The Thelma L. Meyers Petty Papers
This collection was relatively small but had a few interesting things to recommend it. Thelma Meyer was a WAC serving as a driver out of Washington, DC during World War II. In addition to newspaper clippings, and personal correspondence and some related paperwork of her military career, it also had some "artifacts" such as personal items she collected, some of her patches from her uniform, her good conduct badge and ribbons, uniform pins, as well as copies of her discharge papers and social security card. There was also a post-it note that gave her birth date and date of death and her married name of "Petty".
Unlike many other collections, this was part of a group that my supervisor's predecessor had bought off of eBay. Included were copies of the eBay listing.
Much of the scant biography information was on her discharge papers. It had her date of birth, her enlistment date into the WAC as well as listing when she joined the WAAC prior to its dissolution. Part of the collection was also a diary she kept as a driver in the motor pool. A multi-year diary, it was designed that a page would cover the same date over several years which did not leave much room for exposition. She lived up to the challenge as an entry would simply be "stayed home, did laundry." Or, "picked the captain up at 3pm, drove to base." More interesting were the letters. None that she wrote, but letters to her. Mostly from other WAC/WAAC that she had met in training or on the job and now stationed elsewhere. Several were from a young soldier stationed in Italy.
One of the things I picked up pretty quickly as I was trying to make sure I recorded the name correctly in my notes of the contents was that while the name on the collection box is as I typed above, the name on all the materials was actually "Meyer", no "s". Also, nothing in the collection beyond some unemployment papers mentioned her life after service, especially in relation to her married name and date of death recorded on the post-it note. Knowing there were sites that recorded obituaries and this had her death in the year 2000, it was recent enough to have possibly migrated to the web but not recent enough to be almost automatic. I tried various searches using both maiden and married name, with the middle initial, without, with the whole middle name and even as middle name, last name combinations. Her place and date of birth was confirmed by her discharge papers which allowed me to weed out various positive results. I found nothing tied to her. I made note of it to ask my supervisor who was at a conference this week.
Another oddity that stuck out was a telegram addressed to a "Mrs. Thelma G. Meyer" in California. Notice that it as Meyer as her married name as well as the wrong middle initial. It also has her in California when all the other information indicated that Kansas was her permanent home. This raised the question in my mind of how sure we could be of some of the items were from the "right" Thelma Meyer as we did not know where the seller obtained it or how this telegram wound up in the collection.
In wanting to describe the patches more accurately beyond a simple description and hoping that it would correspond to what we knew and possibly gather more biographical information I again went to the internet. Basically typed in the description of the patch and then clicked on "images" to see if the returns matched. I got 2 out of 4 by this method (one of the ones remaining was her sergeant stripes, something I did not need to look up). One, a golden eagle in a golden ring was commonly called the "ruptured duck", a typical military styled slang to call something by a cruder, more derogatory name. The fourth one, I could find similar images, enough to decide it was a "service command" patch but nothing specific. I ended up finding it as part of a group of other patches when looking for something else. They all corresponded to what we knew of her career and where she was stationed from the other materials.
However, what struck me when doing this research was how much easier the internet has made this kind of research. Identifying the badges just 20 years ago would have been much more difficult. As I am working out of a University library, it is possible I could have tracked down some related books that might have had images of uniforms and patches. I am also a decent enough artist that I could quickly sketch reasonable likenesses to arm myself with as I scoured various books on the shelves so as not to cart the actual artifacts around. Failing that, it's possible I could have used the phone to find "expert"authority and possibly fax them copies of the sketches. Either way, what I was able to do in about 30 minutes to an hour could easily have taken hours if not days to retrieve the same information. Possibly, we would have just left the description as "sergeant stripes and three military patches".
Now, as this collection came off of eBay and was packed and shipped to us, one would expect that dividing the materials would be pretty straight forward, there is going to be little left in the order that would actually be an issue of maintaining original provenance. For the most part, this was true. However, the diary did contain a few small newspaper clippings of some jokes and sayings, and a calendar card with some personal notations. I made a note of these and left them in the diary where I found them.
By the end, I had the collection well divided up and described. I had made copies of the loose newspaper clippings on "acid-free" paper, and penciled in the date and paper it was from on the one clipping that had that information on the back side. And, I had a few notes/questions to bring attention to: the spelling of "Meyer" on the box, the lack of corroboration on her married name and date of death on the post-it note, and the "wrong" telegram. As I thought about it more later, I had an idea of an avenue that might at least verify the date of death.
The Rachel Ann Brune Papers
After finishing up what was left of of the Petty collection at that point in the process, I started on the Rachel Brune collection. Where the Petty and Woodall collections were already in a simple box to hold folders, this collection fills a plastic bin and another flat box as well. While there is a simple description of the collection, much of it is in the envelopes and folders it was given to us.
What makes this collection so big and a more daunting undertaking than I first realized it would be is two-fold. One, she is a recent veteran. Moved by the events of 09/11, she enlisted and served as an MP and journalist. Because, she is a contemporary, she still has much of the stuff that was gathered, the letters and cards sent to her while serving, etc. Second, as mentioned, she served as a journalist. And, she worked as a journalist before and after her two deployments. There is a book of poetry and thoughts she wrote afterwards. Clippings and papers of the small community papers she wrote and took pictures for beforehand, and clippings of articles that she sent to them while she worked. A yearbook of the MP paper she edited, wrote and took pictures for as well as multiple copies of the loose editions (most of which we probably don't need as it duplicates what's in the book), some other military papers her articles appeared in. The loose box contains even more newspapers which even at this point in the writing, I've yet to look at!
I adopted a top-down method, going through the items at the top and work my way down. I first went through the yearbook and then her community papers and made more detailed notes, noting what pages had her articles as well as where she only had photo credits. I figure this will be an aide to future researchers as describing which parts are particularly relevant to the person of Rachel Brune. One folder already had miscellaneous papers relating to the Hatara Project where she did some aerial photography, though little of her actual work that was brought about.
From her writings and photography, I moved to loose correspondence and papers. I began to separate them out. It is a lot. Her father wrote her almost every week and her brother almost as often. Her new boyfriend and later fiance and other friends and relatives a little less often. She received clippings of various articles, almost at random. She seemed to be a popular choice for school kids and strangers to write, letters beginning I am a friend of the family of General So-and-so. I learned that her father and brother both are writers and all three are musicians.
If the previous collections seemed a bit scarce on information due to the years, here I have almost too much. She is only a little over ten years younger than me and the clippings and events are of things I remember well. The cards from her boyfriend are sparse in total words but intimate in meaning as serious new relationships tend to be. Each letter from her brother and father would be pages and are frank and open with emotions and contents. Even simply scanning through, I begin to know more about her and her family than I do many of my close friends. It almost seems voyeuristic in a way.
Yet, it makes me think of how a half century from now, a future researcher won't have that same sense of immediacy. Reading these bits won't be different than my reading a letter from one of the Woodall sisters lamenting how her marriage didn't work and she wasn't sure about dating again, at least not while she was in the service and the War was going on.
By the end of the day, the correspondence folder is already bulging and I am not even halfway through.