A Lovely Display of Letters

At least to an academic, this digital collection of “The John McCoy Family Papers” at the Dartmouth College Library is lovely. View the documents and letters from this page: http://collections.dartmouth.edu/teitexts/jmccoy/index.html

Here’s a nice example of what I find so inviting in the display. The transcription on the left is clear and easy to read, without too many interruptions except where words are illegible. The actual letter image is available on the right in a nice viewer that does not allow readers to copy or download the document, to prevent distribution. I don’t think I’ll ever have the skills or resources to do something like that (you never know), but this would be a nice format in which to display my letters once transcribed. I’ve heard (I have connections) that the collection will eventually offer a toggle to the full TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) markup, something I’d like to learn in my coding adventures.

Dartmouth Library Document Collection Display
Dartmouth Library Document Collection Page Display

gaming the family tree

'Tree rings from a felled tree. ' photo (c) 2010, Shandchem - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I filled my first one hundred folders and am waiting for the next batch to arrive (archival materials are not free, unfortunately). Plus, as you know, I only work on the letters on weeknights in Cleveland. When I’m home in Erie on weekends, and like now when I’m short of materials, I need something else to do, so I’ve started playing on Ancestry.com.

I say playing because it is kind of like a combination of scavenger hunt and puzzle. I have never been a gamer, you know, playing such massive online games as World of Warcraft and the like, but genealogy searches seem to have gaming characteristics–following clues (leaf hints), achieving new levels on a family tree, rewards of unexpected discoveries. I’ve reached a few dead ends in rather recent times that have been a surprise, like not being able to find any record or reference to my paternal grandfather’s parents. I found that he lived with his grandparents at the age of 6. On the other hand, I discovered that he was the first cousin of my grandmother’s brother-in-law, Thomas Girt (married to her sister Ethel), and I bet that’s how she met him.

And speaking of my paternal grandmother, I found her first marriage license. She was married at the age of 23 in Niagara Falls, Canada, in September 1914. Her husband died the next month, but I don’t know the circumstances. She married my grandfather four years later in 1918. Do you know how they identified single women in 1914? As spinsters!

My paternal grandmother’s family, the Mongs, are plentiful and were easily traced to Germany in the 18th century. I’m sure much more can be found out about them, but I am currently playing with what’s free on Ancestry.com–yes, everything has a cost. My dear spouse might be gifting me a membership in the upcoming season of gifting, but for now, I’m limited to what is freely available, including an iPad app. Why do they offer so much for free? Because it’s like any game that entices you with discoveries and rewards, and most players want to achieve even higher levels. Pay to play.

It’s been tougher to find much about my mother’s ancestors, and I’m not sure why, but that will be one of the game’s challenges.

Most people like to visualize the family tree as the standing tree with leaves, hence the leaf hints on Ancestry.com, but I kind of like the alternative represented in this post’s image of tree rings.

focus on the process

And this is why I’m taking my time here at the beginning and still only on the second letter: Today I thought of a few more items to add to each database record, one of them also added to the transcription headers.

I had totally disregarded the envelope return address (slaps forehead) and today added that to the database record, because the postmark location, when I can read it, may not be the actual location. The return address often lists the name of the military base and location. For example, the postmark in the first letter is Junction City, Kans., but the return address is Camp Funston, Kans. I’m sure they are close, but I’m trying to record as many details as possible.

I also decided to add the label PM to the postmark date in the transcribed letter headers.

Although I could write on the folder tabs, I think I should get some folder labels–that would have been just great to have a box full of folders and no way to tell what was in them.

So, I’m still going to follow the tortoise’s pace of slow and steady until I’m confident I have a good process that will produce a valuable result. Next thing to look into is whether my database content will be searchable in all the ways I’m hoping.

Transcribing family correspondence

This site will be used to document the project of transcribing and preserving a collection of letters written by my father to my mother while he was in the military, between approximately 1942-45.

There are 349 letters, all but a few, maybe 10 or fewer, in their original envelopes. Time will tell if some of the loose leaves belong in any of the envelopes in the collection. A large number were addressed to my mother’s maiden name, and then the later ones to her married name.

My mother kept the letters in a brown suitcase under her bed for as long as I can remember, and I would occasionally open it and look at them, but never opened or read them, and they were not discussed. At some later point, probably when she sold her house and moved into an apartment, she put them in the plastic storage box where they now reside. It has a loose top and is not airtight, so they do not seem to have been damaged by heat or moisture, as far as I can tell now.

Before I can take them out of their envelopes, I need to acquire a lot of archival storage materials, boxes, acid-free paper to interleave the letters in files or folders or polyester sleeves. I have looked at these things and not yet decided on the best method of storage.

I will be transcribing them into Microsoft Word files, using a system of documentation using codes in headers. I have not decided, yet, if they can or should be photocopied, but I will have to see the condition of the paper and writing first, and I want to do the transcriptions first.

This is my summer project.