They all add up

Hope that you spend your days but they all add up.  -One Republic, “I Lived”

I heard this song on the radio on the way to work this morning. Usually when I hear it, I think of my grandfather, because it seemed to be getting very popular on the radio around the time he died, just before Thanksgiving last year.

This morning, I was already thinking about Howard Forrer — yes, my favorite Civil War soldier.

There are certain dates that stick with me — the ones that are important enough to remember “there’s something about today” but not quite important enough that you are consciously aware of them before they arrive (like a loved one’s birthday or your anniversary or Christmas). The birthdays of my high school friends are like that. Or the anniversary of the day I graduated from college (the first time).

July 22nd is like that.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while (like 3+ years), you’ll probably remember Howard Forrer. If not, you can read about him here or  read a longer story version here in some entries from 2012.

Howard died July 22, 1864, in the Battle of Decatur, Georgia. He was a 23-year-old unmarried adjutant in the 63rd Ohio. Before he enlisted, he was a young teacher in Dayton, Ohio.

Sometimes I wonder what these long-dead people would think about my (our?) remembering them, researching them, spending any time thinking about them at all. Would they be pleased that anyone remembers them or thinks them worth remembering? Would they be annoyed (or worse angry) at our putting their lives under a microscope? Would they think we’re crazy for wasting our time — our lives, which we still have time to live — recalling theirs?

Would Howard think, Oh it’s nice that you find me so fascinating. I appreciate being remembered. I didn’t have any children, so I’m humbly pleased anyone even remembers my name.

Or would he think, What are you doing? I only got 23 years! All the things I didn’t do? You could do them! What are you doing thinking about me? I’m dead. Go out and do all the things!

(If I’d had access to more of his own writings, I might have some sense of the answer, but I didn’t…so…)

I like to think that people who in life had an interest in history themselves might “get it” — but obviously not every person a historian might research would have cared about such things.

I recently read the following lines in a novel (Rapture by Lauren Kate):

The past is important for all the information and wisdom it holds. But you can get lost in it. You’ve got to learn to keep the knowledge of the past with you as you pursue the present.

You’d think someone who gave the whole “carpe diem” spiel in her high school valedictorian speech might actually internalize the sentiment and not just understand the Latin.

But you’re also talking about the same girl who named her blog “Glancing Backwards” and remembers a certain Civil War soldier every year on the day of his death (and will remember him again in November on the day he was finally laid to rest in his hometown).

It’s hard not to get lost in things, especially when you really want to.

That Odd Stone Church

I haven’t written here in months, and I’m sorry for that. Any completely truthful explanation I could give you is going to be a long story and, to be perfectly honest, one I probably shouldn’t tell here. But I’d like to be back.

However, when I’ve tried to think about writing some great “comeback” post to get back on track, it doesn’t happen. So I thought maybe I’d start with something small. Just an interesting snippet of history that I was reminded of earlier today.

My friend Collette and I attended a home and garden tour in one of Dayton’s historic neighborhoods, Grafton Hill, this afternoon. I really enjoyed it — such beautifully restored historic homes and carefully tended gardens. I even love seeing the neighborhood homes that aren’t actually “on” the tour and maybe still need some TLC.

I was delighted to see that at least two of the homes on the tour had proudly displayed binders containing their house histories, researched and written by a friend and fellow local historian, Betsy Wilson. (I was totally hogging the “history tables” at these homes. I knew Betsy must do good work, but I’d never actually seen one of her house histories. That. Was. Awesome.)

Anyway. At one of the stops, I overheard one tour-goer talking to a homeowner about the neighborhood with regards to Dayton’s Great Flood of 1913 — or, okay, we usually just call it “the 1913 flood.” But in all seriousness, it was a big deal. If you want to know more about the flood itself, I’m going to shamelessly direct you to a variety of posts we wrote about the 1913 flood on the blog at the archive where I work (several of which were indeed written by yours truly), but honestly for a quick and dirty summary, just see Wikipedia.

But so anyway, this gentleman was talking about a church just down the street, and that he had seen a picture of people getting out of rescue boats at the edge of the church. This was included as evidence supporting the statement that no, the neighborhood was not flooded because it was on high ground, as demonstrated by this photo that people were getting OUT of rescue boats at the edge of the neighborhood, at that church. I swear I wasn’t “eavesdropping,” per se, but it was pretty hard for my ears not to perk up at the mention of the 1913 flood…or, ok, anything history-related, really.

But this in particular caught my attention because I knew exactly what photo the man was describing.

A few years ago (May 2011), I made geo-tagged maps of all the 1913 flood photographs and postcards in the collections of the Dayton Metro Library, where I used to work. I am saddened to see that those maps no longer seem to exist on the site “GeoSlideshow.” But in any event, in making that map—and trying to figure out where all the photos were taken, so I could “drop” them at the appropriate spot on the map,…well, let’s just say I stared at some of those photos for a long time.

He was talking about this:

“Rescue Boats.” Caption from the back: “Depth of water at that odd stone church, Grand Avenue.” 1913 Flood Postcard #206 (image identifier flp_206a1), courtesy of Dayton Metro Library digital collections (also on Flickr).

I love it when that happens. When somebody mentions something off the cuff about Dayton’s history and it’s like being reminded of an old friend.

(Note that the caption from the back of the original postcard said: “Depth of water at that odd stone church, Grand Avenue.” Hence, the title of this post. It certainly is an unusual looking church.)

We took a little drive around the neighborhood after the official tour time was over, and we happened to drive by that church. We got stuck at a red light, so I whipped out my camera for this awful through-the-windshield photo:

Presbyterian church, northwest corner of Forest and Grand avenues, Dayton, Ohio. Photo by the author, July 11, 2015.

Presbyterian church, northwest corner of Forest and Grand avenues, Dayton, Ohio. Photo by the author, July 11, 2015. (View on Flickr)

It’s not a great angle for seeing that it is in fact the same church, but trust me, it is. The historical photo was taken near what is the left-hand side of today’s photo. You can see the tiled roof and part of that arched window.

It seems to be called either Northminster Presbyterian Church or Forest Avenue Presbyterian Church. I can’t seem to find a web site or much online about it.

And that’s not really the point of this entry anyway — to give you a history of the church or to even really know what it’s called.

I just….ran into an “old friend” today and thought I’d share.

I’ve actually got some better, recent stories about spending time with “old friends” in Dayton’s history, but those may have to wait a while, for various reasons.

Ida Grady’s Sunburst Quilt: Tracing a Stitch through Time

In January 2009, my Aunt Jeannie sent me an antique quilt that had belonged to my Grandma Coriell.

The quilt, entitled “Sunburst” per a label stitched in one corner of the quilt top, is a hand-pieced, hand-quilted “scrap” quilt, approximately 75″ x 77″ (roughly queen-sized).  (Scrap quilts usually involve lots of small pieces and use up “leftovers” from other projects, and usually have a lot more “randomness” and variety than non-scrap quilts.)

Sunburst quilt by Ida M. Grady, 1934

“Sunburst” quilt by Ida M. Grady, 1934 (click to enlarge)

Detail of hand-quilted pieces on the Ida Grady Sunburst quilt

Detail of hand-quilted pieces on the Ida Grady Sunburst quilt (click to enlarge)

Although my grandmother did make quilts, we knew that she had not made this one. We knew because the quilt was “signed” by someone else—a woman named Ida M. Grady. It was also dated 1934, which, talented as my grandmother was with all things sewing-related, was probably a little early for her to have made a queen-sized quilt, as Grandma was 8 years old in 1934.

Hand-stitched quilt label Sunburst, made 1934, Ida M. Grady

Hand-stitched quilt label: “Sunburst, made 1934, Ida M. Grady” (click to enlarge)

By way of explanation, Aunt Jeannie said: “I hope you can find a place for [this quilt] or pass it on—Grandma could tell you who Ida M. Grady is. I think a relation of your great-great-Aunt Louise…?”

Unfortunately, as often happens, I waited too long to ask Grandma about Ida M. Grady. Before I “got around to it” with wanting to figure out the mystery of this quilt, my Grandma died in June 2010. My Grandpa didn’t know who the woman was, and neither did my mother. I do have other older relatives I could ask, but I’m not close with them to the point of actually picking up the telephone to just ring them up and ask.

Plus, research (rather than people) is really more my thing anyway. So I decided to see whether I could figure out who Ida Grady was on my own using some of my favorite tools for genealogy and local history research.

So, I made a mental list of what I actually did know about the mysterious “Ida M. Grady”:

  • Ida was definitely alive in 1934, and she was also most almost certainly an adult at that time, because she made this rather large quilt.
  • Ida seems to have at least known, and possibly been related to, my grandmother’s family.
  • Since my grandmother’s family has all lived in Portsmouth, Ohio, since pretty much the dawn of time (OK just since the mid-19th century), it seemed pretty likely that Ida Grady also lived in Portsmouth. It was a good place to start, at least.

So I searched the 1930 U.S. federal census records on Ancestry for an Ida Grady in Scioto County, Ohio.

There was one. Exactly one.

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1410 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1930 census (click to enlarge)

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1410 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1930 census (click to enlarge)

Ida M. Grady, age 67, wife of Joseph T. Grady (age 76). Residence, 1410 Offnere Street. (That is on the east side of Offnere, roughly across from Melcher Funeral Home, in the block just south of Greenlawn Cemetery.)

1410 Offnere Street, Portsmouth - recent image from Google Street View (the white house with red shutters)

1410 Offnere Street, Portsmouth – recent image from Google Street View (the white house with red shutters)

Brilliant!

At first, I thought there might be some connection to my grandparents with regard to the geographic location, as they had lived only 1 block away (literally one block east) at 1326 Park Avenue for over 20 years. But they didn’t moved to Park until 1963. (And like I said, Grandma was only 8 years old in 1934.) Might they have known Ida as a neighbor or gotten the quilt at an estate auction? I don’t particularly know my grandparents to have ever attended any such thing, but it was a possibility of something they might have done, especially if it was happening right around the corner.

Then again, Ida would have been pretty old in 1963 if she was 67 in 1930. So maybe not her. Maybe a descendant who inherited the house? Then again, my grandmother had 7 children in 1963, not a lot of extra money, and the ability to make her own scrap quilts. I can’t really see her buying a random scrap quilt at an estate sale.

Obviously, I kept looking.

I found Joseph and Ida Grady again on the 1910 census, living at 1416 Offnere. (I wonder if this was really a different house, or if there census-taker made a mistake or if there was some address renumbering. If doesn’t really matter.)

In addition to Joseph and Ida, the household also included their adult daughter Pearl Zeisler and grandson Howard Zeisler.

Joseph and Ida M. Grady family, 1416 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1910 census (click to enlarge)

Joseph and Ida M. Grady family, 1416 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1910 census (click to enlarge)

Wait… Pearl Zeisler. I know that name. Why do I know that name? I’ve heard it before… I’ve seen it somewhere.

On a picture. I’ve seen it on the caption of a picture. This picture:

Pearl Zeisler with Oscar's grandchildren, 1953 (photo # sc003_E3-0077, cropped)

Pearl Zeisler with Oscar’s grandchildren, 1953 (photo # sc003_E3-0077, cropped)

(Omigod, don’t you just love the look on her face?) The above photograph, from my Grandma Coriell’s collection (yes the same grandma who owned the quilt), is captioned as depicting Pearl Zeisler, along with several children from my grandmother’s extended family, in 1953. (I do have all the names — they’re on the photo caption — but in the interest of privacy, I won’t list them, though I will tell you that the part of the infant on the right was played by my mother.) According to my mother, this photograph was taken at the home of my grandmother’s father Oscar (apparently that chair is unmistakable). The children are (some of) Oscar’s grandchildren.

Finally! A link! I already knew that my grandmother’s family knew Pearl Zeisler—I have photographic evidence of it. And so now I have discovered that Pearl Zeisler’s mother was Ida Grady, the mystery-quilt-maker.

Now we’re getting somewhere.

Then I found the Grady family on the 1900 census. They lived on Offnere Street, but 4 blocks further south, at 1015 Offnere. (Man, these folks really loved Offnere Street.) That would have been on the west side of Offnere, just south of U.S. 52-east, where the road dips down for the railroad underpass, and where that little strip mall has been all my life (and now includes a Family Dollar store, apparently).

There were Joseph and Ida and their daughter Pearl, as well as another daughter named Nina.

But wait, what’s this…? Check out who’s living next-door at 1017 Offnere:

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1015 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1900 census (click to enlarge)

Joseph and Ida M. Grady, 1015 Offnere St., Portsmouth, Ohio, 1900 census (click to enlarge)

If you’re actually related to me, you probably recognize the names and you might be doing a little dance in your chair like I did. If you’re not, you are probably slightly befuddled (were you expecting a dead president or something?), so I’ll explain.

William and Katie Emnett are my great-great-grandparents. Their son, little George O. (George Oscar– everyone called him Oscar), age 5, was my great-grandfather. His daughter Sally Coriell was my grandmother, the one who owned the Ida Grady quilt that started this whole quest. Oscar’s sister Louise (also listed above) was the “great-great-aunt Louise” that Aunt Jeannie thought was somehow connected to this quilt…

So Ida Grady and my Emnett ancestors were neighbors. I suppose that probably explains how they knew one another. I suppose they might have known one another first and chosen to become neighbors (that happens! ask my husband). Actually, Joseph was a boilermaker, and William was a stove molder. I admit I’m not really sure what either of these entails, but they sound like they could be part of the same or at least related industries. (They certainly sound more similar than, say, a stove molder and a doctor.) Anyway, I’m wandering off into real speculation here, so let’s return to the facts.

At that point, I was content to believe that I had found the connection. I had certainly found a connection. The Gradys and the Emnetts were neighbors, so they must have known each other. (I even had cute little visions of Nina and Pearl Grady baby-sitting my great-grandfather and his siblings.) And at some point Ida Grady gave one of the Emnetts a quilt, which was eventually passed down to my grandmother.

So you’d think, “case closed,” right? I actually kind of did think the case was closed, but I was still sufficiently interested in this Grady family as to keep searching for more information on Ida. For instance, who were her parents?

I found her death certificate on FamilySearch — she actually died in May 1935 at age 72, only about a year after completing the quilt. The death certificate listed her parents as Alexander Dunkin and Elizabeth…well, it looked like Dunderpre to me, but that didn’t make much sense.

Ida Grady's parents, as listed on her 1935 death certificate

Ida Grady’s parents, as listed on her 1935 death certificate (click to enlarge)

That just made me all the more determined to find other sources and find out what that funny-looking “D” word actually said.

Then I came across Ancestry member Karen Engleman’s online family tree, which included Alexander Duncan and his wife and their daughter Ida. (Without going into too much detail here about the parents, trust me, I did find some other things too, and this spelling of Ida’s mother’s name seems to check out.)

Ida’s mother was Elizabeth DeGear.

DeGear.

There’s that genealogist “spidey sense” tingling again. I know that name.

I clicked on Engleman’s tree listing Elizabeth DeGear’s parents. Peter DeGear and Catherine Hibsher.   OK, now I know I’ve seen these names before. So I clicked down the list of Elizabeth’s siblings until I found one that was further familiar— Mary.

Mary DeGear and her husband Nicholas Gable. I know those two. It has been a while since I was knee-deep in much genealogy, so although the couple was ringing a major bell in my head, I still couldn’t place them.

(I was away from my main computer, with my genealogy software, at the time, so I couldn’t just call up these people in the family tree software and get the link right away.)

Children. Did Engleman list any children for Nicholas and Mary Gable? Ooh! They did! Just one on the list, but it was the one I needed to snap my brain into gear enough to solve the puzzle: George W. Gable.

George Washington Gable. I remember this guy.

He died youngish. Like 40. I remember thinking it was kind of funny that his wife Frances Adeline Ingles married another George W. afterwards. George W. Bonzo. (I’d be willing to bet his middle name was probably also Washington, but I never did learn for sure.)

And this second marriage prompted what in hindsight is kind of a funny story, but probably wasn’t at the time. When my grandparents were first married, my great-grandfather Oscar said to them (as the story goes) something along the lines, “You know you two probably shouldn’t have gotten married, as you both have Bonzos in your family tree…” (Initial mental reaction: A little late to tell us now, pops, don’t you think?) As it turns out, although my grandfather was descended from a Bonzo, my grandmother is not—she was descended from this Frances Adeline Ingles and her first husband George Gable, not her second who was George Bonzo. George Bonzo was no relation to my grandmother. But his wife was.

So, getting back to the point at hand, let’s regroup. What have I told you in a roundabout way? If Ida Grady’s mother was Elizabeth DeGear, and my grandma Sally Coriell (who had Ida’s quilt) was descended from Elizabeth’s sister Mary DeGear…….then…..Ida Grady was in fact a distant cousin of my grandmother’s.

Oh, but it gets better.

Ida was related to my grandmother’s MOTHER Ollie. Frances Adeline (Ingles) Gable Bonzo was Ollie’s grandmother. Ida and Frances were first cousins.

But the earlier connection I found was to my grandmother’s FATHER Oscar, who lived next-door to Ida when he was a boy.

So there was a double connection between Ida Grady and my grandmother, the owner of Ida’s 1934 Sunburst quilt.

Here, this should help (when in doubt, draw it out):

The Ida Grady connection, handwritten diagram (click to enlarge)

The Ida Grady connection, handwritten diagram (click to enlarge)

(A teeny, tiny, romantic part of me has gone so far as to wonder—not even speculate, but just wonder—if Ida Grady could have even been the link that caused Oscar and Ollie to meet. Ida’s cousins bring little Ollie to visit and she happens to meet little Oscar who lives next-door. And in 1921, she married him. Stranger things have happened. Oh if only I had any proof! What a great story that would make. And it would certainly up the significance of Ida Grady and her quilt to me, if I could truthfully say, “Without this woman, 100+ of my relatives would never have been born, myself included…” But….pure dreamy speculation.)

I know this has been a long, convoluted entry. It was a long, convoluted journey, and you didn’t even have to hear the things that were only in my head. (OK, who am I kidding? You have totally heard — er, read — most of them…)

But I want to wrap things up with a brief but coherent biography of Ida M. Grady, the woman who made the antique quilt that “started it all”—-as coherent a biography as I was able to piece together (no pun intended) from various sources — which I should really list here, but in the interest of space…—in general, the sources were local government records on Ancestry and FamilySearch, Ancestry user Karen Engleman’s family tree, Ida’s obituary from the Portsmouth Daily Times (thanks for emailing it to me, Portsmouth Public Library!), and some data from Find-A-Grave. With a few edits, this comes from the information sheet I wrote up and submitted with Ida’s quilt for the Wright State University Women’s Center quilt show last week:

Ida May Duncan was born June 11, 1862, in Portsmouth, Ohio. Her father Alexander Duncan, a Scottish immigrant, died of tuberculosis in 1872, leaving Ida’s mother Elizabeth with a teenage son and 3 little girls. In 1881, Ida married Joseph T. Grady, a boilermaker. Ida does not seem to have worked outside the home; her occupation is always listed as housewife. She was a member of First Presbyterian Church, where she was active in the Missionary Society and taught Sunday School.

The Gradys had two daughters, Nina (b. 1883) and Pearl (1886-1974). Nina married Leonard J. Gehrling and lived in Ironton. Pearl married Fred J. Zeisler and seems to have lived in Portsmouth.

In January 1935, Ida fell on the steps at her home at 1410 Offnere and fractured her left leg. Ida died May 7, 1935, at Portsmouth General Hospital, from (according to her obituary) “complications following a broken hip and stroke of paralysis.” She was 72 years old and seems to have lived her entire life in Portsmouth, Ohio. She is buried in Greenlawn Cemetery, just up the street from her home.

Ida M. Grady completed this quilt in 1934, when she was approximately 71 or 72 years old, and it was probably one of her last accomplishments before she died in 1935. If she had not signed her name to the corner, I would never have stood a chance of learning anything about the quilt’s maker, who she was, or how she knew my family.

Ida Grady's Sunburst quilt on display at the WSU Women's Center Quilt Show, Jan. 30, 2015

Ida Grady’s Sunburst quilt on display at the WSU Women’s Center Quilt Show, Jan. 30, 2015 (click to enlarge)

Morals of the story?

  • Sign your art! If you make a quilt (or anything else), find an unobtrusive and non-destructive way to permanently add your name and the year
  • Document quilts (or any art) you make or that you have. (I’m talking about writing down more info about the item than you reasonably could — or should — attempt to record physically on the item itself. More details! Provenance!) Do this while there are still people around who know the info, whether that’s you or a relative. (The International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Nebraska has some handouts on this. I’ve actually started my own “Quilt & Craft Documentation Archive” for quilts and other projects I’ve made. But that’s another blog post.)
  • You can learn a lot even when you have what seems like just a little bit of information. Go forth and research!

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing this story unfold (again, no pun intended- ack, I’m terrible!) as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it.

Finding Antonio

Or, The One Where I Finally Learn my Great-Great-Grandfather Antonio’s Death Date and Parents’ Names. Finally. Finally! And did I mention finnnnnaaaaally?

In the previous post, I discussed a question my mother posited to me about Italian cemeteries. Well, I told you that story so I could tell you this story.

My great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli, the subject of the cemetery question above. Antonio’s son Quinto (my great-grandfather) permanently settled in the United States, as did a couple of his Antonio’s other sons (Ottavio and Giovanni), but several other children, as well as Antonio and his wife Benedetta, remained in Italy.

I have no evidence that Antonio ever came to America, even though it was fairly common for Italian men to travel to America—and other countries—to find work for a while, then return home, rather than to stay. (If you are interested in that, I highly recommend reading Donna Gabaccia’s Italy’s Many Diasporas.) But nevertheless, my point is, I did not then have the benefit of any American records I could use to learn about him—an immigration record or a death record, for instance. All I had was his name (which I believe I got from one of his sons’ American death certificates) and an extremely approximate time frame for his death, which I had listed in my notes as “before 1925.” This was based on a conversation with my grandfather Renato at some point. When I asked if he knew when his grandfather had died, he said he didn’t, and he didn’t even remember him. He did remember his widowed grandmother Benedetta, though, which seemed to indicate then that they had lived nearby but that Grandpa was probably too young (or perhaps not born yet) to remember his grandfather at all. So I rather arbitrarily guessed that the man had died “probably” sometime prior to 1925, when my own Grandpa (who didn’t remember Antonio) would have been about 12.

The conversation with Mom about the cemeteries and remembering how I had hoped (and failed) to find my great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli’s death date at the cemetery in Italy reminded me that, hey, it’s been 10 years since then, and it has been a while since I actually tried to find out anything about him…say, online. And as we all know, more and more “stuff” — genealogical resources, digitized archives and indices, and quite frankly anything else you could imagine — is being added to the vast ocean of the Internet, every day. So it was certainly worth trying again.

So I took to Google.

(What else? I know that information professionals — of which I am one, as an archivist/librarian — like to knock Google, but I say, it’s a completely valid first step to any kind of research. It never hurts to see what comes up.)

Searching for Antonio Pasquinelli by name did not yield anything useful (i.e., nothing that hadn’t been posted by me in the first place).

I had better luck in searching for general archival/genealogical resources of the place where the Pasquinelli family had lived in Italy: Pescia, a little town that is now in the province of Pistoia (though it was originally part of Lucca before the province of Pistoia was carved out in 1927).

A shockingly small amount of Googling yielded the following treasure:

Italy, Pistoia, Pistoia, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1937, from FamilySearch.org

Italy, Pistoia, Pistoia, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1937, from FamilySearch.org (click to visit)

Oh yes, that’s right. I didn’t know exactly what “Italy, Pistoia, Pistoia, Civil Registration (Tribunale), 1866-1937″ meant, exactly, but I certainly understood the description well enough as to be practically enraptured before I even clicked anywhere. The description of this digital collection from FamilySearch.org (free online genealogical records- if you’ve never gone there, stop reading immediately and go there now!) is as follows:

Civil registration (stato civile) of births, marriages, and deaths within the custody of the Pistoia Courthouse (Tribunale di Pistoia). Includes ten-year indexes (indici decennali); residency records (cittadinanze); supplemental records (allegati); and marriage banns (pubblicazioni). Availability of records is largely dependent on time period and locality.

Translation: JACKPOT.

Clicking on “Browse through 834,726 images” (!!!!) yields the following page, which lists all the comuni/frazioni (cities/towns) in Pistoia. You then click on a comune to see what records are available to browse for that particular town. I of course chose Pescia, which is where my grandfather had always told us his family was from — and which, I will save you the suspense, definitely turned out to be true (oh God, was it ever true– I never saw the word “Pasquinelli” so much in my life).

List of comuni (towns) in the Pistoia Courthouse (Tribunale di Pistoia) records on FamilySearch.org

List of comuni (towns) in the Pistoia Courthouse (Tribunale di Pistoia) records on FamilySearch.org (click to go to this page)

There are lots of different sets of records available for Pescia, including mostly “allegati” for marriages, deaths, and births. These “attachments” or “supplemental records” seemed to be very random; I couldn’t figure them out…so I didn’t look through many of those.

But, ah, Morti, 1914-1929… That I understood. Deaths. Plain old death records. Atti di morti, actually, which technically translates to “death acts,” but that is the info-filled record of death that I was looking for. (According to my Italian genealogy books, which I acquired a couple of weeks later, there are different kinds of death records, but these “atti” are the meatiest kind, the kind I wanted.)

When I clicked on the records, I was presented with 2000+ images to browse through.

One of the first few images was this:

Comune di Pescia, Atti di Morte, 1914-1929, LDS microfilm reel #1 info page

Comune di Pescia, Atti di Morte, 1914-1929, LDS microfilm reel #1 info page

This is the info frame for the microfilm reel from which this collection was digitized. As an archivist, I feel the need to draw attention to it. These original records, some of which are now 100 years old, were only just microfilmed in 2005, according to this info sheet. Date filmed: 12 OCT 2005. They were only just microfilmed a year after my trip to Italy in 2004. And sometime after that (I didn’t find this info online), probably fairly recently, the microfilm was digitized and placed online by FamilySearch. WOW. That is some serious preservation effort taking place just in the past 10 years. I am assuming (perhaps wrongly–yes, perhaps wrongly, I don’t know) that 2005 was the first time these records were ever microfilmed…if there had been a copy already, wouldn’t LDS probably have just tried to acquire that? Or maybe the copy was no good. I don’t know. But…wow. I’m so pleased that, for whatever reason, these records, which contain quite a bit of my family’s history, were slated for high-quality microfilming and digitization.

OK, so after I marveled over that, it was on to the browsing. Yes, browsing. As in, not searchable with keywords, because they apparently have not yet been indexed by FamilySearch volunteers. But still searchable like sitting down at a table in the archives for hours and flipping through a book with no index. Except instead of having to spend my Italian vacation doing this in a courthouse, I was able to spend my nights and weekends doing this in my office, in my pajamas, with a Gilmore Girls rerun on in the background.

Now, I say there was no index, which is true and also not true. The record collection consisting of 2000+ images actually contained several volumes of original ledger books (arranged chronologically by year, from 1914 to 1929), with title pages such as this one:

Atti di Morte, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org

Atti di Morte, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org

Each year did have an alphabetical index, with a title page like this:

Annual Index of Death Acts, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org.

Annual Index of Death Acts, Comune di Pescia, 1915, from FamilySearch.org.

And entry pages like this:

Index page from 1915 Death Acts, Pescia, from FamilySearch.org.

Index page from 1915 Death Acts, Pescia, from FamilySearch.org. The index listings include last name and first name of the deceased, the father’s name underneath, and the citation where the record can be found.

However, there was no good way to find the beginning and end of a particular year’s worth of records or to find that year’s index book.

So I browsed.  And it was okay anyway, because in doing that, I found relatives I didn’t even know I had, often mentioned as parents or witnesses (e.g., things that I would have never seen because those things were not listed in the original paper index).

If there had been an easy way to find the index page shown above, I might have had a much easier time of things:

Antonio Pasquinelli index entry, from FamilySearch.org

Antonio Pasquinelli index entry, from FamilySearch.org

Actually, this is probably a good example of one time when viewing the original records would have been much simpler—-ah, book form. Well, simpler, if not for the whole international airplane ride and language barrier thing. (My reading knowledge of Italian is decent; my speaking is not so good…)

I actually spent hours browsing the Atti di Morte collection, as well as other collections from the Tribunale di Pistoia. However, I was actually rewarded rather quickly with finding the ancestor I sought.

It turned out that Antonio Pasquinelli had died in Pescia in 1915 (so, very early on in the 2000+ pages of images of deaths in Pescia from 1914-1929).

Antonio appeared on microfilm frame 168:

Atti di Morte, Pescia, Italy, 1915, showing death record for Antonio Pasquinelli, from FamilySearch.org.

Atti di Morte, Pescia, Italy, 1915, showing death record for Antonio Pasquinelli, from FamilySearch.org.

VICTORY AT LAST!

Here’s a close up of the entire record:

Death Act of Antonio Pasquinelli, 1915, from FamilySearch.org

Death Act of Antonio Pasquinelli, 1915, from FamilySearch.org (click on the image to view a larger version)

I knew I had the right person because I recognized the name of his wife mentioned in the record: Chiostri Benedetta.

And then I set to work with my Italian dictionary, figuring out what exactly this thing said. And here’s what I came up with, first in Italian and then in English:

Atti di Morte – Pescia, Lucca, Italy – 1915

# 200

Pasquinelli, Antonio

L’anno millenovecentoquindici addi’ quindici di Novembre a ore undici e minute quindici nella Casa Comunale. Avanti di me Franco Fantozzi Segretario delegato dal Sindaco con atto due Agosto millenovecentoundici, approvato.

Ufficiale dello Stato Civile del Comune di Pescia, sono comparsi Pasquinelli Leopoldo di anni settanta, colono domiciliato in Pescia e Lucaccini Beldassare di anni settantatre calzolaro [calzolaio], domiciliato in Pescia, i quali mi hanno dichiarato che a ore quattordici e minuti ___ di ieri, nella casa posta in Via di Campo al numero ___, e’ morto Pasquinelli Antonio di anni sessantatre, colono, residente Pescia, nato in Pescia, da fu Beniamino domiciliato in ___, e dalla fu Molendi Dosamira, domiciliata in ___, marito di Chiostri Benedetta.

A quest’atto sono stati presenti quali testimoni Lunardini Silvio di anni ventiquattro, colono, e [Quastapaglio?] Ferruccio di anni tretuno, colono, ambi residenti in questo Comune. Letto il presente atto a tutti gl’intervenuti, lo hanno essi meco firmato eccetto il dichiarante Pasquinelli illiterato.

[Lucaccini Baldessare], Silvio Lunardini, Ferruccio [Questagia?], Franco Fantozzi

And now, one more time, with gusto— I mean, in English:

Death Records  – Pescia, Lucca (now Pistoia), Italy – 1915

# 200

Pasquinelli, Antonio

The year 1915 the 15 of November at the hour 11 and minute 15 in the Town Hall,

Before me, Franco Fantozzi, Secretary delegated by the Mayor with action the second of August 1911, approved.

As official of the Civil State of the Comune of Pescia, (they) appeared (before me) Leopoldo Pasquinelli (age 70), a sharecropper residing in Pescia, and Beldassare Lucaccini (age 73), a shoemaker living in Pescia, (and it was) declared to me which things, that at the hour 4 and minute ___ of yesterday [14 November 1915], in the house [addressed at] number ___ Via di Campo, has died Antonio Pasquinelli (age 63), sharecropper, residing in Pescia, born in Pescia, to the late Beniamino [Pasquinelli] residing in ___ [deceased], and to the late Dosamira Molendi residing in ___ [deceased], [and] husband of Benedetta Chiostri.

In this act were present as witnesses Silvio Lunardini (age 24), sharecropper, and Ferruccio [Quastapaglio?] (age 31), sharecropper, both residents in this Comune. The present document having been read by all attendants, they have signed it except Pasquinelli, declaring (himself) illiterate.

[Lucaccini Baldessare], Silvio Lunardini, Ferruccio [Questagia?], Franco Fantozzi

From this document I learned several things I did not know before about my ancestor, including:

  • His death date: 14 Nov 1915
  • His death place: definitely Pescia- and not only that but the very road of the house in which he died, Via di Campo! – a road that still exists, by the way, I checked!
  • His approximate birth year (about 1852) and birth place (Pescia)
  • His occupation: sharecropper
  • His parents’ names: Beniamino Pasquinelli (which by the way is what he named his oldest son – an Italian tradition I have learned) and Dosamira Molendi (another beautiful Italian name I’ve never heard before!)

I also learned some interesting things about Italian records in the course of browsing through these records in search of this record in particular:

  • If it says “del fu” or anything with “fu” in it, it means the person being referred to is deceased (e.g., “da fu Beniamino Pasquinelli” above- because Antonio’s father was already deceased at the time); based on what I know about Latin and Italian, this comes from a past tense form of the verb “to be” and is sort of like saying, “well, he was Beniamino Pasquinelli, but he’s not anymore, he’s dead, he’s ex, he’s past, he was.” Interesting.
  • Even married women are listed under their maiden name on these death acts. I noticed it in browsing. Then when I got my Italian genealogy books I read that this was common, that women went by their maiden names on official documents, even after they were married. There’s something kind of awesome about that. And not just for genealogy, but it’s damn helpful for that as well.
  • There’s an elaborate reporting/witnessing system for recording a death. Two people reported that the person died, and two additional people acted as witnesses of this report at the city hall. And all four of them sign the death act. It was my sister Gina (the nurse) who pointed out that maybe this was because the death wasn’t being certified by a physician like death certificates are today—so they wanted to be absolutely sure this person was in fact dead, so…lots of witnesses. Again, interesting.
  • They spell out the numbers. On the pre-printed form, as well as in the handwritten part. This is awesome for the same reason that you have to write out in words the dollar amounts on your personal checks—so there’s less chance for confusion about what number you mean. It sure makes it easier on me, especially with some of these clerks’ handwriting—much easier to decipher a word than to be sure of what numeral I’m seeing.

So that’s how I finally—-FINALLY—-learned something more than a name about my great-great-grandfather Antonio Pasquinelli.

I know I used the word “finally” a lot at the beginning of this. I never imagined that I might be having this thought on your (my reader’s) behalf by the time I got to the end: When is she finally going to get to the point and be done with it already?  I do realize that this got extremely long. I apologize for that. I noticed it happening, but I wasn’t sure where would be a good place to cut it off and split it in two. So…it’s one super-long post. Hopefully you found it interesting.

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!