Brought to you by the Massachusetts Historical Society

"I have nothing to do here, but to take the Air, enquire for News, talk Politicks and write Letters."

John Adams to Abigail Adams, 30 June 1774

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

I Killed John Quincy Adams, or, I was only doing my job

In September 2010, while performing encoding level 2 tasks on reel 33 (covering the years 1846-1851) I killed John Quincy Adams. I was only doing my job! His passing was solemnly marked with a beer after work. We remember JQA in part for his voluminous diaries and correspondence; his poetry; and his service to the United States. This post will look at some milestones and metrics including JQA's first letters to his parents and wife and the last letters he sent and received. Please keep in mind it relates only to those items present in the Adams Control File; and some of the numbers might change a bit as we clean up the data.

John Quincy Adams was born on 11 July 1767. Today, 23 February, is the anniversary of his death, 163 years ago in 1848.

The first letter he wrote held in the Adams Family Papers is to his cousin Elizabeth Cranch (Mrs. Jacob P. Norton), circa 1773.

The first letter to his father, John Adams, dates to 13 October 1774. The first letter to his mother Abigail Adams was written from Paris on 12 April 1778. The first letter JQA sent to his future wife Louisa Catherine Johnson (LCA) was from The Hague on 2 June 1796. In all, the MHS has (or knows about) 619 letters from JQA to LCA; and there were 451 the other way, from LCA to JQA.

The first letter JQA received was from his father, written from Philadelphia on 18 April 1776. The first letter JQA received from his mother was written from Braintree on 21 January 1781. The first letter JQA received from Louisa Catherine Johnson was from London, dated 4 July 1796: America's 20th birthday. In all, JQA received 18,475 letters.

His last dated poem was attributed to ca. 21 February 1848 as is titled "In days of yore the Poets pen ...." This poem was eventually published in Poems (New York, 1848, p. 108) under title of "Written in an Album." Indeed, his last dated documents seemed to have all been poetry.

The last letter he received whilst alive was a two page letter on 13 February 1848, from Willis Baldwin of Monroe Co., N. Y. JQA did receive one letter following his death, a four pager dated 29 February 1848 from Boston, co-authored by Edward Brooks and Dr. John Bigelow.

The last letters he is known to have sent were on 4 and 6 February 1848. On 4 February he sent a 1 page letter to Alexander Baring, the Lord Ashburton, from Washington; this is a letterbook copy. On 6 February, he sent a 1 page letter to Julia Raymond which included the poem "Fair Lady! when at thy request These fingers trace my name..."

The original slip files were scanned onto 42 "reels." JQA's attribute "adams-john-quincy1767" appears as an author, recipient or in the title field 47,581 times in 40 of the reels. He does not appear to be in reels 37 (the year 1863) and 40 (the years 1867-1870). This averages out to 1189.525 times his attribute appears per reel in one of the aforementioned fields.

JQA's initials - which can appear nearly anywhere, any number of times in a single record - appears 57,949 times in all 42 reels, or an average of 1379.7380952380952380952380952381 times per reel.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Supporting Databases, Part 2

A project as large and complicated as the Adams Papers slip file conversion requires vast amounts of documentation to run smoothly. On January 10, Peter Steinberg wrote about the People and Places databases--two of the supporting databases we've used to ensure our data is consistent, to reproduce the information currently available to Adams Papers editors, and to enhance the finished product. In addition to the People and Places databases, we've built Institutions and Accessions databases to track the physical locations of individual items in the catalog.

The Institutions database lists all institutions known to hold Adams family manuscripts. As you can imagine, it's a very diverse group of libraries, historical societies, archives, museums, and other institutions. In addition to the MHS, Adams family papers can be found at the Adams National Historic Park, the Boston Athenaeum, Harvard University, Yale University, the American Philosophical Society, the Library of Congress, the National Archives, the Public Record Office of the UK National Archives, the Nationaal Archief in the Hague, and many, many other places. Some institutions hold a large number of Adams-related manuscripts, others only a few.

I spent some time recently adding links in the database to each institution's website, which turned out to be both more challenging and more interesting that I expected. Many institutions have changed names and/or locations since the Adams Papers editorial project began decades ago, so finding the right URL sometimes took a little digging. Some of these changes are well known: for example, the British Library split from the British Museum in the 1970s. But did you know that the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, De., used to be called the Eleutherian Mills Historical Library? Mystic Seaport (Mystic, Conn.) was founded as the Marine Historical Association; the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., was the Columbia Historical Society; the New Bedford Whaling Museum was the Kendall Whaling Museum; and the Cincinnati Historical Society was the Historical and Philosophical Society of Ohio.

The Adamses were a well-traveled family, so many international institutions hold Adams-related documents, including the Archives du Ministere des Affaires Etrangeres (Paris), Koninklijk Huisarchief (the Hague), Arkhiv vneshnei politiki Rossii (Moscow), and Kungliga Biblioteket (Stockholm). Obviously, these names were even trickier!

This URL search gave me a chance to look at the wide variety of websites institutions use to showcase their collections. Many universities, of course, have excellent sites, but other institutions surprised me. I found the British Library website confusing and difficult to use, but some small organizations, like the Connecticut Historical Society and the Oklahoma Historical Society, have very attractive and user-friendly websites.

The Accessions database complements the Institutions database by allowing Adams editors to search for the locations of specific items by accession code and item number, rather than by institution. One of our goals with these supporting databases has been to combine all the editors' documentation (now housed in several separate binders in the Adams Papers offices) into a more efficient one-stop shop. Links to online resources provide some added value that has been missing from the traditional paper file.