t rule out a soldier by finding information like this because you never know what you might find online or through another resource, but we make a note that it’s not looking good.

Hope these provide some insight into our work at the archives!

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.