Monday, November 16, 2009

Exciting news!

I mentioned in my last entry that I have some exciting news about this project. Well, enough time has passed that I feel I can let the cat out of the bag...

I have hundreds more letters to add to my collection!

I have been in contact with Barbara Loftus, Carroll's grand-niece (Mary's granddaughter), and she very kindly loaned to me several boxes full of her family's papers to sort, scan, and transcribe. I admit I may be biased, but I feel that her collection is one of great historical importance to Minnesota, and I can't wait to share it with you.

Some highlights of the collection -

- All of the letters Carroll sent Ellen after being drafted in WWII
- Letters Ellen sent her parents while teaching school in the teens
- The Simmons kids' report cards, including Carroll's
- Many drafts of letters that Nellie wrote and never got a chance to finish, describing life at Cloverly
- Letters to Fanny Pringle, Nellie's mother, and Florence Simmons, Frank's mother, discussing life in the 1860s and 1870s
- Hair belonging to Frank; Nellie; Nellie's sister, Mary; and Florence (Frank and Nellie's baby who died at eighteen months)
- And so much more.

(I feel like I'm starring in an infomercial here. "Order now, and we'll throw in a vintage marriage license from 1886!")

I've been looking over the papers for the past week. I have now arrived at the question -

How do I best "preserve and interpret" this rich mine of information? And more important still, how do I use modern technology to share it with those who are interested? I am blessed to be in a unique position: I have access to a huge family archive - an historically important family's archive, besides - that stretches over a hundred and fifty years. That's lucky in and of itself, but on top of that, I don't need to follow any guidelines or historical society protocol or what have you, as most researchers have to do. I have the chance make my own rules, my own standards, and come up with my own ideas how this information can be shared. This is an opportunity that a university professor would drool over, let alone a nerdy twenty-year-old girl with nothing but a high school degree. I am so blessed. It is an opportunity that I really hope to grasp and make the most of.

Consequently I am thinking of hosting and creating my own website from scratch so that I can have more control over the design, the layout, and the content. There are some ideas kicking around in my head that I don't think Googlepages - as nice as it has been to have when there were only about fifty letters to share - can accommodate. Yes, I realize building a website showcasing hundreds and hundreds of pages of letters is a tall order for someone who only had a semester of web design class several years ago in high school. But if building my own website is the best way to preserve, interpret, and share this information...then that's what I'm going to try to do. The historical value of these papers is due nothing less. In other words: if I'm going to do it, I might as well do it well.

I'll close with a quote from a letter that Carroll wrote to Ellen from New York in March 1943 -

I left Wed by bus for Geneva...back by way of Le Roy - to see Mrs. Spinner - she told me of an old house being broken up - so I hiked out to it - and spent four hours rummaging in attics, sheds, barns, etc... It was the most fun I have had in months -

I was lucky enough to have my own antiques loaned to me, but, like Carroll, this is surely "the most fun I have had in months."

I'll keep you all posted. Thanks for coming along on this journey with me.


1 comment:

Ben W. Brumfield said...

Wow -- what a haul! It is very rare indeed to find such a collection of papers assembled into one place. I've been trying to transcribe and share my great-great grandmother's diaries, but the first step is tracking them down: after her death, they were distributed out to all of her grandchildren. That was seventy years ago, so you can imagine how hard it is to assemble them!

When I started transcribing, I looked around for website software that would let me not only share the scanned pages and transcriptions, but get other people to correct transcriptions and comment on the people involved. At the time (2005), nothing existed, so I had to build my own.

I'd be happy to host your collection on my site gratis and work with you to modify it however you'd like. My software's a bit rough around the edges, however, so it would probably require some patience on your part.

Another option you might investigate is the Page namespace on wikisource. It was developed around 2006 as a proofreading plugin for MediaWiki, and a few projects (especially on the German site) are using it for transcribing handwritten materials.