Tag Archives: archives

My 2016 in Archives Land

Well, folks, 2016 is coming to a close, and I only wrote 2 posts here on the blog. That’s a little depressing. I won’t make a resolution to try to write more next year; I don’t really do resolutions. But I wanted to check in here and record a few things.

This year has been a bit of a wild ride in Archives Land – well, mine anyway. A couple of my co-workers resigned (to take other positions elsewhere) in the first half of the year. To help put this into perspective, I’m talking about 2 full-time archivists out of a grand total of 6 FTEs in the entire university special collections & archives department – that’s 1/3 of our professional staff. So yeah, that obviously caused a wee bit of upheaval in our department. Meanwhile, the university where I work has been experiencing some financial issues (this has been all over the news), and so we were not able to refill both positions, only one.

But it’s not all gloom and doom: As part of the “shuffling” of duties that had to be done to go from a staff of 6 to a staff of 5, I had the opportunity to take on a different role in the department. Starting in the summer, I began transitioning to the position of collections manager, rather than social media and outreach. (Our new archivist hired in as reference and outreach archivist.)

Nothing says you're official like a new business card! (please don't stalk me- but hey it's not like you couldn't have found all this info on your own with about 10 seconds of Google searching)

Nothing says you’re official like a new business card! (please don’t stalk me- but hey it’s not like you couldn’t have found all this info on your own with about 10 seconds of Google searching)

I am very excited about this change. It’s a chance to do something different than what I’ve been doing, and I have a feeling that my skills and natural proclivities will be well-suited to it.

I call this my

I call this my “mobile collections unit” – a book truck, my Chromebook, ArchivesSpace, and my lists, doing a collections survey to familiarize myself with ALL THE THINGS, in June

Another exciting thing happening in Archives Land is that we are in the process of fundraising for and designing a new archival facility. This has been in the works for what feels like ages, but I feel like I can finally talk about it, now that it has been in the news (Dayton Business Journal, 2016 Dec 28). It’s definitely not a secret anymore. We are looking forward to hopefully soon having more physical space for collections as well as more and more-specialized spaces for other archival activities, such as preservation, processing, and exhibits, among other things.

In other news, I read a lot of books this year. My last post was about one of those. I did a reading challenge, and I ended up reading about 100 books over the course of 2016. That is a ton for me. Most were novels; nice, relaxing novels. A few were history books. A few pertained to the archival profession.

I’ve been brushing up on the archival processing literature, as processing management is another aspect of my new position. Hand in hand with that, I am also lined up to co-teach our university’s graduate course on archival processing this upcoming spring term (in a couple of weeks!). This will be my first adventure as one of the official instructors of a college course. I’m not going to lie, I am extremely relieved that (a) a former co-worker who has taught this class before agreed to co-teach with me and (b) there are only 5 students in the class. Let’s all just ease into this, shall we?

In this case, nothing says

In this case, nothing says “official” like a letter from the Graduate School accepting you as faculty!

One final interesting/exciting thing in History-and-Archives Land is that I was approached earlier this year about the inclusion of something I wrote for this blog in a published book. I won’t say much more than that, because I don’t want to give away the author’s subject matter. But in the course of discussing how the information might be included in the book, I was invited to actually write/rewrite the material myself for the relevant chapter, and I agreed. So that’s pretty cool – someone wants me to write something for an actual book. I’ve been cited a few times (that I know of) in books but nothing like this.

There is certainly a lot to look forward to in 2017.

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The Inner Circle, an Archivist’s Tale

For those of you who follow this blog (thanks for that, by the way), apologies for disappearing. You all probably thought I was dead (except you, Mom- you knew I wasn’t). But I’m not. I just haven’t been doing a lot of history/genealogy-related stuff in my free time that would result in a blog post here.

So what have I been doing, then? Well, it’s not quilting up a storm, not this year. This year, I’ve been reading tons of books, as I try to complete this Pop Sugar Reading Challenge that I learned about from a friend. I’m actually doing pretty well; it’s not even halfway through the year and I’m about 2/3 done. I’ve read almost 40 books already this year! I don’t know how much or how quickly any of the rest of you read, but I am not a fast reader, so 40 is a ton for me.

Anyway, getting back to the point of this post, one of the items on the reading challenge is “a book with a protagonist who has your occupation.” So: archivist. I had to find a book where the main character was an archivist.

In the course of looking for this, I came across a number of interesting twists on the idea of “archivists” and “archiving” which involved fantasy or dystopia or some other genre where the “archivists” and I share the same occupation in name only and not in the actuality of our day-to-day activities. Some of these included The Archived by Victoria Schwab and Archivist Wasp by Nicole Kornher-Stace, both which I have marked “Want To Read” on Goodreads and saved for later but which did not fit the spirit of this challenge item.

What I actually did read was The Inner Circle by Brad Meltzer. In this book, the main character Beecher and his colleague Tot are both archivists at the U.S. National Archives & Records Administration (NARA).

Now, I’m not here to write a book review (oh how I hate writing those), to give a plot summary, or to criticize. And there won’t be any spoilers, or at least nothing that I would consider a spoiler.

But I thought it would be fun to record — and share with you all — some snippets from the book that gave me a chuckle, seemed wise, or that I thought my fellow archivists would appreciate. These are things I would have “highlighted” if I had been reading it on my Kindle — which, I wish I had been, because it would have made writing this post a lot simpler. I had both the physical hardcover book and the audiobook, both borrowed from the library. I actually read it as an audiobook – I don’t know why I got the hardcover too – but then I had to go back with my post-it notes and find all the things I wanted to write about here. I mean, look at this:

So many post-it notes!

So many post-it notes!

Most of these won’t require much commentary, so it’s not as bad as it looks. OK I’ve written two of these and had to come back here and revise: I was totally lying; it’s exactly as bad as it looks. But it will be fun. Page citations refer to this first edition hardcover. And on that note, let’s dive in, shall we?

     “…I go on adventures everyday.”
“No, you read about adventures every day. You put your nose in books every day. You’re like Indiana Jones, but just the professor part.”

“Indiana Jones is still cool.”
“No, Indiana Jones was cool. But only when he was out experiencing life. You need to get outta your head and outta your comfort zone.”

“…The past may not hurt you…but it won’t challenge you either…” (pp. 8-9)

I think the scene has been set for an archivist to have a “real” adventure. On the flip-side, I liked the archivist’s allusion that he does go on adventures (through the collections he works with). There’s a lot of life to be lived through the archives, people!

As they told me when I first started as an archivist…, the Archives is our nation’s attic. A ten-billion-document scrapbook with nearly every vital file, record, and report that the government produces.
No question, that means this is a building full of secrets. Some big, some small. But every single day, I get to unearth another one. (p. 19)

As a group, don’t we archivists hate it when people call the archives an “attic”? It’s not just me, right? That reference likening us to something hot and stuffy and dusty? Maybe we’re (I’m) too sensitive. Maybe they just mean it in the sweet, nostalgic sense, like that’s where Grandma keeps all the “cool old stuff” (because an archivist never told her the attic is a terrible place to keep the family heirlooms and photographs).

And scrapbooks…those are just the bane of our existence, aren’t they? They’re a preservation nightmare, with all those different kinds of things affixed to acidic paper? I mean, photographs smashed face-to-face with acidic news clippings for who knows how many years, until we got hold of them and stuck a sheet of Permalife paper in between every set of pages, because that’s about the most we can do? And I think in most cases the National Archives is going to be much better than “a scrapbook” (though they probably have some scrapbooks too, just like the rest of us: there is no escape!).

And when I first read this (again, remember I was listening to an audiobook so some words slipped by), I remember taking issue with the use of the word “every” but now I see that it is qualified by the word “vital”. No, the archives isn’t going to have EVERY document produced, but they certainly should have all the VITAL ones. For any of my non-archivist friends (and Mom): the term “vital records” is an actual specific term in records management. It means, in short, any records that would be vital to keeping your organization running in the event of a disaster. (NARA even has a whole huge long page about vital records.)

“He even answers the questions that get emailed through the…website, which no one likes answering because when you email someone back, well, now you’ve got a pen pal…” (p. 48)

I think this one was my favorite, because it’s absolutely true that you often obtain a “pen pal” when responding to research requests – particularly ones from genealogists who are likely to have cause to contact your archives again later for something else. Often times, they will email you directly – not the web site, not the archives’ generic email – YOU. And who could really blame them? You were so helpful the first time and clearly know what you’re doing, and who knows who they might get if they submit their next question using the generic method?

…I start every morning with the obituaries… (p. 70)

It’s not just me! OK I don’t do this now – for two reasons: I don’t subscribe to the local newspapers, and I don’t know (and more importantly am not related to) very many people (well proportionate to how many people there actually are) in the area where I currently live. But I used to do this all the time as a teenager in my hometown, when I was doing a lot more genealogy than I do now, and when I lived in a place where I was related to…well, let’s face it, just about everyone, if you go back far enough. Sundays were a special treat because that newspaper had the wedding and engagement announcements too!

Forever an archivist, he knows the value of collecting information first… (p. 77)

This one actually requires no real commentary. I just liked it.

“…Don’t hide in those Archives… Live that life.” (p. 90)

But why not? But I love my wood shavings! You mean I should go outside and do things and talk to people? But I’d rather have my nose in a book! Or a letter from the 1830s… FINE.

     “…y’know what the best part of this job is? For me, it’s this sheet of paper… On any given day, this sheet is just another sheet in our collection, right? But then, one day–9/11 happens–and suddenly this sheet of paper becomes the most vital document in the U.S. government… That’s what we’re here to witness… We witness it and we protect it. We’re the caretakers of those sheets of paper that’ll someday define the writing of history…” (p. 96)

YASSSSS. THIS. We take care of ALL THE THINGS so they are there when they are needed and so that folks can use them to tell the world’s story. Every grain of sand is part of the beach. Every individual person’s story is part of the world’s story.

“…History isn’t written by the winners–it’s written by everyone–it’s a jigsaw of facts from contradictory sources…” (p. 255)

Again, every piece is a piece of the story. If you want to get crazy and convoluted about it, even the inaccurate documents are still a piece of the story. There’s a reason that document is wrong

I don’t have any more quotations to share (which is just as well, both for you and for me; hopefully I’m not past the limits of copyright fair use as it is!), but there were a few more interesting scenarios I wanted to note:

In the prologue (pp. 3-5), one character must deal with a situation in which a researcher (and a VIP one at that) is trying to remove (steal) a valuable document from the archives. Boo. That’s a situation no archivist ever wants to have to deal with, whether it’s Joe-Schmoe-you-wouldn’t-know-from-Adam or a high-ranking government official, whether it’s an ancestor’s naturalization record or the correspondence of a dead president. I think we can all agree that’s a scene right out of an archivist’s nightmares.

It is mentioned that the archivists are ranked monthly “in order of how many people we’ve helped” (p. 47). Is that the number of unique researchers or the number of questions answered? (One researcher might reply several times with multiple questions; see earlier commentary about getting a “pen pal.”) Either way, I thought this was interesting. I have no idea if that is something that NARA actually does. The segment says “it helps justify our jobs, but it also adds unnecessary competition.” True dat! I am glad we don’t do this at the archives where I work! For one thing, though, most of the reference questions (where I work) are answered by the reference manager, and we only have one of those. I suppose this could be more of a “thing” someplace huge like NARA where there are likely to be many reference archivists. But again, I have no idea if this is a scenario based in reality.

And finally, at one point, there is mention of a place called “Copper Mountain.” Ah, delightful; that gave me a chuckle. I suppose “Iron Mountain” must be trademarked. Iron Mountain is, according to their web site, is “a global business dedicated to storing, protecting and managing, information and assets.” Part of their storage network literally involves underground caves.

Now then, I really haven’t told you anything at all about the actual plot of the book (as promised, no spoilers), and I don’t plan to. I just wanted to share some of the particular snippets that were fun to read, as an archivist myself. I enjoyed the book well enough, and I would recommend it if the description (which you can read for yourself on Goodreads or Amazon or wherever else) sounds like the sort of thing you enjoy.

With any luck, it won’t be 4 months before I see you again!

Come & Hear My Genealogical Quilt Story on Jan. 29

"Tracing a Stitch through Time" with Lisa Rickey, Jan. 29, at 1:25 (click to enlarge)

“Tracing a Stitch through Time” with Lisa Rickey, Jan. 29, at 1:25 (click to enlarge)

Do you have an heirloom or antique item and wish you knew more about its creator or owner?  If the item is signed and dated, or if you at least know the name of the person rumored to be associated with it, you may be able to find out more—and an archives can help you!

I will be sharing my experience of one such research adventure this coming Friday, January 29, at the Wright State University Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies’ 3rd Annual Quilt Show Celebrating Quilt Stories.

In my presentation “Ida Grady’s Sunburst Quilt: Tracing a Stitch through Time,” I will describe how I researched the creator of an heirloom quilt. Given just a few original clues at the beginning — a name and date on the quilt itself, along with a vague sense that the quilter may have been a relative — I used local history and genealogy research to discover how the mysterious Ida Grady was connected to her family.

I will talk about some of the different types of historical records that were helpful and how the information contained in each one was applied to solving different pieces of the puzzle.

The antique quilt that started it all – “Sunburst” (1934) by Ida Grady – will be on display throughout the quilt show, as well as on hand during the presentation.

The presentation takes place on Friday, January 29, from 1:25 to 2:20 p.m. in 156C Student Union, Wright State University. The event is free, and the public is welcome. Visitor parking is available just outside the Student Union. To view the full schedule of speakers and activities for the multi-day quilt show & for more information, please visit the quilt show’s event page.

I hope to see you there!

(This post was modified slightly from the original post – also written by me – published January 22, 2016, on the Wright State University Special Collections & Archives “Out of the Box” blog.)

Visiting Kindred Spirits in St. Anne’s Hill

This past weekend, I attended a holiday homes tour in the St. Anne’s Hill historic district of Dayton. They hold their “Dickens of a Christmas Holiday Home Tour” fundraiser every other year (and in the other year they do a spring tour). You have a guided tour through the neighborhood, along with admittance to 6 or so beautifully decorated and cared for historic homes, mostly Victorian era. The tour wraps up with delicious bread pudding inside the well-known Bossler Mansion on Dutoit Street.

I had been on the Christmas tour once before (in 2011, I think it was), but the homes change from year to year, and it is worth repeating. I was particularly enticed to attend the tour this year because it was approximately 60 degrees, unlike the chilling cold and snow/freezing rain that I walked in last time. (Our poor tour guides in their Victorian winter dresses and capes were sweating it though!) I also chose a daytime tour this time, instead of an evening one, which made it easier to see what I was looking at outside!

I’m not going to tell you all about everything, and I don’t even have many pictures to share with you. After all, these are people’s homes, and although we were told that we could ask to take pictures and see if the owners would approve, I was just thrilled to be allowed inside at all..and quite frankly, I probably spend too much of my “tourist” experience looking through a camera lens, so in a way it was nice to just “be.”

You’re probably wondering what I came here to write about, if I’m not going to tell-all on tour details or show you photos of these gorgeous old houses in all their magnificence.

Well, there were a few snippets I want to share — these things that have stuck with me, following the tour. Most of these things have to do with the homes’ “stories” (you know how I love stories). In the interest of privacy, I will try not to “out” the owners or the house precisely, though if you were part of the tour (or are a member of the close-knit neighborhood), you’d likely be able to figure it out.

When you first enter each home, the owners usually have a brief introduction to share with you about the house — what they know about its history, what has been done to restore it, etc.

In one of these stories, the owner mentioned that his home had been lived in for several decades by a pair of unmarried sisters, prior to his acquisition of it. He said they didn’t do anything to the house for most of that time. So, on the one hand, they hadn’t made any improvements, but on the other hand, they also didn’t do anything BAD either. They just didn’t do anything, really…so they didn’t screw it up!

This story made me think of my Dad. I feel like I’ve heard him make a similar statement. The historic home I lived in when I was little (described in the previous blog post) had been occupied for decades only by two spinster sisters, whose father had the house built so it had only ever been in 1 family for its entire life of about 80 years. When my Dad got it, not a lot had been done to it over the years. Nothing good. But also nothing bad.

People do a lot of interesting things to houses, historic or not. The older the house, the wider the window of opportunity has been for someone to have done something interesting to it. Now, my high school best friend and I had an inside joke about the word “interesting.” One of us would say something was “interesting,” and the other would say, “Interesting like chocolate-covered grasshoppers, or interesting like So-and-So’s hair?” One was good, the other bad. (I’ll let you guess which was which.) But the point is, yes…sometimes people do good things to houses, and sometimes people do bad things.

Now of course, the homes we saw on the tour were all full of interesting good things. They’ve been loved — and lived in, some for 150+ years. Some had been “rescue” jobs, but they’re looking pretty good now (wonderful even!). Anyway, the point is — all of these homes, whatever their past, they are now being lovingly cared for by people who wanted a historic house to love and care for.

Believe it or not, that’s actually not quite where I’m going with my whole “kindred spirits” thing. I love old houses…to look at. I love to look at them. But I’m not sure I would love many of the realities of actually living in one. I want insulation and drywall and central air and brand new electric. Yeah yeah, I know you can put all these things into old houses, but it’s a lot harder.

Although, at least one couple on the tour actually did all that. When they purchased their house (for less than $10,000) several years ago, they said it was the neighborhood eyesore. It had not been well-loved for many years, and it needed a total gut-job (truly). (By the way, they bought it like 8 years ago and just moved in.) They kept a lot of it looking old — and even managed to keep a few original features, like the 1850s stair railing — but they also have drywall. (I know I probably seem to have this fixation with drywall, but let’s just say I’ve had enough of plaster walls from my 1949 Cape Cod, thankyouverymuch.)

One thing I remember thinking in that house was how much fun I think my uncles would have if I turned them loose on creating beautiful ornate woodwork that was actually new but made to look old. (Now would probably be a good time to tell you that my uncles are extremely talented finish carpenters as well as general contractors.) Or, maybe they would look at me like I was crazy. We’ll probably never know.

The house with the drywall and the 1850s staircase also featured a Christmas tree with a train running in a circle under it. The man said his father bought him that train for Christmas in 1949. “I was seven months old,” he said with a grin, “so you tell me who really wanted to play with a train.” That reminded me of Dad. And as if I needed another reason to like these people who had brought a 150-year-old house back from the brink and made it beautiful again, I noticed a copy of David McCullough’s The Wright Brothers on an end table. Kindred spirits, indeed.

At another house, addressing us from a few steps up the staircase (as most of them did if there was a staircase in the front hall, which was many of them), the owner started off by saying that when they agreed to be part of the tour, they actually didn’t really know anything about the home’s history (and they hadn’t been the ones to restore it either), so she wasn’t sure what she would tell us for the introduction.

I was just making a mental note to approach her later to let her know that the library (either the one where I work at the university or the public library where I used to work) had plenty of great resources to help them learn more about their house, if they wanted to…when whipped out a piece of paper and continued, “…but then we received this letter in the mail.”

Out of the blue, the great-granddaughter of some previous owners, who had lived in the home for 50 years and raised several children there, had written to them, with memories of the house and pictures.

Of course everyone in the room, including myself, ooh’d and ahh’d. I mean, what an awesome thing to receive a letter like that! What an awesome thing to have thought to write it. I would love a letter like that. “Here, have some history of a place that’s now special to you, that has also been special to me.” (Of course you can see why I would love something like that, even just a story about such a thing; seeing as how I basically wrote a love letter to my childhood home in my previous post.)

But not everybody would care about something like that. Some people might not be interested in receiving such a thing. And far more people would even think to write such a thing, let alone actually do it. Some might even call it crazy.

But not me. And not that woman telling us the story from her staircase. And I dare say not the other 30 or so tour-goers standing around me, making the same murmurs of awe that I was making.

So, standing in that crowded living room, hearing that story and mentally telling myself don’t cry in public don’t cry in public (and I succeeded), I think that was the moment that gave me the “kindred spirits” feeling I used in the title.

Historic homes people? People who love them and live in them? People who love them enough to drop $22 for a chance to see inside just a few? Yep, these are my people, and this is our jam.

I should have probably saved that revelation for the end, but I’m writing this as it comes to me, with very few notes ahead of time. And the last two items come at or near the end of the tour, so…

At one of the last houses on the tour, the couple who lived there had actually gotten into character, portraying the Victorian doctor and his wife who had previously lived in their house. That in and of itself was great, and they both looked fantastic. They even had a little exhibit on “quack” Victorian medicine!

But something about the wife kept giving me this de ja vu feeling. I couldn’t figure out what it was. Even her name seemed familiar to me. I noticed a certificate on the wall with her name on it and checked it out to see what it was for, thinking perhaps she was a fellow library professional or something like that, who I might have heard of somewhere. Nope, totally different profession. I thought maybe she was someone I had helped when I worked at Dayton Metro Library, as I did a lot more reference desk work there than I do now; I saw a lot more people, I’m sure.

It came to me a couple of days later, while I was lying in bed trying to fall asleep (isn’t that always the way?). She had been a library patron, but at the university library where I work now, not at the public library. (Well, I expect she went there too, but it’s not where I met her…) I looked in our researcher log to confirm. Yes, that was it! She looked so familiar to me because she had come in last summer to research for this house tour—she mentioned it specifically. (I wonder now if she recognized me. She probably just wondered why I kept staring at her.)

It’s a pretty cool experience any time you get to see the amazing results of something that you, as a librarian or archivist, “helped” with — whether it’s a published book, a school project, or in this case…a performance!

That was actually the anecdote that first occurred to me as something I wanted to write about here…and then I thought of the others.

And finally, without further adieu, no post centering on the St. Anne’s Hill Dickens of a Christmas holiday homes tour would be complete without a mention of the spectacular Bossler Mansion. And that I have a couple of pictures of.

Bossler Mansion on Dutoit Street in St. Anne's Hill Historic District, Dayton, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author) (click to view larger)

Bossler Mansion on Dutoit Street in St. Anne’s Hill Historic District, Dayton, Ohio, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author) (click to view larger)

As we were standing on the sidewalk in front of the home, one of the things our tour guide said about the house was that she had a special connection to it herself. In a previous life, the mansion had been converted into a multi-unit apartment building (this being an example of the “interesting” things people sometimes do to old houses). And during that era, her grandmother and her toddler-age mother had lived in one of the apartments. She said it was very emotional the first time she visited the room (yes, room, singular) that had been their apartment, and she got a little choked up just mentioning it to us. (Seriously people, stop making me almost-cry in public!)

So that’s the anecdote I have to share about the Bossler house. The true highlight of this stop on the tour, however, is the bread pudding (omigod, seriously so delicious) and the view of downtown Dayton out the little round west-facing window in the 4th story cupola. (Another reason I’m glad I chose a daytime tour this year!)

View of downtown Dayton, Ohio, as seen through the 4th story cupola of the Bossler Mansion, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author)

View of downtown Dayton, Ohio, as seen through the 4th story cupola of the Bossler Mansion, Dec. 13, 2015 (photo by the author) (click to view larger)

So I’ll just leave you with that.

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.

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!