The Woodlands of Missouri

The Woodlands of Missouri
...a stroll through the forest, a beautiful diverse biome.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The South We Don't Know

The South we Don't Know

For years, we have been indoctrinated by the school and political systems that the south isn't worth of "doodley-squat", being not much more than bigots and red- necks. We know better, and as "the good book" says, "the truth will set us free", suggests that the more we learn, the false perceptions about southern heritage will be made right. Certainly we are moving in the right direction to educate ourselves and others, and with the wealth of confederate archives in places like the Museum "of" the Confederacy, in Richmond, Virginia, a great deal more can be learned. There is a great project proposed and being implemented, but it needs help, your help and participation.

The challenge is that the archival information is highly controlled, with limited access by the museum, and the records themselves are virtually without any type of organizational process. As nearly all of them are unread and unexamined, nobody knows "what" is even there! One document found in Jackson's haversack after his wounding at Chancellorsville, was his original map of the Shennandoah Valley... that 17-foot long handmade map showing in incredible detail the entire valley, which he used to thwart the northern invasion during the Valley Campaign. That alone is a priceless treasure, so what else is there? Good question... Other examples of found documents include: "Robert E. Lee’s General Orders Number Nine from Appomattox", "Jefferson Davis’ letter to Varina announcing Joseph Johnston’s wounding at Seven Pines and the appointment of Lee as Commanding General" and, "Rose O’Neal Greenhow’s spy letter".

Need to look up a muster roll for your ancestor? "Here's a 'shoebox', good luck... you have two hours, then git out!" If the archives offer a look at the real-life and times of the past, currently numbering over 100,000 documents (and growing), are delicate and fragile, and essentially piled in boxes, how can we know what's there? They need to be read, summarized, and given a librarian-type method of categorization so that we can all know what is there. Isn't that the purpose of a museum, not just to preserve the artifacts, but to glean the knowledge from them? The duty of the SCV is to preserve our Southern heritage, but without access to such information, we're just "spittin' in the wind".

We know the names, the places, and the events that these people’s words refer to, but the "actual" texts are written on paper, vellum, or mere scraps, all are objects that deteriorate over time, are held in these archives. Although they are housed in a climate-controlled vault, their preservation requires additional measures to conserve them. However, unlike the flags, uniforms, and weapons, the words, the actual paper records themselves, compel us to make them available to historians, researchers,genealogists, and the general public.

Under the current political and financial environment, access to "our" archives is tenuous at best. Although efforts are being made to gain not just better access, but develop efficient control and categorization of this priceless intellectual treasure, we need help, lots of it. Financial help certainly (like every other need out there), but political help, the rank and file of SCV members, Southerners, and any person interested in history and the pursuit of knowledge. Sign up, give, and help get this project moving forward. If the archives controlled by the museum are "ours", and if they hold a wealth of knowledge from those who lived the time, and learning such information adds to the truth and knowledge of we are as a people, as Americans, should such knowledge be made available? Should we even care about "old news" that happened 150 years ago? Everything we need to know is in the history books, isn't it? Many speak of freedom and truth, but if archival records reveal information as to what really occurred during the time of struggle (or during any time), could not such knowledge rewrite history? Possibly so, and if we as a nation of the free are to profess truth and honesty in who we are, should not these archival records of the past be given the fair and unbiased examination? We need to know what these documents reveal about our past.

For example, in the Eleanor Brockenbrough Archives, there are hundreds of Muster Rolls which were never abstracted for the Compiled Military Service Records contained at the National Archives. Muster rolls are the enlistments of the rank and file, and if you don't know who is on the rolls, taken at the time of service 150 years ago, how can we do research and learn more information about our ancestors, and the information learned may well change what we have been taught as historical fact. Simply protecting these fragile records, such as General Lee’s parole, costs between $75 to $185, depending on the size, for the Mylar protector. The costs vary widely as each document will differ.

As Historian Eric Richardson explains, "Conservation and preservation are but a small portion of the museums archive mission. In order to make the collection accessible, they have begun the monumental task of description and arrangement, a librarian-like style of categorizing. The goal is to provide historians, researchers, and staff with a synopsis of each document, its location within the collection, and some context for the individuals mentioned therein. This skilled, technical labor entails not only a knowledge of the war and antebellum period of Southern society but also, extensive experience and coursework in the practices of the Society of American Archivists. The amount of labor for this portion is contingent upon several variables: the legibility of the author’s handwriting, the effects of the passage of time on the ink and paper itself, and the amount of research necessary to contextualize the people mentioned in the documents. "Although we have begun this massive project they do we need all of your help. The Museum receives no moneys from the federal, state, or local governments. If the collection is going to survive and continue to provide new, exciting discoveries of our Nation’s rich history, it needs your financial support. We are stewards of the people’s words, which must be preserved for future generations. We owe that debt to our forbearers and that same consideration for generations yet unborn."

The project desired by historians such as Eric Richardson and others to examine and categorize the archives in the Confederate Museum is highly admirable and suggests the best and proper way to access and preserve such a wealth of knowledge, but they need our help. The project is to take a pile, a huge pile of randomly collected papers in boxes (basically shoeboxes), and give them essentially a "Google keyword search (or extraction)", and then place the document in a preserving cover (such as mylar). Then as the documents are examined for key words and information, then the records will be given a library-like filing system for easier future access. Yes, a good method and process, and worthwhile to join the efforts proposed. Do learn more about this project, this is our history, and the results will be amazing. Because of the mass of records there, and essentially digging through every box reading and key-wording every document, this daunting task will take years to accomplish. Even given full access by teams of skilled document handlers, this project might be likened to building the Panama canal with spoons. Feasible and noble, but a huge undertaking.

Now the understanding is that the proposed project would be to examine each document, pull out key-words to set up a summary and therefore categorization method, and then preserve the document (ideally in a mylar cover). This involves time, skilled handlers, certain amount of materials, and of course the freedom of access to the records. This is a good procedure, but adding one more step, photo records to add a digital opportunity for long-term and wider-spread values. If at some point the originals do need to be examined, the preliminary work will have been done, and categorizing them would make finding the information much easier.

Why not photographs the documents? Anyone who has used a camera to take pictures of paper records, signs, or even general photographs, knows there is some skill needed to getting good pictures. But once a digital picture is taken, as most cameras are now made, they can be processed and handled in a computer environment that would allow for easy access and analysis, preservation of information, and wide-spread usage anywhere the database is accessed. I for one, have taken photographs of my Dad's tours of duty in World War II, scanned them, then edited them to improve the quality. Such digital pictures were then printed and made available for a book he was writing. The quality was better than the original photo. A digital photo can be manipulated to change light and contrast, and being digital, you can zoom in to better examine some of the finer details, as well as other techniques. Using for our lineage searches often has photographed digitized records and pictures that we are able to glean more information about of kin. Those are archival records entered in on a small scale, easily done, widely accessible, and preserves the original documentation from unnecessary handling. Attorney offices for example, regularly scan pictures and paper records into a digital format, then use them in a variety of digital ways. Easy and simple commonplace technology can make any archival project even better. Once digitized, you can develop a database, and the original fragile documents don't need to be handled as much, which will add to their preservation.

If one takes a document, puts it on a flat surface, with good lighting and using a tripod for the camera, very good pictures can be taken. Using digital pictures, it is readable and reproductable, and is stored electronically. Also, a digital picture can be printed with very nice quality. A printed document can then be read by an optical scanner (very commonplace these days), with the text then searchable by various software programs. Even moreso, a digital picture can also be scanned and read by certain scanners, shortening the process. Once photographed and/or digitized, you have infinite access and handling of the information, while the original document is tucked away for safe keeping. The process is simple enough, should shorten some of the time required to handle the mass of records, and would limit the handling wear and tear of ancient treasures.

How might this work? For example, lets start with a box of records, and call it "Box #ABC-123". And lets say it holds 65 items in it, various letters, and other paper documents. Having a photo-station set up, the documents are carefully handled as they are photographed, then placed inside a plastic zip-lock bag. Each bag is labelled with an id number such as, "Box #ABC-123-001" , and then labelling each item up to number, "Box #ABC-123-065". A card label is also included in each document bag, as a duplication or control system. The box is then placed back safely in the archive vault. Each photograph is then edited and saved using the basic (or root) label id number. Each subsequent document generated electronically is given the same id number, and maybe additional coding numbers as need be. Just like in any database creation, once a number is assigned to a document or record, it becomes institutionalized. The plus side of institutionalization is the consistency of records and easy access to information. The downside is that changing a record id is very cumbersome and next to impossible to accomplish thoroughly (ie: medical or insurance database records). Although a plastic bag is not the best or proffered way to handle these archival records, it does add a significant advantage over the current "loose in a box" method, as well as costing far less. Then as the photos records are edited and stored, they can be infinitely read and examined, categorized, and widely accessed via the electronic world we live in. And if such information is unleased, it could change history as we know it...

Any funding they recieve, will be placed into a secure and seperate account that is devoted exclusively for the archival records project. Should you like more information, do contact Teresa Roane. Donation options are available, with checks certainly being welcomed.

Checks can be made out to: 'The Museum of the Confederacy', and in the memo section write, "Archives Preservation Fund".

For Donations and information, write to:

The Museum of the Confederacy
1201 East Clay Street
Richmond, VA 23219

ATTN: Teresa Roane

"Also, If you are a member or supporter of an organization (SCV Camp, OCR, MOSB, CoC or UDC Chapter, re-enactment unit, or other organization),please send a single check from the group, made out as above. Please include in your letter, the number of contributors and contact information (electronic, if possible) in order to receive periodic updates on the progress of the project. Thank you for supporting this program with your financial contribution. Also, please forward this appeal to anyone who you think would have an interest in our stewardship issue," Teresa Roane.

The archival project of the Museum of the Confederacy boils down to time and money. There is a vast wealth of information about our past held at the museum, and they are being preserved, but no one knows what information "is". Although nice in the sense that they are kept safe, but it is the information of such documents that we want (and need) to see. If you can't see something, examine it, and glean the information and knowledge from such an artifact, what's the point in keeping it in a dungeon? The proposed project to access and categorize the archival records is important, vital in learning and preserving real-life Southern heritage as well as our American history. Do learn more, and then join this project... we need you-all.


Written by Empire National Nursery, Your North Carolina Source for Fast Growing Trees.