White Glove Treatment

In his latest newsletter, Dick Eastman directs our attention to a righteous smackdown of the cherished notion that white cotton gloves are de rigueur when handling old books and documents. Said smackdown (available in .pdf form at the link) actually dates back to 2005, demonstrating that this skepticism about gloved fingers has been around a while.

While I’ve heard the naysaying about white gloves, I admit I hadn’t read this exhaustive examination of the topic. And it is exhaustive! Fortunately for the time-pressed, the end of the article includes a tight summary of the key points:

• Routine handling does not seem to cause chemical damage to paper, even in heavily used books and documents.

• Cotton gloves do not present a foolproof guarantee against dirt and perspiration.

• They may, indeed, increase the chance of physical damage to the materials.

• It might make more sense to just ask everyone to wash their hands thoroughly before researching.

• All of the above does NOT apply to negatives or photographs, which carry their own special requirements.

So there’s the technical take on things. But what about the real-world etiquette for non-conservator types (like yours truly) who just want to make sure they don’t get their special-collections room access revoked?

Obviously you have to play by the rules you find on the playing field. If the staff insists upon the gloves, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to get into a fight with them about it, and that goes double if you’ve driven or flown to the archive from far away, and your time is limited.

That being said, if I get into one of those situations where using the gloves makes it difficult to turn a page without tearing it, I guess I feel pretty good now about slipping them off on the sly. Just for a couple of seconds. Don’t tell on me, OK?


Links, 3.28.11

I am trying to think of the garden, and how to make it prettier this year. Someone dug some really wonderful borders here maybe fifty years ago, and it’s a tribute to their eye and skill that the outlines still look pretty good, despite our neglect. Somewhere under the winter debris and the overgrown plantings is a really great garden. Kind of like my genealogy work.

Evicted: The Maine Franco-American Genealogical Society finds itself orphaned in the wake of a decision to demolish part of the Auburn, Maine school that contains its headquarters. They’re looking for suitable new digs that can accommodate their extensive collections of data on Franco-American families. Here’s wishing them well in this time of transition.

Sad and confused: Families with ancestors buried in some of the 1,200 Bensenville (Ill.) graves being moved to make way for an expansion of O’Hare Airport share their considerable frustration at the process with the Chicago Tribune. The story drives home how convoluted and painful it can be to manage such a transition. Some relatives say that kin unknown to them have authorized moving the graves, and the city isn’t sharing who did what. “I guess it is first come, first served,” says one unhappy relative. “I didn’t know it was a race to see who could get there first.”

Without a trace: Here’s a cemetery with the opposite problem: no takers. Preservationists in the Canadian town of Gatineau are trying to figure out a way to reclaim a neglected, overgrown family cemetery with historic importance. Ideally, they’d like to find descendants of the family who would take an interest, although local officials wouldn’t mind giving the place heritage status.  Their problem: The family in question still owns the land and must be consulted, but nobody can locate them.

Greek odyssey: Sometimes it’s too easy to get grumpy about how fast the world is changing, until you see an article about a fascinating and detailed website that documents emigrants from the Greek island of Kastellorizo and their Australian descendants. And then you marvel all over again the amazing ease of connection and communication that’s possible in the Internet age.

Sad map: The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire resulted in an outpouring of articles, from the political to the philosophical to the personal. The Bowery Boys took a cartographic approach: mapping the homes of the dead — a snapshot of immigrant life in New York City at the turn of the century. Genealogy researchers might find it worth a look as an example of how understanding the neighborhood demographics can be a useful signpost, particularly in big cities like New York.

Record growth: In an update released last week, FamilySearch.org noted that more than 1.7 million records were indexed in a single day (Monday, March 21), along with other eye-popping statistics detailing the remarkable growth surge of the LDS’ online repository.

Now hasn’t that last item inspired you to go off and check those databases again? I’ll race you there. Oh, and enjoy the week.

Remembering Triangle, A Century On

The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire passed today, marked by ceremonies in front of the building where 146 workers died. And for the first time all the names of the victims were read. The final few unidentified dead have now been accounted for, thanks to the work of a dogged researcher who dug into genealogical sources and previously untapped accounts in the the immigrant press. For most of the dead were young immigrant women in their teens and early 20s, although strollerderby’s Sunny Chanel notes that the youngest worker killed was only 11 — reflecting the fact that tough laws against child labor would not be enacted until 1916. [Edited to note: Most historical accounts I have seen list the youngest victims as 14,  a bit older, but the point still stands.]

The fire was a landmark not only in New York City history, but in the fight for workers’ rights in general. Sadly, the lure of cheap clothes continues to fuel new Triangle-style garment factories across the globe, as Kevin Clarke reports in in America magazine. And a survivor’s granddaughter writes about the legacy of outrage and activism the fire cast over her own family, as well as the progress yet to be made.

Seems like a good time for a listen to a quintessential anthem for women workers:

Liz Taylor’s Heartland Roots

Elizabeth Taylor, who was probably the reason the word “fabulous” was invented, and who died on Wednesday at age 79, had family roots in Springfield, Ill., reports the State-Journal Register.

Imagine that!

“Taylor’s father, art dealer Francis Lenn Taylor, was born in Springfield on Dec. 28, 1897. His parents, Francis Marion Taylor and Elizabeth Mary Rosemond, were married in Sangamon County Feb. 27, 1890.”

Now that isn’t as fabulous as being 15 minutes late (intentionally) to your own funeral, but it’s still pretty darn fabulous if you’re from Springfield, as is Mr. Archaelogist (a k a the guy at  Actuarial Opinions), to whom I owe this important genealogical tidbit.

And let us also not forget that Springfield is hosting the 2011 Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference in September.

This concludes today’s news update regarding Springfield fabulousness. You’re welcome, Springfield.

Deep Thought Of The Day

I realized I’d reached some sort of watershed the day I noticed that anytime I fed my surnames into genealogy meta-search engines, they’d just spit all my own posts and queries right back at me.

Quote Of The Day

“I checked it very thoroughly,” said the computer, “and that quite definitely is the answer. I think the problem, to be quite honest with you, is that you’ve never actually known what the question is.”

From (where else?) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams …

(… who could have been thinking about genealogy, not just The Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe and Everything.)

The Ugly Files: Playing with Picasa

A crucial feature of the Ugly Files: Photos. Not the subject matter, of course!

But oh, the organization. I have a MacBook, and  iPhoto is a great application, but it’s always worrisome to think that someday the laptop could be stolen, or drop out a window, or just up and quit one day, and take hundreds of photos to never-never land.

I do back up to an external hard drive, but — duh! What if there’s a fire and both the drive and the laptop go up in smoke?

After way too many months of thinking “I really should do something about that,” I have officially entered the cloud, or online storage, or whatever you like to call it. As a first step, I’ve been exploring Picasa, Google’s image organizer. What I like, so far:

• Editing the photos using Google’s Picnik application is pretty easy. At least, it is for basic editing — cropping, adjusting sharpness, contrast and shadows, etc. I honestly don’t know what it would do with stuff like color saturation and fine-tuning, but then, in this context I’m mostly interested in information, not restoration.

• The caption area is roomy and easy to read, which is nice after trying to squeeze genealogical information into iPhoto fields.

• It’s simple to designate an album as private, which means only people I invite can view it.

• It’s possible to order prints from Picasa albums, which is also nice.

I’m sure there are many lively opinions out there about the pros and cons of various photo organizers. What are your thoughts?


The Ugly Files is an occasional series in which I document various stops in my journey to organize my genealogy life.