Miracle of miracles, or how to impress an innocent farm boy

26 02 2008

Editor’s note: The research needed for the fourth post on James G. Randall is taking a bit longer than I expected, so to keep the four of you who read this from getting bored, I’m posting an entry (with some additions) that I made a while back on TOCWOC. I apologize for the repeat. I hope to have the next Randall post no later than Wednesday or Thursday (after which I’ll have two more and then it will be completed).

When I was in college 25 plus years ago, doing research consisted mainly of going to the library, pulling books and journals off the shelf, slogging through reel after reel of microfilm and, if you were lucky, finding a gem or two that was buried deep within a dry, dusty tome. While the basics of research haven’t changed, the way in which it is done certainly has.

For example, now instead of sitting in front of a microfilm reader taking notes, there exists a program which scans the copy off the screen and sends it to a computer to be printed. That saves wear and tear on the old wrist. Of course, the work still has to be read, but you can highlight relevant passages now instead of having to write them down. Another innovation is the laptop computer. My handwriting has been oft compared to the worst chicken scratch. Truthfully, there have been times when I took a note and later couldn’t read it. Having a laptop in front of me makes taking notes so much easier.

Yet another thing that amazes this simple farm boy is that a large number of scholarly journals are now digitized and available for browsing on the Internet. Unfortunately, you have to have access to a university or large public library to get them (unless, like me, you know someone at a large university willing to share her password with you…shhh).

Speaking of the Internet. From the comfort of my home office, I can sit in front of the computer and search libraries across the country to see what hidden gems they might have to offer. Where this hit home to me was in searching for information about Everton Conger’s father, Enoch. Enoch was a Presbyterian missionary and clergyman who settled with his family in the Western Reserve section of Ohio in 1824. Before then, he fought the British during the Battle of Queenston Heights in the War of 1812 as part of the New York militia and was captured during the fight. (Side note, if you want to read a really fascinating account of this battle, see Robert Malcomson’s A Very Brilliant Affair.)

What I wanted was some representation of what Enoch preached from the pulpit. A search of the Presbyterian Historical Society (http://www.history.pcusa.org/) turned up nothing. It wasn’t until I was searching for information on Conger’s namesake, a missionary named Everton Judson, that I found a sermon which Enoch preached in the 1840s. It was located in the Huntington Library in California (http://www.huntington.org/LibraryDiv/LibraryHome.html ). A couple of weeks later, and $20 poorer, I had the sermon in my hand. If I hadn’t Googled Everton Judson’s name, I never would have found Enoch’s sermon.

From the National Union Catalog (http://www.loc.gov/coll/nucmc/) to the National Archives (www.archives.gov) it is now possible to conduct exhaustive research without exhausting yourself (or your bank account). These are truly amazing times, and I imagine, they can only get better.

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6 responses

26 02 2008
Kurt Cruppenink

Your reminences concerning the archaic research methods of the “old days” brings back alot of memories. I was a graduate student at Illinois State University in the early 1980’s and I can remember doing research projects using punch cards. For those too young to have experienced this frustrating method of working you had to sit at a machine and physically punch holes in cards to collate your data and then sit for hours at the computer center, with dozens of other students, waiting for your turn to have your data converted to a written product. It seems so strange to think so much has changed in only 25 years. The internet is opening up so many other avenues of research and making things so much simpler. Hopefully we can assume that the product we receive will be better.

27 02 2008
Rob Wick

Kurt,

I never had any experiences with punch cards, other than that was how the library checked books out, but I know what you mean. Even looking at the old methods we had back then gives me a new appreciation for those people way back when who didn’t have microfilm or other “modern” pieces of equipment. I wonder how in the heck they were able to get things done?

Best
Rob

27 02 2008
Randal Berry

Rob,
WOW! You mean when I use a microfilm reader that there’s a program that will print out what I “highlight” or what I want?
I am visiting the Natl. Archives for the first time in April to do some research.
This could be very cool and save mucho time!
Thanks!

Randal

27 02 2008
Rob Wick

Randal,

Not really sure what the NA has, but I do know that when one of my researchers was getting Conger’s service records, they had come off microfilm. Of course there have been microfilm printers even when I was doing research in college, but you could only print out one page at a time and it was on thermal paper that curled up after about 15 seconds in the air. Now you can scan everything to the computer and print out an entire article on plain paper. Good luck at the NA in April. What are you researching?

Best
Rob

28 02 2008
Randal Berry

Rob,
I am researching the “raid” at the Surratt House on April 17th. Seems to me, Maj. Smith embellished things that were said the night Powell showed up. I think he (Smith) lied to get a bigger piece of the reward pie. Testimony from others, including borders during the raid have stories that differ from Major Smith’s.
This is probably not a biggie, BUT, Booth and Herold certainly would have benefited
from it. More on that later.

Thanks for your interest!

Randal

29 02 2008
Rob Wick

Randal,
Sounds interesting. Keep me informed as to what you find out.

Best
Rob

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