An Embarrassment of Riches

A photograph of two open journals and a selection of letters to and from the Randall Wade family during their trip across Europe and the UK  in 1870-71

A selection of items from WRHS MSS. 3934 & 3292 related to the European Travels of Randall Wade and Family (1870-71). Image courtesy of Western Reserve Historical Society.

Archival research requires a level of rigor in a researcher that does not come naturally to me.  Last week I  pulled a selection of items from the Wade papers to give some visitors a better sense of the scope of just one part of The Wade Project–Randall Wade’s European Travels.

I had a vague idea of what I wanted to pull before heading up to the stacks, but my first stop is always the finding aids for MS. 3292 Jeptha Homer Wade Family Papers , MS. 3934 Randall Wade Travel Journals, and MS. 4585 Donald McBride Family Papers.   I was looking at hard copies of the finding aids but you can  find them online in the OhioLink Finding Aid Repository thanks to the hard work of WRHS Curator of Manuscripts Margaret Burzynski-Bays.

Here’s where the rigor comes in.  Give me a set of finding aids and I am like a kid in a candy shop.  My first inclination is to pull anything and everything because every document tells a piece of the story.   Then I have to step back and ask myself a couple of questions. What is today’s story?  What is the smallest number of wonderful documents I can you use to tell that story?   Last week the goal I set for myself was 10 documents.

Searching for Indiana Jones in the archival stacks of Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

Searching for Indiana Jones in the archival stacks of Western Reserve Historical Society, Cleveland, Ohio

Next it was up, up up to the stacks pushing my empty cart.  I love the archival stacks.  Aisle after aisle of tall shelves  filled with albums, document boxes, standard sized legal boxes, and over-sized boxes.   Whenever I step off the elevator into the stacks I am reminded of the scene in Hangar 51 at the end of “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”  Last week I made three stops in three aisles to gather the materials I needed.  My imagination meanwhile provided a soundtrack–background noise, the whispers of hidden tales from the thousands and thousands of containers I will never have the opportunity to open and explore.

I returned to the reading room with five boxes and from them came the selection of items you see in the photograph above:

  • One of the three volumes of Randall Wade’s travel journal
  • Susan Maranda Fleming’s journal, she was Randall’s stepmother
  • Letters from Randall Wade to his father, Jeptha Homer Wade, in Cleveland
  • Letters from Randall’s son “Homer” to his grandfather in Cleveland
  • Letters Jeptha Homer Wade to his son, his wife, his daughter-in-law, and his grandson in Europe

With apologies to Oscar Wilde, “To have one journal may be regarded as a fortune,  to have two journals and representative letters from multiple generations on both sides of the Atlantic is an embarrassment of riches.”

I love my job!

To lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.

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