Monday, August 3, 2015

Days 22 & 23: The End!?

Days 22 & 23

Nicolle Brossard
I continued working on the finding aid for the Nicolle Brossard Collection. As this was not a collection that I wrote up or processed myself, I found myself double-checking some of the inventory, just to make sure it was where it was supposed to be.The volunteer who had typed it up (but was no longer there) was actually out of the military so he used terminology I would not have or thought to have. His descriptions were a bit more detailed also, knowing what was "government issue" versus what was commercially made but could be worn instead of or underneath. His descriptions of the boots were far more detailed as he knew what each was called whereas I would have said black boots or boots with camouflage pattern. Beth Ann chuckled at the level of detail that was going to be in this particular finding aid.

One of the best ways to learn something is to make a mistake. In this case I discovered I made an error in the hierarchy construction of the finding aid. As a box could hold multiple folders of different series, I had constructed them as: box, series1, folder1 of series1, series2, folder1 of series2, folder2 of series2. However, intellectual constructs go before the physical ones and so should read: Series1, box1,folder1 of series1; series2, box1,folder 1 of series2. This makes sense when one considers that some items in a series may be in other boxes because of size and type. It was not hard making the corrections (so I learned some new abilities of working in Archon), but I realized I would have to go back to make corrections to the Rachel Brune collection which was quite sizable and the Westray Battle Boyce collection. The first finding aid I did was of a smaller and relatively uncomplicated collection, Thelma L. Meyer Petty Papers, and so it was not broken down into a series format.

Unfortunately, it did mean I would not have time to write up the finding aid for Frances Stanley Trembath, although all the preliminary work was done and could probably be knocked out relatively quickly.

While the other collections had some works that were to be digitized, the Nicolle Brossard collection had items that had already been digitized which meant coming up with the proper place and way to notate that. I think this may be Archon's biggest weakness. It's good for creating finding aids for physical collections and even one or two links to outside resources. But, dealing with digital items and physical items with digital versions, it is not very intuitive as to the proper way of handling it.

The End
These were my final days. My background is in digitizing materials. So, I desired to get more hands-on experience as opposed to digital processing. In this, the Practicum was a success. In doing research and creating finding aids, I still used my computer skills, but I got to do more than that. I enjoyed the research angles, trying to find and build the stories of the people whose collections I was handling. In that regard, I enjoyed the basic work environment of working in an institution as opposed to a more corporate environment. I was expected to learn and explore a bit.

I could not but help but think again of the difference the internet has made in jobs like this. By the end, I had learned quite a bit about the history of the university, of the WAAC, WAC, and even some of my own state history. In the past, the person handling these collections would need to be fairly knowledgeable in those areas as well as the military already. Or else, identifications of the patches, medals, and people in the photographs known only by their married last name, that would be all that would be in the record. We would not even have dates of deaths or married names if not for the ability to search records and databases online. Plus, the work I did added to that well of information.

When I think about 120 hours equating to the first three weeks of training at a full-time job, I have to admit to being pleased at the amount of work that I accomplished and all that I learned. Especially when factored in that it was broken up by two 5 hour shifts a week which gives a lot of time to forget what happened the week before.

The finding aids I worked on can be found at:
Rachel Ann Brune Papers
Westray Battle Boyce Papers
Thelma L. Meyer Petty Papers
Nicolle M. Brossard Collection

The Future?
I have one last semester to go. Just because the Practicum has come to an end, it does not mean the necessary end of this blog... 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Day 21

Day 21

Nicolle Brossard Collection
Today when I came in Beth Anne had pulled a larger collection out for us to work on. A lot of the preliminary work had been done: the biography was written up, the inventory had been written up (by an ex-soldier volunteer so there was more detail regarding some items such as boots than I would have been able to come up with), and the items had been more or less separated. The collection does not include as much paperwork as others, but does include quite a bit of uniform items, making a physically big collection.

As Ms. Brossard had medical training, part of the donation included four iv bags of saline solution. One of the regular tasks of handling collections is the weeding of needless duplicate material. So, three bags were going to be gotten rid of. However, all of the bags had to be first emptied of the liquid contents while doing minimal damage. In the interest of providing accurate information, Beth Anne first weighed the items. We set one saline bag to dry while disposing of the others. Another item that needed some contents removed was a modern wrist watch. Over time, the battery could prove to be corrosive. This was problematic as this was not a watch that was particularly designed to have its battery removed; battery dies, you get a new watch.

I had not encountered this issue with other collections yet so this was a valuable lesson in thinking about items that are not good to be stored over long periods (liquids, perishables and in the case of the battery, corrosive and toxic). It also gave me pause to think to be careful about what we are disposing of, some liquids you will not want to simply pour down the sink! As we drained the saline bags, Beth Anne shared a story from when the archives had different digs. Shelf space was at a premium and her material was next to more general storage. And, as I have noticed with the collections I have worked on, years may pass before a collection gets processed. In any case, trying to get something off the shelf or to look for something invariably required moving things around and something usually fell. One time it was a glass bottle of coke that someone had donated to the archives, still full of coke. The bottle broke and a big mess was made. This memory still rankles her and so she was bugged knowing that she had this collection that still had liquid contents that had not been dealt with.

It makes me think that ideally, when a collection is originally assessed, that might be the time to make note of and handle any potentially dangerous or perishable items. I understand the reality of not being able to immediately process a collection but I think back to reading the manual and the first step is really assessing the collection for materials that will need special handling and preservation. That coke bottle not only should have been drained, but being a glass object needed special care before being placed into storage.

Typing up the notes into Archon for the finding aid proved to be especially troublesome this time around. For some reason, the system refused to recognize the hard returns from the documents and would not recognize when I tried to insert them manually into the text window by hitting the "enter" button. I had to view by "source" and use the html markup code to insert them in order to create breaks between the paragraphs. Even then, I had to do so more than once for it to take.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Days 19 & 20

Days 19 and 20

Frances Stanley Trembath Papers
As I finished the last of the three finding aids for the collections I worked on, I started processing another small collection. Like the others, the collection had a preliminary processing. An oversize photograph had already been removed. Other photographs were in a folder and paperwork was in two other folders. However, materials were still in original envelopes, and the paperwork was stapled and attached in groups.

The photographs I subdivided. While all of the photographs appeared to be from the same time period, only a couple had any kind of identifying information. Luckily those that did were the ones that featured Frances Stanley herself. So that was separated from the others into individual mylar sleeves. Two of those were chosen to be digitized. The others were put in a protective envelope. Included with the photographs were postcards from the bases she served with no personal writing on them. I separated them from the photographs to go into an Ephemera folder.

The paperwork was a bit more problematic. While some was stapled together or attached to a rudimentary clipboard, there was no apparent provenance to them. They were all military related from her being called up to active service in 1942 to being released from service in 1945. A whole lot of abbreviations used in the memos and orders, to the point that at first they were incomprehensible, like trying to read someone else's personal shorthand. As I organized them by date, I slowly began to make sense of them. "Reld" was "released", "lv of ab" was "leave of absence" and so on. Included in these were were a few that gave her prior work history, personal information, various temporary and permanent assignments. This allowed me to generate a pretty good detailed history of her life up to 1945.

Like many, I have grown up hearing about bureaucracy and filling things out in triplicate. And, the general rule is to get rid of duplicate materials unless a compelling reason to keep them. As I organized the paperwork, I would come across a stack of 6 pages stapled together. I removed the staple and be set to paperclip them together to discover the 6 pages were identical. Not only that, they frequently were copies of a single sheet elsewhere in the paperwork! Why she would have so many copies of generally issued orders, I have no clue. Much less why they would have been stapled together. I quickly had a stack of papers that were nothing more than duplicates several times over.

This collection came from her niece. A note from her stated that Frances was a nurse stateside during WWII, married but had no children. These papers were part of the niece's mother's effects that the niece was going through after her mother's death. Going through the paperwork, I knew Frances Stanley's date of birth and location, her schooling, that she was single during the War and even her blood type! However, there was nothing in the way of personal papers or letters or clippings. I did not know when or who she married other than the last name of Trembath. Nor, did I have a date of death.

Day 20 was spent finalizing the organizing of the collection, typing up what I knew and trying to use the computer to research a bit more, at least a date of death. This became a bit frustrating in that I could find out quite a bit of information of the family around her. Her sister's obituary was easily found online from multiple state publications, and Frances Trembath was listed as preceding her in death. I found out the niece sings in the opera, mostly in "trouser" roles. The niece's husband/partner (sites were a bit inconsistent on this point) died not too long ago. Frances Trembath's nephew and the niece's brother was one of the early developers of the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing games. The niece's father and Frances' brother-in-law was a minister and died only a few months after his wife. On a genealogical website, I found one of Frances' brothers' obituaries who preceded her in death and had also served in WWII. I learned a bit about the camp hospitals she worked at and why she had basic training almost two years after she was called to active service. But, nothing that pointed actually to her.

Beth Anne suggested the Social Security Death index. I had not considered this as I did not actually have a social security card number to work with as I did with Thelma Petty. But, with a year of her birth and the state, we had some information to work with... and a quick search she did unfortunately did not yield any narrowing results. Inspired and not willing to be quite ready to let it go, I gave it a try on my own. As I have noted before, the SSI Death Index is a database that you have to access through third-party sites, usually genealogical ones. They are stingy with the information they give back unless you register with a "free" trial. However, using what I knew, I did get a date of death back. Trying again through another site, I was able to specifically verify that the result did pertain to a Fraces S. Trembath with her date of birth and the state, thus with high confidence, I could list 2006 as her date of death. However, any other records such as copies of obituaries stayed denied to me as an unregistered free user. Her husband and her post-war career remain shrouded unless someone decides to interview her niece for any further information or memories she has of her aunt.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Days 18 & 19

Days 18 and 19
Archon and Finding Aids
I started learning the Archon interface for creating the Finding Aids that are online. The system is not difficult and is designed to allow a bit of flexibility for different collections and the style of the archivist in terms of how detailed and deep he wants to make the finding aides. For example, while most collections I worked on have a hierarchy of series then the folders, then the items in the folder. However, smaller collections may have only one folder in a series, and one item in the folder. Instead of breaking it down all the way to the item level, I described the items generally in the description of the folder itself. I only defined specific items in cases of materials that were separated out into artifact boxes, textile boxes, or oversize boxes, where there is no folder level.

This is where diligence in the previous work of note-taking and writing up what I called "reports" pays off. As I used previous finding aids to give me the structure and information needed in writing up the report, it makes for ease in working in Archon, all the information is already at hand. The better the report, the less to no need to actually refer to the collection itself.  A few places, I felt the need to re-write a sentence so that it worked better in the actual structure of the finding aid. Also, using something already written earlier allowed me to catch mistakes and inconsistencies that I missed earlier.

Archon has two annoyances that make the process a bit more time consuming than it should be. The first is there are three main sections to creating the finding aid (as I do not have the program running in front of me, I am going to have to give an approximation of what they are called): creator manager, collection manager, and collection content manager. The problem is, that every time you leave one to go to the other, you have to search again for the collection you wish to work on.

The other is one that many people who use the computer for writing and publishing will find familiar: copying and pasting text from a word processing document into the publishing program. Inevitably, any formatting you have done in one will create errors. I had very little specialized formatting going on and Archon tries to accommodate by having different options for pasting text into Archon. Unfortunately, none of these really made a noticeable difference. To make matters worse, the errors do not display in Archon itself until you exit the screen and come back (although they will show up in the live preview). Every place I had italicized text, apostrophes, quotation marks and the occasional place where I had two spaces instead of one, a funky "A" or "AA" or even "AAA" popped up. I am not a bad typist, so smaller sections, I ended up re-typing from my notes instead of copying and pasting. For longer sections, I tried to go through and delete the punctuation or take out the formatting style and then add it back in from inside Archon. This generally worked. However, reviewing the finding aids later, I discovered that sometimes the errors still showed up, in conjunction with my typed in changes. So, I had to re-edit some areas several times. This made the Brune and Westray Battle collections take longer than readily apparent. Partly because both collections had relatively lengthy biographical data. As a writer with various publication titles and columns referred to, Brune's collection had quite a bit of italicized and quotation bracketed text. Westray Battle's collection had many apostrophes from different references to "Woman's College" as well as several references to the Alumnae News.

Over the two days, I typed up the three collections I worked extensively on: Westray Battle Boyce, Rachel Ann Brune, and Thelma Meyer Petty. The Creator bios are currently online though the full finding aid is not yet.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Day 17

Day 17
Westray Battle Boyce cont.
I took the photos and the identification information down to the digital lab. I then began working on writing up the collection report for the finding aide. About halfway through I made another fascinating discovery. There was the one photo from when Westray Battle had visited UNCG to give a speech. The photo had her, the then current Dean and two women. The woman on the left of the photo was identified by her husband's name and her full maiden name that she attended the school under and the year she graduated. The other woman, who was cropped out of the photo when it was printed in the Alumnae News was only identified as Mrs. Dickenson. Not enough to go on to get a fuller description so that was what I sent downstairs. Going through the letters for biographical information, I discovered a reference to Mrs. Dickenson and the comment to Westray that she would remember her as Lula Martin McIver. The last name rung a bell in that some of the various references to other Westrays and Battles were found in the digital Charles Duncan McIver Papers. 

A quick online search for "Lula Martin McIver" returned results from our own library and digital collections including a photo. This photo was of her mother, Lula her father being Dr. Charles Duncan McIver, the first President of the school. His daughter contributed many of the papers that make up the school's collection of papers relating to her father. And, this was the person that was cropped out of the photograph when printed and being further obscured by being identified only by her husband's name!

Writing Westray Battle Boyce's biography shared a similar problem with Rachel Brune's, there is almost too much information written. I also discovered another problem, inconsistent reporting of dates and such. The Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) and Women's Army Corps (WAC) were frequently used interchangeably. They are also inconsistent with capitalization rules in regards to referring to the organization and referring to the women themselves. Boyce attended Woman's College in their Commercial Program, a one year course and not as part of a four-year degree. Almost all of the references to her in the alumnae publications and such appended "com. '19" to her name instead of "class of..." Thus many outside references to her draw attention to her attending but "not graduating". Inconsistencies in the dates of her enlisting and retiring from the service also occur. Depending on the source, three different months are given for her enlistment: July, August, and September. This may be partly a case of them referring to at least two different things: when she started Officer's Candidacy School and her first commission as an officer of the WAAC. The different biographies also relate her retiring from the service either in March or May, 1947. In this case, born out by actual news clippings relating to her being named as national representative for National Society for Crippled Children and Adults, Inc. around April and May of the same year, March makes more sense. Although, again it is possible the conflict of dates arises out confusion as to what the dates refer to. She had to step down from being director of the WAC due to illness. It is conceivable that this happened in March while her official exit from the military itself was in May. In the time between the two dates, she had arranged for her post military career in a cause that was dear to her, making the dates overlap. However, both cases are mere speculation on my part here. As part of the biography for the finding aide, I plan to leave it more vague. It will be up to the future researchers to iron out the discrepancies of the accounts found in the papers here. As I already noted, one of the sources listed the source of her name as being the NC physician Dr. Westray Battle. However, other sources make note that Westray comes from the surname of a family married into the Battle family and the name of "Westray Battle" is a recurring one in the family. It is possible that both are true. Another source referred to her receiving the Legion of Merit medal by a different name.

In reading through the various articles and biographies, I was struck by some of the latent sexism. Almost all of the sources list her various marriages and what happened to them as if it was entertainment news. I know of her height (or lack thereof), her prematurely graying hair, her soft-spoken voice, details that don't come up very often in articles covering men. Almost every article also makes note of her daughter of the same name, her nickname "Webbie", her age and what school she goes to. In one, I even find out that her daughter is similarly height challenged, has blue eyes and the longest lashes seen in a while! I struggled about including her marriages in the biography. I originally decided to include the first simply because it defines where the "Boyce" of her name comes from, the last name she carried for most of her military career. The third I included because that is her last name at the time of her death and shows up as her last name for some collections. The second marriage becomes included mainly for completion's sake. It is also the only marriage for which our particular collection includes news articles reporting and is her last name during her work with the National Society for Crippled Children and Adults.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Day 16

Day 16
Westray Battle Boyce
As I noted, Westray Battle Boyce is important for several reasons over to this project. She was an alumnae from the school (the Project was originally devoted to alumnae of Woman's College veterans), she is from North Carolina, and she achieved several notable firsts during her military career as well as becoming head of the Women's Army Corps after World War Two. This meant that it was possible that she was referenced in other collections such as already digitized copies of the Alumnae News.

Going through University of North Carolina Greensboro's digital collections I found several references. Her slightly odd name helped in this regard. I automatically ruled out publications that were related to the escaped slaves notices project and older publications. A few of the references referred to a Doctor Westray Battle of North Carolina from around the turn of the 20th century. Westray was the surname of one of the families that married into the prominent North Carolina Battle family and it became a recurring first name for the family. One of the biographies sent out to newspapers and the school for their own article mentioned that she was named after this well-respected doctor, but it appears that is not necessarily the case. Indeed, some of the other Westray results were of NC families with it as a last name. Almost half the results were duplicates of what we already had such as the Alumnae News clippings. One notable return was the transcript of another veteran's oral history who trained with Westray at Officer's Candidacy School for the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. I printed copies of these materials, made a list of all of the links and described what was found at each. These will go into a separate file.

We set aside several photos of her in uniform to send to the digital laboratory. I then set out to further identify them in order to provide meta data. In my research I discovered two other collections devoted to her outside of UNCG. One is at the NC History Museum in Raleigh. Another is part of the Truman Library. A new question raised itself, of the ones that we selected, all but one have already been digitized as part of other collections. Several of them we decided to digitize anyway. One photo because it was a good portrait of her to use on the landing page, another was historically important as it showed her receiving the Legion of Merit award (she is the first woman to have received it), another showed her with another woman who was also an alumnae of Woman's College, she worked with her in Africa as part of Eisenhower's staff. The one photograph not already scanned is from the time that Westray came to the school to give a speech at an alumnae dinner. It was reproduced in the Alumnae News but had been cropped in to cut out a woman on one side. It also included Dean Walter Clinton Jackson, for whom UNCG's Jackson Library is named.

I still find it interesting in that in this job I am rewarded by actually paying attention to details and getting a general feel of what the pages of letters are about and for doing further research beyond what is in the collection itself. The significance of the name of the woman in the photo with her in Africa would not have occurred if I had not recognized the name from an article in the Alumnae News that mentioned she was working with Boyce. I would not have recognized her by face alone. Without that extra tidbit, we probably would have passed on digitizing it ourselves as it was already digitized by the Truman Library.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Day 15

Day 15
Rachel Brune cont.
Today I worked on finishing writing up the report that will be used to create the finding aide and then going over the work with my supervisor, Beth Ann Koelsch. Some of the corrections are ones that simply did not occur to me such as I listed some of the materials in folders in a list format. It looks nice on the page and is easy to read. However, the program this will be imported into does not use that format. It seemed such a logical and natural way to do it, that it did not occur to me to do so otherwise.

Other corrections were more along the lines of style. I had already encountered that dates were generally written in European order: day/month/year. It is an odd one and easy to remember. Harder to remember is to not abbreviate state names but spell them out. One of the hardest parts of going back to school was re-acquainting myself with the more formal style of academic writing. I had almost consciously purged myself of that style, trying to incorporate a more natural, almost conversational style and paying more attention to rhythm and flow. Spelling out state names is even more formal than normal academic style of writing. In my head it makes sense. I am constantly running into abbreviations on this project that are not defined. Plus, I am also old enough to remember when the abbreviation for Alabama was Ala. So, it makes sense to bypass that potential confusion. However, it is completely unnatural way to write.

There is also styles such as when to capitalize Military Police. Plus, to make sure the first time that it pops up in the guide, it is written out as "Military Police (MP)".

Other corrections were more of just general style and preference. Some were stylistic changes I would have made on my own going back in a day or two reviewing what I had written: correcting some too casual writing such as photos for photographs and alternating the use of her name with the pronoun "she" which flows better.

Westray Battle Broyce Papers
As there was not enough time to actually get into training on Archon, the program used to generate the online finding aides, I started processing one of the smaller collections on my cart. This collection is already divided up into four folders: photographs, correspondence, clippings, and miscellaneous and not really a lot of material in any of the folders. Its size would be deceptive though.

I glanced through the photographs, they did not have any dates and only one had actual information written on the back. Placing these by dates and identifying the people would have to come by other means.

I moved to correspondence. It turns out that Westray Battle attended Woman's College (now University of North Carolina Greensboro) from 1918 to 1919. Many of the letters to her concerning her coming to visit and giving a speech on the role of women and the WAC in the army. The last one that I read first identified one of the first photos.

It was processing the clippings that a fuller picture of the woman emerged. She was from the town I grew up in, Rocky Mount, NC. She worked on General Eisenhower's staff and achieved several firsts. She would be the second director of the WAC. She had a daughter by the same name, the first time I can recall seeing the suffix Jr. being applied to a woman's name. Thankfully, someone had written on the clippings, the dates and, in some cases, the papers they were from. Also included were a couple of clippings from issues of Alumnae News, a magazine covering the alumnae of Woman's College. Some of the other photographs were able to be identified as they were reproduced in some of the clippings. I managed to divide the clippings into chronological order and then make copies of them on acid free paper, grouping the ones from the same year together.