The Italian Cemetery Question

A couple of months ago, my mother asked me a question that reignited a search into my Italian ancestry that has yielded some exciting results. I’ll share the exciting results in another post, but first I want to lay out her question (i.e. the context for the Internet search that brought me to the treasures I found later) as well as the answer I located.

So one day in early July, Mom called to ask me a genealogy question. She said she was sitting there chatting with two of my Dad’s sisters (aunts on my Italian side of the family), and they had gotten onto the subject of genealogy and were wondering about the father of my great-grandfather Quinto. The ancestor in question is named Antonio Pasquinelli. Mom said she seemed to recall that when I had visited relatives in Italy in 2004 (ten years ago – wow), I asked them to take me to the cemetery but he wasn’t there anymore and she couldn’t remember the rest of the story, so she was calling to ask.

Ah yes. That was quite the let-down.

Having been engaged in genealogical research in the United States for almost 10 years already at the time of that trip, I had always found cemeteries to be a veritable gold mine of information. Families are often buried together, as you probably know, and so if you find one, you’ll likely find others, with names and dates to go along with them (and if you’re really lucky, maybe some relationship explanations like “son” or “mother” right on the stone).

My great-grandfather Quinto died and was buried in Ohio, but I had my sights set on his parents, Antonio and Benedetta, neither of whom (as far as I know) ever even visited America. And seeing as I didn’t have the slightest clue how to request Italian records (or what to request or where- although come to think of it, that might have been a good or even better thing to ask the relatives while I was there), much less that comparatively very little was online in those days (especially international records), visiting the cemetery seemed like a sound strategy to potentially find a lot of information quickly and easily.

So at my request, our relatives took us to the cemetery where our other relatives were buried. I’m embarrassed to say I don’t even know exactly which cemetery they took us to (why did I not write that down?! for shame, genealogist!), but it wasn’t far so it must have been within the province of Pistoia (where we were & where my ancestors lived).

And when we got there, they showed us the graves of the available relatives, one of whom was their mother/grandmother Parigina (or “Genni” for short), who was my great-grandfather Quinto’s baby sister:

Renato and Genni Sali cemetery marker, somewhere in Pistoia, 2004

Renato and Genni Sali cemetery marker, somewhere in Pistoia, 2004

I have a few other photographs of graves that they showed us or names that I recognized. I don’t really know who most of these people are though. And I unfortunately I don’t seem to have a wide shot of the entire cemetery. (I either didn’t take one, or it was a casualty of the camera difficulties we had on that trip. We still had only film cameras with us at the time, so we had no way of knowing that half the shots weren’t coming out…but that’s another story.)

You can get a little bit of a sense of the way the cemetery looked from these pictures:

Irene Sali grave

Irene Sali grave

Palmira Pasquinelli grave

Palmira Pasquinelli grave

It’s a far cry from the look of most of the cemeteries (most of which are in Ohio) that I have visited:

Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2011 (Photo by the author)

Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2011 (Photo by the author)

Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio, 2013 (photo by the author)

Woodland Cemetery, Dayton, Ohio, 2013 (photo by the author)

St. John's Cemetery, Wheelersburg, Ohio, 2011 (photo by the author)

St. John’s Cemetery, Wheelersburg, Ohio, 2011 (photo by the author)

Carroll Cemetery, Olive Hill, Kentucky, 2004 (photo by the author)

Carroll Cemetery, Olive Hill, Kentucky, 2004 (photo by the author)

Ah, sweet, glorious Midwestern space.

So having seen how crowded that Italian cemetery was and knowing, well, anything at all about Europe and its population density, I probably should not have been so surprised (which would have lessened the disappointment, though that itself still seems valid) at what happened next.

I politely checked out the graves that they showed me (above), and then I asked about Antonio and Benedetta. Where were Parigina’s parents? I asked.

They responded that they’re not here…anymore.

Say again? Wait. So they were here…but they’re not anymore?

Looking back now, I’m not even 100% sure that we were all on the same page as to whether this particular couple I was looking for ever was buried in that particular cemetery, but however the conversation went, they understood who I was asking about and what I was asking to see — but the fact remained the same: We can’t take you to see where they’re buried, because they’re not buried there anymore.

I think then the gist was conveyed to me that you don’t keep a burial plot indefinitely in Italy. You basically rent it.

That much I got from my relatives in 2004. But my mother’s question to me two months ago was: Well, OK, so after your lease is up on your final resting place, then what happens? I told her I didn’t know. I guessed it might involve cremation of whatever was left, but I really didn’t know…

I have since acquired a couple of guide books on Italian genealogy: Italian Genealogical Records: How to Use Italian Civil, Ecclesiastical & Other Records in Family History Research (by Trafford Cole, 1995) and Finding Your Italian Roots: The Complete Guide for Americans, 2nd. ed. (by John Colletta, 2009). These books have been very helpful and informative.

Cole’s explanation (from pp. 115-116) is better than anything I could hope to paraphrase (and describes with pretty much eerie accuracy exactly my experience), so I’ll just give to you straight:

When going to Italy, many Americans mistakenly assume that they will find cemeteries in which their ancestors are buried; they hope to locate their ancestors’ gravestones with genealogical information engraved. In the United States and most of North America, cemeteries contain graves and gravestones that sometimes date back hundreds of years and have genealogical information for the people buried there. Unfortunately the same is not true in Italy. In most large towns and cities, a burial plot can be rented and a gravestone placed for ten, twenty, or thirty years. After this period of time the remains are exhumed and, if the family desires, placed in an urn and deposited more permanently in the wall of the cemetery. Otherwise, the remains are placed in a communal burial spot within the cemetery. In any case, the gravestone is removed and the burial plot is used for a new grave. Therefore, in most cities it is difficult to find a gravestone older than thirty years. This practice is due to the scarcity of land in Italy and the need to dedicate existing land to the living rather than to the dead.

In smaller villages there may be less demand for space and the grave may remain longer than thirty years, but rarely will you find graves that precede World War I… The exceptions are the noble families, whose members were often buried in family vaults in the floor or basement of the church, their names engraved in the marble flooring. Some families had private burial plots on their property. It is rarely possible to find the gravestone of an ancestor, and cemeteries are seldom helpful genealogical sources…

So, there you go. That’s the answer to the Italian cemetery question.

The book goes on to say that the records that will tell me where my ancestor Antonio was buried are likely to be found in parish records. But I will probably never know exactly the spot of ground in which he was interred, because I doubt the record will be that detailed, and…clearly…he won’t still be there.

Meanwhile, on a plot in St. Mary’s section (northeastern corner) of Greenlawn Cemetery in Portsmouth, Ohio, Antonio’s son Quinto rests soundly next to his wife Pia, in a piece of ground he has occupied for over 62 years (more than double the longest usual lease of a cemetery plot in his homeland):

Pia and Quinto Pasquinelli, Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2012 (photo by the author)

Pia and Quinto Pasquinelli, Greenlawn Cemetery, Portsmouth, Ohio, 2012 (photo by the author)

I’m sure that’s not particularly one of the reasons he came to America to stay, but it’s one of the things he got, just the same…

Now, I actually told you that story to tell you a different story—an exciting tale of atti di morti!—but that one will have to wait until next time.

Archivist’s View on Baby Milestone Photos

I’ve been seeing more and more of those “baby milestone” (or “baby month-by-month” or “baby growth-progress” or “hey look how much bigger I am!” or whatever you want to call them) photos, especially on Facebook, lately.

I’ve seen a lot of creative things that I would never have thought to do. (Seeing as I don’t have kids, it hasn’t come up, though I suppose some of them might have worked for my cats when they were kittens, had I thought of it…but alas, I think that ship has now sailed! Much to everyone’s disappointment, I’m sure.)

Anyway, I think these “watch me grow” baby photos are great, and I enjoy seeing them. But as an archivist and family historian, I happened to notice that most of them don’t always seem to include some really obvious basic information that I would really like to see on them: name, date, and age.

I was particularly baffled by the missing names and dates, especially if a photo included a lot of other information written on a little sign or chalkboard (love the chalkboard idea!), such as: weight, length, likes & dislikes, cool new tricks, etc. Although, some of them don’t have much writing at all—just a sticker on baby’s chest or back with the number or months or just a stuffed animal for scale (with the months indicated somewhere in a text description rather than in the photo itself).

I talked to some mom friends about this — in the course of asking them if I could use their baby’s photos for this blog post (we’ll get to that in a minute — didn’t want to completely lose your attention by putting all the cute baby photos at the top) — and I did get some enlightening answers:

Some of them plan to put all of the baby photos into a photo book (say “the first year”), which obviously would have baby’s name and info printed in it, but just not in the photo images themselves. Definitely a cool idea.

Someone else mentioned that some moms don’t like to put their baby’s name out there on the Internet. OK, I get that. I can see how that kind of thing might lead to “creepers” or even identity thieves.

But if I’m looking through your random box of photos (or, God willing, a drive full of your digital photos) 50 years from now, and all I have are these original images without any explanation, what I would love to find is: a name (even just a first name), date of the photo (including year), and the age captured in the image itself. That would be awesome. As an archivist or family historian, that would go a long way towards making sure that I was able to identify this baby — especially if, as we’ll see in the example photos below, you have more than one baby and they bear a strong resemblance to one another!

OK, that’s all I’m going to say about it, because I certainly don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing anyone. I am thrilled with all of you who are making this effort to take the month-by-month (or whatever you call them) baby pics! And thank you for sharing them — both on Facebook in general and (more specifically) for this blog. But it was just something that struck me as interesting, and I thought maybe some of you hadn’t thought about the 50-years-from-now-unlabeled-photo-in-a-box thing yet. (After all, I’m sure a lot of you are kind of sleep-deprived, particularly in the beginning, and busy all the time! All the more reason I applaud you for taking the time to do these cute photos!)

So now, I’ll get to what everyone actually came here to see—-the baby pics. (To reduce any creeper danger, I’m only using the mommies’ first names! Thanks again, moms!)

The two photos below are of Gina’s babies use the “stuffed animal for scale” technique but no writing in the photograph itself. She makes a photo book for each child. (I love how the stuffed animal starts out so much bigger than the baby and then shrinks…oh wait. Haha!)

Gina's Baby #1

Gina’s Baby #1

Gina's Baby #2

Gina’s Baby #2

Sarah’s been using two techniques: both the stuffed-animal-for-scale, as well as the chalkboard method. I love that she has the date and all those other little details on her chalkboard. She also said she was making a photo book.

Sarah's baby, stuffed animal

Sarah’s baby, stuffed animal

Sarah's baby, chalkboard photo

Sarah’s baby, chalkboard photo

Beth B. is also using a chalkboard — a really cute chalkboard at that!

Beth B.'s baby

Beth B.’s baby

Beth P. made a sign—and she included the date, with year! Hooray!

Beth P.'s baby

Beth P.’s baby

Mollie has been doing monthly photo comparisons between her two babies — putting the current monthly photo for the younger one next to the same monthly photo from the older one. Love it! And wow do they look alike!

Mollie's babies

Mollie’s babies

One more thing— In the course of attempting find information on the Internet about these baby-growth-photos, I found this article/post with some more cute baby-growth-photo ideas (some of which I haven’t seen my friends doing) and this one about baby time-lapse videos (which are a bit of a different thing but the goal is similar).

Special thanks to Gina, Beth B., Beth P., Mollie, and Sarah for letting me use your babies’ photos to help illustrate this post! Couldn’t have done it without you — well, maybe I could have, but it wouldn’t have been filled with cute.

Awkward Adventures in Digital Forensics

So, this happened at work yesterday:

Awkward Seal meets Digital Forensics

Awkward Seal meets Digital Forensics

Yep, that happened.

I should probably back up:

Libraries and archives have been long familiar with all manner of ways to handle, preserve, provide access to, and generally “deal with” paper- (and film-) based materials (letters, diaries, newspapers, photographs, microfilm, etc.)—-you know, the stuff you can hold IN YOUR HANDS and see what it is—-and even, to a reasonable extent stuff you can’t see what it is just by looking at it (audio/video tapes?).

And then there’s all this “new” digital stuff. I say “new” in quotation marks because, hey, it’s really not THAT new. But it’s a lot newer than, say, paper. But it’s new enough. New enough that for many years, archivists have been sort of…shall we just say, not dealing with it quite to the extent that one might have hoped?

Digital stuff — floppy disks, CDs, DVDs, USB flash drives, hard drives, etc. (not to mention your online life, like webmail and social media) — actually takes a lot more coddling than the paper stuff. Did you ever go up to your grandmother’s attic or your father’s garage and stumble onto a box of neat paper stuff from like 50+ years ago? And you rummaged through it, awed by all the neat things you either never saw before or had completely forgotten about?  Who hasn’t done that, right?

Well, if in 50 years, you stumble onto a box of today’s records, you might be out of luck because there’s a good chance those records will be stored on some type of digital media. Yep, imagine you just found a box of CDs, or better yet floppy disks. Imagine a box of floppy disks in 50 years. You have enough trouble finding the drive you need to read those NOW, am I right?

USB floppy disk drive

USB floppy disk drives are about $15 on Amazon – if you have floppies, get one and start your migration now, while you still can!

OK, so digital media present a variety of challenges to archivists. It’s actually pretty fragile (keep away from light, heat, and in some cases magnets); it’s dependent on technology/hardware to read it (not just your eyes or a magnifying glass); and it can’t survive by accident like a box of papers could. And those are just some of the problems of keeping the data “alive.” Not to mention figuring out how to arrange and describe the files or to provide access to them.

(Here’s a tip: Writing the equivalent of “oh there’s also 1 floppy disk” somewhere in your finding aid probably isn’t going to be super helpful. What’s on it? Do you even know? Can you trust the label—if there even is one? And if it’s on floppy disk, how are you going to let patrons use it? Do you have a floppy disk drive available? And how are you going to make sure that nobody accidentally overwrites the data? Oh and what if the floppy disk spontaneously stops working at some point — or already has — and who hasn’t experienced that?—no comments from those of you too young to even remember floppy disks!— Man those transparent neon ones were the worst for failing at inopportune times—probably due to light damage, I know now!)

OK so there are all these…problems. And a lot of archives have been sort of sweeping this problem under the rug for a while now. Well, the research about how to deal with these problems seems to have been growing rather exponentially over the past several years, and so a lot of us are finally getting our digital act together and attempting to figure out what to do…including the archives where I work.

My co-worker Toni (as the preservation archivist) and I (as the digital initiatives archivist) have been charged with learning how to handle our collections’ digital preservation needs. We’ve been attending “digital preservation” and “electronic records” workshops (SAA’s Digital Forensics for Archivists 2-day workshop was fantastic); reading up on all sorts of things (highly recommend OCLC’s Demystifying Born Digital Reports as a starting point for anyone interested in this topic- they’re simple & to the point, but great); and downloading & experimenting (on test data sets/disks only) with free & trial software (such as FTK Imager). We have learned about using write-blockers and creating disk images to capture the entire contents of a piece of media without inadvertently changing it or missing anything.

Which brings us to what happened yesterday—and another lesson in digital stuff (and this lesson is for everyone, not just archivists).

So we were experimenting with FTK Imager yesterday afternoon, and we popped in a floppy disk I had brought from home. It had a blank adhesive label on it (on which I later wrote my name once I discovered the contents), and we had used Windows Explorer to drag/drop two boring Microsoft Office documents onto it so we were sure there would be something to image.

Here’s what the contents of that floppy disk looked like to Microsoft Windows (2 files):

Floppy disk contents viewed in Windows Explorer

Floppy disk contents viewed in Windows Explorer

Then, we used FTK Imager to create a disk image, capturing ALLLLLLLL of the contents of that disk——including remnants of any deleted files that were never overwritten. That’s right, I said deleted files.

So when we looked at the disk contents in FTK Imager, here’s what we saw (and that’s about the time my jaw dropped and I started with the nervous “omigod-blast-from-the-past-in-a-bad-way” laughter as Toni looked over my shoulder probably wondering if I had gone mad):

Floppy disk contents viewed in FTK Imager

Floppy disk contents viewed in FTK Imager

Um yeah, that’s more than the 2 files I was expecting. Apparently, this was a disk that I DID use…in 2002…and still had lying around. I recognized (and was immediately mortified by the presence of) a diary entry from an ex-boyfriend, nor was I thrilled about what those chat logs from AOL Instant Messenger (hey remember that?) might contain. I also recognized other innocuous MS Office documents: Excel files containing lists of all my classes & grades, Word documents with translations for Latin class (such as the copy of Tacitus’s Annales you can see selected in the image—notice that you can see the hex as well as the text in the window underneath), and other things that looked like school stuff. (We actually exported and opened some of these files I deemed definitely-not-embarrassing. — Oh, and I have since, in the privacy of my own home, looked at that diary entry and the chat logs—-all totally harmless, but who doesn’t have things from sophomore year of college that they’d rather not revisit in front of co-workers?)

We actually were able to learn some things during this experiment, some of which actually pertained to what we were trying to do, but the most salient of these lessons (for me at least) was this:

The IT folks are not just making things up when they tell you that your files are not really gone simply because you hit delete and you cannot “see” them in your operating system anymore. The data is still there unless it is overwritten.

All you did was delete the pointer to that data, cluing your drive in that it can reuse that space if it wants to. If you tore the index pages out of the back of a book, does the content of the book cease to exist? Nope. Sort of like that. If you are interested in a technical explanation of what’s going on when you delete files and why they’re not really gone, I highly recommend this blog post: How-To Geek Explains: Why Deleted Files Can Be Recovered and How You Can Prevent It.

But the bottom line is that when you delete a file, it’s not really gone. I knew this. I KNEW this. But knowing it on the level of “I read it in a book and I’ve heard knowledgeable people say it also,” and knowing it on the level of “omigod I just saw the proof” are not the same. (This must be why they make you do lab experiments in chem class…)

And omigod I just saw the proof. And that was WAY. TOO. EASY.

So. HTG (How-To Geek) suggests some ways to actually truly erase data if/when you need to. But personally, if I had something I wanted to never see the light of…well, a screen…again EVER, then I would only be satisfied with the physical destruction of the media (better copy anything you actually DO want onto a new drive first though). So, to conclude, for your viewing enjoyment, here are some YouTube videos of people physically destroying data on:

…hard drives (you’re going to need a hammer to bust up the platters inside)…

…floppy disks (some of the videos just crinkled them but I wouldn’t trust anything that doesn’t involve cutting up that magnetic disk)…

…and CDs (oh there are tons for this one—who hasn’t tried the microwave one? the melting one is fun—and of course there’s always just breaking it—but one guy even claims to have 101 ways)…

OK, that’s enough fun for now. Hopefully I was able to turn this slightly embarrassing work story into a teachable moment! And yes, I have taken that disk home with me and it will be getting destroyed…

Carry on, folks, and listen to your IT guys!

Job #1 for Your New Camera: Set the Date

The high school graduation I’m about to show you took place on May 26, 2001:

High school graduation, May 2001

High school graduation, May 2001

But you wouldn’t know it from the date on this photograph taken by my grandfather. That printed date is “12-26-1997″:

Date printed on back of photo: Dec. 26, 1997

Date printed on back of the above photo: Dec. 26, 1997

And yes, I’m absolutely positive that event took place  2001. I was there. That’s me, giving the speech. I have a diploma, yearbook, diary entries, and news clippings—not to mention dozens of other photographs—that prove the date was in fact May 26, 2001.

So what gives?  It can’t be the date that the film was processed, because then wouldn’t that date be May 26, 2001, or later? Not 4 years earlier. Unless my grandpa had a time machine nobody knew about. (Wouldn’t that be a fun thing to see in a will? And to my granddaughter, I leave my time machine… But I digress…)

So the date printed on the back of the photograph must be the internal date that was set on the camera. This was a film camera, but it was one of those Kodak Advantix models, with the weird film canisters—

Kodak Advantix film canister

Kodak Advantix film canister — yes, after processing it’s still in its little canister. As an archivist, I’m like, “Oh great, how the crap am I supposed to store this?” Let alone use the negatives. But that’s a different issue from today’s post.)

—and the weird-sized prints and, apparently, the ability to print the “actual” date that the photo was taken on the back of the prints (and on the index print), not just the date of processing.

That is completely commonplace now, to have the actual photo date printed on the backs of your pictures, because today we all mostly use digital photography, and the date is embedded in the image file’s metadata already, so it’s easy for the computers processing your digital photos to print that info on the back. I’m not sure how the Advantix process worked, but it seems like printing the actual date-taken would have been a relatively sophisticated thing for a film-based system to actually accomplish.

Anyhow… Back to the point, though:   Printing the actual photo date-taken on the back of the prints is all well and good, FANTASTIC EVEN…but only if that date is actually CORRECT.

As an archivist, I almost think I would rather have NO DATE AT ALL on the backs of photographs, than to have a date that is completely wrong. Granted, I suppose having that date there lets me know that this photo was taken no earlier than the date printed on the back, because that’s got to be either the processing date, the date taken, or (in this case) a date that is sometime after the manufacturing date of the camera.

But which is it?

If I didn’t know that photograph was taken in 2001 (because I was there)… If I didn’t recognize the family members (and their approximate ages—especially my younger cousins) in the other photographs shown on the index print (or if you’re lucky, contained in the envelope – but these were all just loose)… If I was completely oblivious to who any of these people were…so, if I were just looking at this pile of photographs like most archivists would do with the masses of piles of photo prints that people seem to have from the 1980s to present…

I might have just slapped them into a folder for 1997 and called it a day, thinking that must be either the processing date or date-taken. But that would have been inaccurate. I know these things happen, but it’s hard to ignore dates printed on photos, even when you KNOW from experience that they can be inaccurate for a variety of reasons (wrong camera date, later reprints from an earlier negative, etc.)

So, here’s my charge to you, and by you, I mean everyone in the world who owns any kind of a camera or anything with a camera in it (cell phone?):

Job #1 when you get that equipment out of the box is to figure out where the thing keeps its time and date settings, and make sure they are set correctly. (If you can’t power the thing up until you insert a charged battery, then charging the battery up may be Job #1….But then this date thing is Job #2!)  Not taking a picture of your dog, your cat, your baby (unless your baby is being born like RIGHT THEN, in that case I give you a pass- but that just means you’ll need to diligently correct all the dates later!), your spouse, your plants, or whatever else is around that you are itching to snap that first photo of. Take the extra 2 minutes and figure out how to set the correct date and time on the camera, and actually do it.

And while you’re looking at the manual (if you’re looking at the manual), see if it mentions whether you will need to re-set the date when you replace the batteries. Digital cameras today don’t seem to have that problem; they must have a little ROM chip or something; but I think this may have been the case with some film cameras (like this one my Grandpa had). So just take a few seconds and double-check that.

And while we’re on the subject of dates: I don’t recommend letting the camera print the date on the corner (especially if it’s not correct, oh god! but you’re going to be good and set the date so you won’t have that problem, right?). As someone who loves photos, I think it ruins the picture a bit. I used to love this back when I had a regular film camera, because the date didn’t print on the back; printing it on the front was the only way to have it printed on your picture. But there’s no excuse for that now, since like I said the date-taken is in the digital photo metadata and usually is printed on the back automatically by various photo printing companies (e.g., Shutterfly does this, I know).

Okay, enough scolding. But please, please, set the date on your camera as soon as you get it out of the box. I know it’s an exciting time, and your first thought is probably not the boring task of setting the date but instead to start snapping pictures. But trust me, if you take that extra 2 minutes immediately to set the date and time, you will thank me later. And so will your children, your grandchildren, and your friendly neighborhood archivist.

Remember me

I tried to login to this blog today, and evidently I could not remember my correct password. I had to do the “lost password” email recovery thing. Lame. Embarrassing. Though having only written 1 post here in more than 6 months, why should I be surprised that I forgot how to so much as sign in?

Last Fall was very busy and stressful, and then I guess I just lost momentum. Not to mention that as my current position includes blog-writing, I get a little blogged out at work. Plus most of my good ideas usually did come from work, and now I have a work-affiliated outlet to release those…finds.

I want to come back here, though. I have all the good intentions. I have a list of ideas. But when push comes to shove, I’ve been curling up on the couch with a book and a cat (yes, I have cats now!) or hanging out with my sewing machine (yes, I sew now- quilts!) instead of curling up with my blog (there’s an image).

A few minutes ago, when I was reviewing my post list and bumming hard at how few entries there have been in the past 18 months (gee, I wonder what that coincides with)—Is it really possible that I’ve written 196 posts here? How did that happen?—one of them caught my eye. Actually it wasn’t the post title—“Career Reflections” (Oct. 26, 2012) that caught my eye, it was one of the tags I gave it: “area of destiny.”

Huh?   I vaguely recalled that there was a quotation somewhere that included that phrase; that I must have used it in the entry. And then I was curious, so I thought, Ah hell, and read through the whole thing. It’s funny to read things you’ve written so long ago that you forgot them; it’s almost like reading something written by another person, yet you know it was yourself. But I digress…

I spent a lot of time in the “Career Reflections” post waxing philosophical about how 2012 was the “Year of Big Things” in my career and basically how it all led to this (although I don’t necessarily say that explicitly), with the “this” being my current position as Archivist for Digital Initiatives & Outreach at Wright State University Special Collections & Archives, which I started in November 2012.

I couldn’t help reading parts of it with a bit of extra pessimism (or maybe more of my normal amount of pessimism because let’s face it, that’s a pretty perky entry).

I was particularly amused at this part:

…whatever you’re doing, assuming you have the ability needed for the task, you have total control over how well you do it. Some people have a tendency to do the minimum required. Perhaps because they are just lazy, are happy where they are career-wise and maybe hard work isn’t properly rewarded anyway, or just don’t realize that it’s going to matter to a potential future employer.

In my case, it just seems to be in my nature to not half-ass things. I just have this tendency to work hard and want things done right. (I realize I sound like a pompous asshole right now. Forewarning, it’s probably only going to get worse in the next few sentences.) It’s always been this way. In grade school, I remember getting a “C” on a minor homework paper once, and I cried. I’ve had college professors tell me that they would put my paper on top, grade it first, and use it as a sort of yardstick for the others. (I’m not joking.) I think sometimes I do a lot more work than I need to, but I like feeling satisfied with myself that I’ve done a good job and that I’ve done my best. And if sometimes that happens to have resulted in more work than what was strictly required, then so be it.

You’re probably wondering which part of that I thought was funny. No, I’m not laughing at myself for sounding like such a pompous asshole. That part’s all true, and I realized it at the time.

I suppose it’s mainly the part about “you have total control over how well you do it.”

Now before I explain that, I’m going to tell you this:  My husband the electrical engineer does a lot of project management. A lot. And sometimes I have to hear him talk about it, just as he has to hear me talk about history and archives (it’s only fair). Obviously, most of what he says goes in one ear and out the other, because it’s not particularly interesting to me, or I don’t understand it (again, he could probably say the same about what I tell him, we both know this).

But here’s one thing he’s told me before that I actually remember—and apparently it’s an actual project management “thing” because dear god, I just Googled it, and it came right up (no, I didn’t actually think my husband invented it but I didn’t think it would be that easy to Google):

You can have cost, schedule, or quality. Pick two.

Cost & schedule: You can have it done cheap and fast, but quality’s going to suffer.
Schedule & quality: You can have it done fast & well, but damn it’s going to cost you.
Cost & quality: You can have it done more cheaply, though still of good quality, but it’s going to take longer.

Now, back to that thing I said: “you have total control over how well you do it.” If I had qualified that with something along the lines of “given the constraints of time and other resources,” then maybe I wouldn’t be shaking my head at 2012 myself. Then maybe it would have been an accurate statement.

When it comes to human labor (i.e. something that doesn’t really have a cost in supplies, just work) in a position of a given annual salary, the cost part is pretty much set. I cost the same, no matter what. So what it comes down to is schedule or quality. And actually, I think quantity figures into this somehow, but I’m just not sure where. (I suppose that’s the “scope” part mentioned in that Project Management Triangle from Wikipedia, but it didn’t figure into the particular version of this that I always hear my husband saying.)

If there are X amount of things I’m required to do (scope) in Y amount of time (schedule), I can do them all a little bit, and I might even get them all “done,” but none of them are going to be done as well as I’d like (suffering quality). Or, I can do a portion of X well/properly, and the rest are either half-assed (in my opinion, though perhaps not in someone else’s) or fumbled entirely.

So when cost is basically fixed, making it essentially a non-variable (you can’t get more help); and everything is “important”; and half-assing “important” stuff just to get it all done is basically a soul-crushing violation of who you are, what’s an over-achiever to do?

I’m actually asking you. Wise words welcome. Because for someone who prides themselves on a job well done, a million jobs not-done-well-enough doesn’t feel good.

Because all I can think of is: Fetch me a goddamned Time-Turner.

Recalling the Great Snow of ’94

It’s hard to believe that events I remember from my childhood are already reaching the “20 years ago” mark, but it’s true. And one of the biggest large-scale  (and by that, I mean, not specific to myself or my family) memories I have from childhood is what I’ve always thought of as “the Great Snow of ’94.”

That was 20 years ago this weekend. I’ve always remembered that it was the Martin Luther King, Jr., Day holiday weekend. I was 11 years old and in the fifth grade. We all knew when we left school on Friday that we were in for a holiday (MLK Monday is a holiday most places), but little did we know that a blizzard was about to turn our 3-day weekend into a 2-week vacation!

Great Snow of '94 #5

That’s me sitting on a swing in our back yard during the Great Snow of ’94. As an archivist, I cringe at the thought/speech bubble sticker, but I also know that somewhere at my parents’ house, the negative for this picture is safe (and unmarred) in a cabinet, waiting for me to scan it someday.

Great Snow of '94 #1

A portion of our back yard (that’s a trampoline, the net of which was at least 2 feet off the ground), during the Great Snow of ’94.

As I did not remember to research this at the local library when I was home for Christmas (which is really too bad, since I was there over a week and had plenty of time to do so!)   And I really wanted to include some true historical details about the storm, rather than just my own recollections.

I have had little luck finding information about this snowstorm on the Internet, at least not specifically pertaining to my hometown of Portsmouth, Ohio (on the Ohio River). I have found several links to information about northern Ohio and Louisville, KY (to which I will link at the end). I was just about to give up, when I finally came across Thunder in the Heartland on Google Books. (I knew of this book, and I even own a copy, but unfortunately it’s packed away somewhere.) Thomas Schmidlin’s Thunder in the Heartland: A Chronicle of Outstanding Weather Events in Ohio (Kent State University Press, 1996) is a fantastic source if you want a short overview of any remotely notable weather event from Ohio’s history. And that’s just what I needed!  (I was beginning to fear that my memory of “about 2 feet of snow” was a figment of my imagination until I found Schmidlin’s description.)

Here’s an excerpt of what Schmidlin had to say about (what I call) the Great Snow of ’94 (from pages 76-77):

January 1994 was an “old-fashioned” winter month in the upper Ohio Valley, with two exceptionally deep snowfalls followed by record cold on 19 January. Snowfall on Tuesday, 4 January totaled twelve to twenty inches from Marietta to Steubenville…

A greater snowfall arrived on Monday 17 January. This storm left six to ten inches across nearly all of Ohio but, again, the deepest snow was along the Ohio River. Portsmouth received twenty inches of snow, and thirty inches was reported at Lucasville. Twenty-two to twenty-four inches fell in Adams County, with fifteen inches reported in Piketon and Jackson. Snowfall intensities of five inches an hour were measured at Chillicothe.

Highways were closed Monday by deep drifts and abandoned cars in extreme southern Ohio. Nine south-central counties declared snow emergencies Monday morning, banning all but emergency travel and essentially shutting down the region. Temperatuers were cold, so the snow did [p. 77] not stick to trees and there was no widespread disruption of phone and electric service. Businesses assisted residents who could not get out in the deep snow. The pharmacy at Kroger’s in Portsmouth delivered medicine to customers who were unable to travel, according to the Portsmouth Daily Times. Southern Ohio Medical Center [the hospital in Portsmouth] employees were picked up and delivered to the hospital in four-wheel-drive trucks and rescue squads.

Major roads were reopened Tuesday, but rural highways of southern Ohio were blocked and families remained snowbound. The effort to clear side roads continued into Wednesday. Schools were scheduled to be closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day and remained shut all week in southeastern counties by the deep snow and temperatures below -25 degrees…

Snowfall during January totaled 45.5 inches at Newport and 33.3 inches at Marietta. These were among the heaviest snowfalls ever recorded in Ohio outside the Lake Erie snowbelt. At the Parkersburg Airport, five miles south of Marietta, snowfall totaled 40 inches during January 1994. This was a record for any month, exceeding the old record of 35 inches in November 1950. The January snowfall was more than had fallen in the entire past two winters combined in southeastern Ohio.

Wow, after all that detail, the comparatively small amount that my 11-year-old brain saw fit to commit to permanence seems pretty weak. Nevertheless, here are my recollections (and some photos, throughout this entry, which I was thrilled to realize I had on hand at my house, rather than being inaccessible—and possibly difficult to locate—at my parents’ house):

We actually lived in Minford, Ohio, a smaller rural town outside of Portsmouth; it was closer to Lucasville (7 miles away, mentioned in the excerpt as having 30 inches of snow!) than Portsmouth (14 miles away).

I remember that there seemed to be about 2 feet of snow (which is substantiated by the above excerpt); it was over my knees (as illustrated in the included photos!). I remember that simply walking through the snow (which was no easy feat) left these trailing paths like you were in some sort of a maze, because the snow was so high it almost felt like maze walls (maybe I made this association because I always loved doing mazes in those activity books when I was a kid).

Great Snow of '94 #7

As you can see, the snow was over my knees. I was 11. We had about 2 feet of snow in Minford, Ohio.

Great Snow of '94 #6

My younger sister, then 9 years old, wading through the snow.

When I asked Mom what she remembered about the snowstorms, those paths were the thing that stuck out in her mind, because my youngest sister was only 4 at the time, and following us in the paths we made was the only way she could get through the snow at all!

Great Snow of '94 #4

My youngest sister, age 4, diving into a snow drift.

Another snippet that Mom remembered was how concerned we were about our pet rabbit, a Californian bunny named Pretty (seriously) who lived in a pen (which I think had a wooden house part also) in the backyard. Dad was worried, so he went (er, waded) out to the rabbit house, expecting to find a dead rabbit, but when he finally unburied enough of the thing to see inside, she was just fine in there; the deep snow had created a sort of igloo!

When I read in that excerpt (above) that there were NOT widespread power outages from heavy snow and ice causing downed trees to break the lines, I realized that this was not something I had ever thought about before with relation to that particular snowstorm. I suppose if we HAD experienced a power outage, I would have remembered, as school was out for….two weeks, I think…and that would have been a long damn time to be without electricity when the temperatures were so cold. We had a gas furnace, but if the electric blower isn’t working, it’s still not much use; my parents do have 1 fireplace in the part of the house that we were living in at the time—it was still a work in progress—but I don’t recall if the fireplace itself was installed and working yet! A power outage certainly would have been a disaster in that storm!

Great Snow of '94 #3

Well it looks like there was plenty of snow on the trees in this picture of our back field, and yes, I’m fairly certain it was from the same storm. But yay for no downed power lines!

We did eventually want to go to the grocery store—and this is the only other particularly vivid memory I have from that storm—but the driveway, like everything else, was covered in 2 feet of snow. I remember my father plowing the driveway with the front-loader on his tractor. (I am thrilled to have a photo of this, which appears to have been taken by my aunt, who lived next-door, as I can see the metal porch supports from their house in the shot.)

Great Snow of '94 #8

Dad plowing the driveway with his tractor—my favorite photo of this event!

Great Snow of '94 #2

Believe it or not, there is a Dodge Caravan (left) and a Toyota Corolla (right) under all that snow.

Eventually, once the driveway—and the car—was cleared off, I remember getting into my Dad’s old Toyota Corolla and puttering down the highway to the local grocery store (about 1 mile away), only to (if I recall correctly) find that it was still closed due to the snow—I guess the employees couldn’t get there. So much for bread and milk!

I asked my husband what he remembered about the snowstorm, as he was also an 11-year-old in southern Ohio at the time—he actually lived in Lucasville. He seems to recall that he was at the local Boy Scout camp, Camp Oyo, that weekend for a winter camp-out (now known as Okpik, though he says they weren’t calling them that at the time). They were scheduled to go home on Sunday, and they actually did so, although they briefly considered staying another day…which would have had them stranded, as the majority of the snow fell on Monday. Thank goodness they went home when they did!   He said he remembers sticking a yard stick into the snow at their house in Lucasville and measuring almost 3 feet of snow (which again meshes with what the book said).

Pitiful selection of relevant items I found online:

What are your memories of the Great Snow of ’94?  I’d love to hear them! (Please include at least an approximation of where you lived at the time, since geography is important here.)

Revisiting old friends in the Archives

I got to revisit some “old friends” in the Archives at work today. These were old friends from the Dayton Metro Library, but they found me at my new job as an archivist at Wright State.

They weren’t living people or current friends; not really friends at all, if I’m being honest. But in a way, they felt like friends at the time, so I consider them that, still.

I’m talking about (long-dead) people whose papers I arranged & described. People who never knew me; who might not have even liked me (or I them) if we’d known each other in real life; but whom I hold in a special regard since I handled, (to some extent) read, and lovingly organized some of their most personal thoughts, little pieces of themselves committed preserved paper, and thereby history.

The first of the day today was David W. Schaeffer (whom you can learn more about in this biographical sketch I wrote about him in July 2012). A researcher, and relative of his, came to visit us today in the Archives from the Los Angeles area. She had found my blog post about him (the one linked above) last year, and we emailed back and forth a bit. I’m not sure how much help I could be, since basically all that I knew, I had poured into the biographical sketch already. But she wanted to meet me and see what we might have at the Wright State Archives that could help her during her research trip to Ohio. We talked about a few things, and I think she told me more about David than what I told her—for instance, that his middle name was Winters. The Schaeffers and Winters families were both early settlers of Germantown, so there seems to have been some connection there. After she left WSU, I believe she was on her way to Germantown. I’m not sure if that was the plan before she stopped in to see me, but I told her she really needed to check it out before she left the area (tomorrow being her last day in Ohio, she said). If nothing else, it would be a nice drive to Germantown at this time of year… (She had already visited the Dayton Metro Library and looked at David’s papers there.)

The second “old friend” that I ran into today at work was Horton Howard (read my biographical sketch of him from Aug 2012 on this blog), an early Quaker settler of Ohio—and sometimes doctor—whose daughter Sarah was married to Dayton canal engineer Samuel Forrer; all of these people (and many others) have papers in the Forrer-Peirce-Wood Collection at Dayton Metro Library, which I processed in 2011-2012.

Anyway. I ran into Horton while hunting around one of our storage locations for some Sanborn Maps. I did eventually find the map books, and nearby was part of our collection of rare medical books. A large book with the name “Howard” stamped on the spine caught my eye:

Howard's rare medical books at Wright State University Special Collections & Archives

Howard’s rare medical books at Wright State University Special Collections & Archives

And I thought, Oh that can’t be the same guy; that has to be a really common name, and I’m sure any number of “Howard”s have written medical books. Then I saw the book right next to it—about botanic medicine—and, recognizing it was a subject that Horton had in fact studied and written about, I pulled it off the shelf to look.

Sure enough, the title page said Horton Howard:

Horton Howard's Botanic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

Horton Howard’s Botanic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

So I checked the other one. Yep, Horton Howard:

Horton Howard's Domestic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

Horton Howard’s Domestic Medicine, at Wright State Archives

The publication dates through me for just a minute, knowing as I did that Horton died during the 1833 cholera epidemic in Columbus (as did his wife, a daughter, a son-in-law, and 2 grandchildren). But it turned out these were just reprints. One of them (I forget which one, sorry!) was like the seventh printing since 1832.

Now, I wasn’t QUITE as giddy about these finds as I might have been, since I had found the full text of the botanic medicine book online already and gleaned what I wanted to from it—-mostly from the fantastic preface that gives tons of info [block-quotes in the blog post] about Horton’s early life and medical knowledge (most of which was self-taught). But it was still pretty darn cool to see real life, 3-D copies of the works, complete with old school leather covers (which were in much better condition than I would have expected for 150+ year old books), hold them in my hands, and, I don’t know…..just remember good old Horton.

Just as an aside… I could visit Horton Howard and his family in one collection at the Wright State Archives anytime, but I already knew about that so it wasn’t a surprise: There are a few letters from Horton, his daughters Sarah and Mary, and a few other related people, in the Dustin/Dana Papers (MS-207). I have so far refused myself the indulgence of sitting down with them and just reading them all (even though there are only 10- just goes to show how busy I am)…but maybe one of these days! I’ve read so many pieces of that family’s story; it’s like found treasure when I stumble across pieces I didn’t even know where “missing” and are now found…

So, that’s my story for today. Hope you enjoyed it. Just goes to show, you never know when history will find you.