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"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, May 18, 2011

The Goldenrod Affair

In the Adams Paper slip file, the chronological run is considered the master and it is that which was microfilmed and used to create the digital control file. In adding document types, which was based on an equally impressive alphabetical run (which includes, for the prominent Adamses, a select list of subjects) it was determined that some slips were present in the alpha run and not in the chronological run. These were goldenrod slips, which are used in house as cross-reference slips to connect people, places, subjects, correspondence, etc. Probably a lot more. The current task to which I have been assigned is going through the slips in the Alphabetical run and identifying those slips of goldenrod color that were not also present in the chronological run. The process includes making copies of those slips not found and then adding them to the Digital Control File.

Before this, when creating a new slip one would find a slip of similar color, copy it, and then edit to suite. Now, though, we have a new option in the interface that enables us to create a new slip from scratch. A most helpful part of the tool.

Another project that is ongoing at the time - thought not being completed by the contributing members of this blog - is that updates and changes to existing slips is taking place. There is a big three-ringed binder of these changes. A process that took heaps of time in its analog format is now being completed quite a bit more swiftly. This is not always easy and has involved some collaboration between the Adams staff and the control file gurus, some instruction, and the detection & correction of bugs.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Fun with searching

When editing individual records in the Adams slip file, it helps to use a unique keyword or phrase to limit your search results and pinpoint the exact slip you're looking for. Case in point: I was adding document types to records and came across a slip containing the phrase "bill for manure." I typed that phrase into my search box, confident I would retrieve only the specific record I was looking for. Imagine my surprise when I retrieved four! All four bills date from the year 1880 and belong to Charles Francis Adams (1807-1886). Expanding my search to just the word "manure," I found another bill, which I hadn't initially retrieved because of the variant phrasing on the slip. A sixth result was a letter from Charles' grandfather John Adams to Cotton Tufts, dated 80 years earlier, about a funeral oration for George Washington. John then goes on: "The transition to be sure from such a subject to my uncultivated business is very abrupt. But I must say a few words....I hope Porter has carted or shedded all the manure on the Hill....I wish you would contract with Carter to bring me up an hundred Loads."

Image of Charles Francis Adams from the Portraits of American Abolitionists photograph collection at the MHS.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Accessing Accessions

Now that encoding is complete and clean-up/quality control well underway, members of the Adams Papers slip file staff have been working on enriching the information in the database in a variety of ways. One way is by providing links to the many other Adams resources already available online. I recently added links in the Accessions Database to collection guides online at the MHS website.

The papers described in the slip file represent all known Adams documents held by institutions around the world. Included are Adams-related items in many different collections at the MHS that have come to us over the years. In the Accessions Database, these documents are listed by accession number, along with the name of the collection in which they can be found. So, for example, if a collection of John Doe papers was given to the MHS, and those papers contained some letters from, say, Abigail Adams to Mrs. Doe, each Adams letter would be assigned a unique number in the Accessions Database, and the name "John Doe papers" would appear alongside those numbers.

Since they were acquired, guides to many of our collections have been encoded and posted on our website. (We currently have over 330 guides to manuscript collections online.) My task consisted of searching the Accessions Database for MHS collections with online guides and adding links to those entries. This information can now be pulled into the Adams Papers catalog. When an individual record is retrieved, a sidebar with the heading "More about this slip" includes the name of the institution holding that item and, if that institution is the MHS, a handy-dandy link to the relevant online guide. Adams Papers editors can then use the guide to pinpoint an item's specific location, down to box and folder.

For those papers in collections without online guides, I added the manuscript call number to the notes field, just to make it a little easier to track down an item in our stacks.

Now, this job turned out to be fairly challenging because: 1) many collection names have changed over the years, 2) Adams editors often abbreviated the names they were familiar with, and 3) collections can have very similar names. (Just by way of illustration, the MHS holds separate collections called: the Henry Cabot Lodge collection, the Henry Cabot Lodge papers, the Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. papers, and the Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. papers II!) Not having the time to search through so many boxes by hand, I did the best I could to identify which items belonged to which collections. If a specific author or recipient wasn't listed in a catalog record or collection guide, I used other clues for confirmation, like bulk dates, subject headings, or acquisition, as well as the information on the slip itself.

And so we press on....