Possibilities in every folder, part 2

Letter from Susannah Preston Lees to her sister, Catherine Waller Carson, 1864

Day 2 of my August trip to the Library of Congress was a whirlwind of nine boxes and amazing discoveries. I looked at Container 864 which contained bills and receipts from KCB’s paternal grandmother, Caroline C. Carson; letters from CRB to KCB while he was on the Dawes Commission and she was living in Fort Smith; more Russia letters in folders labeled Catharine C. Breckinridge; a great little book listing KCB’s souvenir spoons and forks + bills & receipts + calling cards + place cards; and correspondence from her daughter Mary Carson Breckinridge.

One of the real treasures of this trip was the diary written by her KCB’s mother, Catherine Waller Carson in the post-war years (Container 865). I can’t wait to transcribe this and see what she has to say. There are many conflicting accounts about Catherine Waller Carson so I’ll be interested to see what her own voice has to say. Then I photographed every letter from a number of folders labeled Catharine W. Carson. The dates are 1835 to 1887 – a large part of her adult, married, and widowed life. In Folder 7 I discovered a letter from James Green Carson (KCB’s father) stuck in among Catherine Waller Carson’s correspondence – almost two decades after his death.

Catherine Carson Waller’s post Civil War diary.

In Container 869, there’s a lot of official papers and documents from their time in Russia. Folders labeled Miscellany have the potential to hold the real treasures. From my experience archivists create these folders when they have a pile of stuff they just don’t know what to do with. Container 869’s Miscellany folders contains a bound green book with a gold embossed double headed eagle. Inside are details from the Ministry of Ceremonies or Department of Ceremonies (depending on the translation). The Ceremonies (as KCB called them) dicated details of court life – from dress code to arrive prodecual to decoraum. In this folder are handwritten translations of The Ceremonies instructions. Plus menus of dinner the Breckinridges’ attended at various embassies and legations; seating charts for their dinner parties; and Liste de Corps Diplomatique. It also contains original of photographs I’d only seen in journals. As well as a beautiful red bound copy of the Program for the Coronation of Nicholas II (in Russian and French) and a two-volume edition of Statemen’s Handbook for Russia.

Container 870 didn’t have much. Stuff about CRB’s contested election after the murder of John Clayton and “lots of programs in Russian and French.” And I looked at Containers 872, 873, and 874 but nothing related.

Page from Scrapbook 1 in Container 871 – Invoice from Redfern for a gown.

But Container 871… I heard the hallelujah chorus of angels when I opened the box. Inside were four scrapbooks. I had never looked at this container because in the finding aid it was just marked Miscellanous. But these scrapbooks are a little bit Holy Grail territory. They hold bills, receipts and other financial documents from the Breckinridges time in Russia. There are receipts of china and other household items purchased from P. Raddatz & Co. in Berlin during their trip to Saint Petersburg in October 1894. Receipts from Redfern for a gown that was purchased for 735 francs (?) in Paris. Receipts for a bed and linens in Russian. A receipt from Tiffany & Co.’s Paris office for a name plate for calling cards and other items. And that is just one scrapbook. I can’t wait to see what other treasures and wonders fill these pages. So many possiblities for the puzzle.

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