Wednesday, July 18, 2012

NIGR: the firehose of information

Oh. my. goodness. Trying to take in everything at NIGR is like trying to drink from a firehose. Our first speaker on Tuesday morning explained that her one-hour lecture would be a condensation of a four-hour presentation. And then she was off and running, talking rapidly as we tried to keep up.  This was followed by another one-hour presentation by the same speaker. Followed by more speakers, each attempting to distill years’ and  years’ worth of experience into a useful package to enable us to navigate the 500+ record groups in the National Archives system.  This is key: the National Archives does not rearrange or combine the records that come to them. So, service records for a Civil War soldier are in one record group, his pension application in another, his medical records (if he ended up in a hospital due to wounds or illness) in another, and I refuse to even think about bounty land right now.  Anyway, we need to know that all these sets of papers are in different places and need to be requested separately.  Notations on papers in one set might well refer you to another set of papers… if you know how to interpret these things. Hence the firehose of information.

I’m beginning to feel less ignorant about military records—as in, I’m getting an idea of what I don’t know, which is the important first step. We have lectures on basic military records, Civil War medical records, pension records, discharge papers for the War of 1812, and Fold3’s military collections. Much of my own personal research time will be in the Civil War military and pension files of two or three men, supplemented (I hope) with some regimental histories. 

We had the DAR Library to ourselves for three hours last night with the undivided attention of four staff members; quite a treat! I found a North Carolina county history that I’d not come across before.  And then I found that the classmate sitting across the table from me was reading up on the same religious community in the same North Carolina county.  Gotta love the connections we make with other researchers attending NIGR! The DAR Library, by the way, is an amazingly beautiful space. I remember years and years ago when my family was taking the train cross-country and we changed in Chicago, our parents took us out on the street and we craned our necks at the skyscrapers, and Dad laughed at us little hicks awed by the city. Well, some things never change; decades after leaving farm country, I’m still awed by these things that we never saw amidst the forty acres of this and forty acres of that in rural Michigan. And so at the DAR Library I grinned to myself like a hick in the city, soaking up the beauty of the place.

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