Manuscripts crossovers

I could write a list of reasons why my job rocks. (Hmm, that sounds like a new category of blog entries, just waiting to happen…) After all, I get to preserve and organize history. I get to read history written in people’s own words, as they were living it. (That email to your sister where you complain about the falling value of your house or the rising prices of gas and food? That’s going to be “history” someday. Something to think about…)

Arranging and describing a stand-alone manuscript collection (so people know what is there and where exactly to find it) is generally pretty darn cool, in an of itself. And there are always “tasty nuggets” to be found.

But I think one of the coolest things in processing is when you get “crossover” between collections. By that I mean, you have collections where the people reference each other; or they both talk about the same event or person. I think I enjoy finding those things because it shows that history is not really linear; it’s not cut and dry. It’s more like a web – of people, places, things, events, movements. It’s actually fluid, and it’s expanding in every direction.

Now that I’ve made your head explode with depth, let me get down to the nitty-gritty of some of the crossovers I’ve found recently in the Dayton Metro Library manuscript collections.

Earlier today, as I was processing the Lowe Papers (MS-009), I came across several folders of newspaper clippings. In one, the Cincinnati Commercial boasted of having a first-hand account of the Battle of Murfreesboro, as reported by their correspondent “W. D. B.” I had to grin. He wasn’t named, but I knew that W. D. B. was William D. Bickham, a Commercial correspondent and later editor of the Dayton Journal. How did I know? Because I just finished processing the Bickham Collection (MS-017) a few weeks ago!

In an opposite crossover between the two collections, the Bickham Collection contains a newspaper clipping noting that Manorah Lowe (mother of Thomas; widow of John W.) had been made the first “postmistress” of Xenia.

These two collections, as well as another Civil War collection, the Schaeffer Papers (MS-020) make mention of Dayton congressman and well-known Copperhead Clement Vallandingham. (What good Dayton area Civil War collection could get by without at least mentioning him? I mean, come on.)

I suppose I should not be surprised at these types of crossovers. After all, if you take two collections that focus on the same time period and geographic location, you are bound to have some overlap; that just seems logical. And yet, I still get excited about it when I find one.

I think the earlier you go, particularly in Dayton history, the more likely you are to find these types of connections, too. For instance, the population of Dayton in 1860 was only about 20,000 people. In 1820, there were only about 1,100 people in Dayton. Which is why perusing DML’s Van Cleve-Dover Collection (MS-006) and Brown-Patterson Collection (MS-015) is so much fun. Both of these collections contain many documents from Dayton’s earliest days, so you do see a lot of the same people’s names over and over again, which I find strangely comforting and friendly (and exciting) even though these people lived about 200 years ago. (Early 19th century Ohio history has long been of interest to me, with the frontier settlement and all. Those two collections include many useful documents for that era of study. I also have a special affinity for the John Johnston Farm in Piqua – and by the way, there are several Johnston letters in the Brown-Patterson collection.)

And of course, these are just some examples of the “crossovers” you can find within the Dayton Metro Library’s collections. That’s not even taking into account all the different collections at other institutions.

Historians are probably out there shaking their heads, thinking, Lisa, you nut; this is what we do all the time. We go out and look for all the resources we can find on a particular person, place, thing, event, movement, etc., so we can write about it. Maybe I just think of it differently because of the difference in what I’m trying to do when I “find” these connections. I usually find them in the course of processing an individual collection. I’m just working with that collection, trying to get a grip on what is in it, why it’s important, how to arrange and describe it so that people (*cough*historians/researchers*cough*) can find what they need/want in it (if it’s there!). And then I will happen upon something that reminds me of something I saw in another collection. I wasn’t looking for it; I just remember seeing something like it somewhere else.

In any event, I think these little “crossovers” are fun, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you. I’m sure there are many others. But I tend to notice the ones in collections I myself processed. You don’t always notice them unless you have waded through the entire collection yourself.

The collections discussed here are publicly available for research at the Dayton Metro Library, Main Library, Local History Room, 215 E. Third St., Dayton, OH 45402. For more information on the collection, contact the library, or feel free to leave a comment on this blog.

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