Thursday, July 30, 2009

In Research, not finding something may also be useful

I don't always find what I'm looking for at the Tennessee State Archives. In fact I frequently find nothing worth noting. But sometimes I go looking for something and learning that it isn't there is just as interesting.

A few months ago I went looking for the petition B H Roberts sent the Governor of Tennessee asking for redress for the Cane Creek Massacre. I wanted to make sure the copy printed in the Newspapers was true and accurate, and to demonstrate that the Governor did indeed get it. I found a microfilm of the correspondence of Governor Bate and started digging. The letters are not indexed but the are somewhat alphabetized. All the ones from people whose last name begins with "R" are together. An hour or so later I had nothing. Well, I thought, maybe it is misfiled under someone else's name. There were several names at the bottom. A couple more lunch hours and I still had nothing. I suppose it doesn't necessarily mean he did get it. Perhaps he didn't consider it important enough to save. But judging from the other letters he did save, I didn't think his standards were that high.

Yesterday I went looking for the the microfilm of the Cooper Skelton Manuscript. This is an oft quoted Lewis County version of the Massacre. A hand typed paper copy of the manuscript in in the Archives. It was hand copied in 1933 from a newspaper article and then typed up as part of the WPA. But the copy is missing some crucial text. I was hoping the original was on the microfilm. Well, it isn't, as I discovered yesterday. The Microfilmed copy is missing the same section. The hand written original may be on file in some WPA archive near Washington DC. Or maybe it doesn't exist at all.

It is disappointing to not find what your are looking for. In some cases you don't know whether you haven't found it yet, or if you're pretty sure it isn't there to find. Sometimes it is nice to know. Now I can move on.


Ardis Parshall said...

Most people don't have the stamina for hours or days without obvious success. Maybe that's why the archives are mostly tourist attractions around here instead of research facilities ...

I suppose that besides checking names you also check "c" for church, or "m" for Mormon, or "s" for Southern States Mission, or whatever terms might have been used in the newspaper version? It's weird, but in some jurisdictions you find adoption and guardianship records indexed not under the child's name but under I or R for "In re: so-and-so." Never underestimate the creativity of court clerks!

BruceCrow said...

Thanks, those are some good ideas. Perhaps the rest of Governor Bate's correspondence file deserves a look. To be sure I'll have to review the entire file.

Susan W H said...

Bruce, I see you are now on the blog roll at Juvenile Instructor. Congratulations for the promotion--but I think you may now have to upgrade your title from "amateur."

BruceCrow said...

Nah!, That just means I have to correct my spelling before I post instead of after.

I like reading the stuff at JI. Most of it reminds me of how much of an amateur I am really. Those people are seriously smart.

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