Possiblities in every folder

I started this blog post on March 16/17 and I thought at the time that I would be able to get so much done on my letter project. After all I’d be home and have hours in the morning and hours at night. I mean my commute would be seconds instead of minutes. I don’t need to wash my hair or change out of my pajamas. I was thinking about all the time I would save!

As my friend Jen would say HA!

Now my husband and I are both working from home due to COVID-19. The kid is home because school is closed due to COVID-19. Everything is canceled or closed because of COVID-19.

So instead of getting a lot done here, I’m working like a still own a small business to get new programs out for the library (VIRTUALLY!) and being a school teacher. I hope to settle into a new routine next week and get something done here as well!

If you’ve looked at an archival finding aids, you will completely understand this next post.

Unlike museums, archives don’t drill down to the item level. A folder title could read Breckinridge Family, Catharine C. Breckinridge, Correspondence, 1898-1905. The finding aid doesn’t tell me how many letters are in the folder or other specifics. Are the letters from KCB or to her? Are there a lot of letters or just a few? In the case of this folder, there is a letter from KCB to one of her sisters-in-law as well as a number of letters from her brother William Waller Carson.

That’s why it’s important to go and look at every letter. There are possibilities in every folder.

On my first few trips to the Library of Congress, I looked at folders listed with titles Katherine Carson Breckinridge. Time was limited and there was an end result. Every trip needed to tackle specific goals. After I felt like I’d accomplished all I needed to in the KCB folders, I explored the folders marked with Clifton Rodes Breckinridge. I had to quickly look at a folder, make photocopies of what I thought was important and then move on. Everything was intentional.

But without a deadline, I can really explore. During my trip to the Library of Congress this summer, I looked at a series of boxes I hadn’t looked at before. I made a plan before going – inventoring and reviewing what I’d already looked at on previous trips. I wanted to make the most out of my time and I didn’t wanted to get lost in stuff I’d already spent a lot of time exploring.

List of containers to look at during August 2019 LOC visit

With the ability to photograph letters and documents with my iPhone camera, I could go through a lot of boxes and folders. I really wanted to look at as much of the Breckinridge Family Papers related to KCB as possible. So I decided to focus on containers labeled with names of KCB’s immediate family – CRB and her children. I also realized that there were a few containers labeled with KCB’s mother and father name as well as her paternal grandmother. Plus there were a few folders labeled “diary” that I’d looked at in the past but wasn’t able to photocopy because of their binding. With phone photography, I could capture that information.

In the LOC Manuscript Reading Room, a reader is allowed 4 boxes at a time from the same collection. The boxes have to stay on the cart next to your table and you can have one folder on the table at a time. And because I’m the way I am, I have to do things in the correct sequence. (I’m the same way with TV shows. I have to watch episodes in order.) My first pull included Containers 830, 839, 844, and 849. My second pull included Containers 861, 862, and 866.

To keep track of what I was doing and to make sure I knew what box and folder I was in when I got home, I took a reference photo of the box label when I started a new box and a picture of the folder heading when I started a new folder. I created a new note in Evernote to remember little details and thoughts I had during my first look at these folders. Each evening after leaving the Library, I moved photos to a cloud folder and separated them by box and folder – duplicating the LOC system. Then I would inventory the photos later in my spreadsheet and list the photo names. More about that later.

The first pull of containers pertained to KCB’s immediate family, Clifton and their four children – James Carson (1876-1942), Mary Carson (1881-1965), Susannah Preston Lees (1885-1972), and Clifton Jr. (1896-1966). The family seemed to be close and wrote letters back and forth over the years. Clifton Rodes Breckinridge is listed on Container 830 of the LOC’s Content List for the Breckinridge Family Papers. James Carson Breckinridge and Mary Carson Breckinridge are listed on Containers 839 and 844. Mary Breckinridge is listed by her married name, Mary Breckinridge Morrison in Container 849.

The second pull of containers for the first day included letters and documents pertaining to her parents and siblings. Container 861 had folders listed in the finding aid as “Diaries” as well as three folders of early KCB correspondence. Container 862 had folders I’d looked at before but I hadn’t looked at all the letters. Container 866 had folders labeled James Green Carson (KCB’s father) plus James G. Carson Jr., Joseph Carson, and William Waller Carson, KCB’s brothers.

And now for the goodies I discovered.

In the first pull (Containers 830/839/844/849), most of the documents and letters were typed copies or transcriptions of correspondence between Mary Carson Breckinridge and her sister-in-law, Dot. Dorothy Throckmorton Breckinridge was married to James Carson Breckinridge, Mary’s older brother and known as Carson to the family. James Carson Breckinridge died in 1942 and most of the documents and letters in the boxes include coorespondence between Mary and Dot after Carson’s death. The folders also include newspaper clippings and documents praising Mary for the creation of the Frontier Nursing Service.

In my second pull (Containers 861/862/866), I went back to familiar territory. I’d visited Container 861 several times in the past but I wanted to get photographs of the two diaries listed there. Plus I wanted to get some good blog photos of letters I had transcribed on-site early on. The first diary has a solid black cover and KCB wrote her name on the inside cover along with “Room 3 – Neptune.” The second diary is slightly larger than the first and has a black and white checkered cover. Both are from KCB’s trip to Europe with Lees and Carson in August 1914. They were in Norway mostly but it will be interesting to see if she mentions anything about the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand (June 28, 1914) and the start of World War I (July 28, 1914).

Container 861 has three folders with letters dated 1865 to 1876. One letter is from Amanda Stone, mother of Kate Stone whose Civil War diary was published in the 1950s. For years I’ve had this letter (or a photocopy of it) but had transcribed the name as Amanda Shire. But it is definitely Amanda Stone and it will be interesting to compare this letter with my notes from my reading of Brokenburn. The folders also contain a lot of letters from Catherine Waller Carson (KCB’s mother) to KCB while KCB was living in New York with her aunt.

Container 862 includes letters to KCB from Clifton before their marriage. The title page of The New Testament of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is one of the great things you can find tucked away in archival folders. Bibles are notoriously bad about disintegrating. And my guess is that this title page was removed from its Bible in order to save the important obituaries that were glue onto it. The longer of the two obituaries is for KCB’s mother Catherine Waller Carson. The other one is for KCB’s brother James Green Carson. The container also had letters from KCB’s daughter Lees and her son, Carson. And personal items from the Daughters of the American Revolution, including a note from Arkansas Chapter Secretary Martha Pratt.

The final container of the day was Container 866. The folders are labeled with names like James Green Carson, KCB’s father; Catherine Waller Carson, her mother; and her brothers James Green Carson, Jr., Joseph Carson, and William Waller Carson. This container includes a biographical file on James Green Carson that I used in my thesis. The sketch was written by J. H. McNeilf/McNeilly. Also Catherine Waller Carson’s copy of The Domestic Matters of Americans with an inscription “Kate C. Breckinridge from her mother, June 1888.” But the real treasure is the correspondence between KCB’s parents before she was born.

And that was just day 1.

Day 2 is for next time!

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