One of the keys I’ve found for researching history is to try to be a good communicator. That may mean sending dozens of expansive emails, or telephoning repositories and trying to befriend people the other end of the line.
Here are just a few examples as well as a review of some useful resources that others can use. It is not intended to be a scholarly article, more a series of personal experiences. As such I apologize in advance for a likely overdose of words like “I” and “me”.
Even today not all newspapers are online, and if they are, it is pot luck whether they are freely accessible or require you to take out a subscription. However, for the latter you can often sign up for a trial period and then hastily cancel. But a few years back there were two newspapers from the north of Scotland which had not made it onto internet databases. There was a debate on the subject of “future probation” between a Bible Student named Charles Houston and a local clergyman Donald Davidson that was mentioned in the pages of ZWT. (See ZWT reprints pages 1965, 1884 and 2278.) At the time the local papers wrote it all up in great detail, with a lot of local interest on both sides of the religious divide. I emailed the local library in Wick, Scotland, but got no response. So I telephoned and spoke at enthusiastic length to the librarian. He was most helpful and became quite hooked on this piece of local history. So he appointed a library assistant to - well, assist me. Over several months they painstakingly checked all the papers for me and scanned all the relevant bits and pieces. The results were several posts on this blog back in 2012 and a book on the subject that can still be obtained from Lulu. Just go to the Lulu site and punch in Houston-Davidson Debate.
That’s a blatant plug of course, but the download is free.
Never despise Google as a first port of call. For example, there is a family history site for the Paton family. They are a little wary of inquiries, but I managed to get in touch with a descendant of John H Paton who kindly sent me photographs of him, with permission to reproduce, and they have been on this blog. He also supplied a missing link in how the Almont Public Library obtained photocopies of Paton’s World’s Hope magazine. They had been offered to him for free several decades ago and he had turned down the offer. Which was a great shame. I am sure he would have shared them for free, whereas the library charged.
But do write to people and if you think there may be reticence there, be honest but speak soothingly and reassure them of your honorable intentions...
Many are quite clued up now, which means they will only assist after a fashion for a fee. But as illustrated with the Houston-Davidson debate above, it doesn’t hurt to phone if an email doesn’t work. One of the available issues of A D Jones’ Day Star paper came from an exchange with an American library. I telephoned from UK using one of the companies that give you international calls for pennies and burbled enthusiastically away. And although the guy took my credit card, he photographed the paper and sent me the pdf and I never did get charged. About twenty-five years ago three missing years of Storrs’ Bible Examiner came my way on a free microfilm after a friendly correspondence with a college librarian. If only more libraries or library staff would be like that.
The beauty of genealogical sites, especially international ones like Ancestry, is that you can be put in touch with people researching the same family. Every time I find someone relevant to this blog I contact who appear to be living relatives. I am currently in dialog with descendants of Leslie Jones, the doctor who produced the convention reports and got involved in the Mena Film Company and their planned sequel to the Photodrama of Creation. A little while back there was debate over the early days of the Bible Students in Britain. A photograph captioned Tom Hart turned out to be his friend Jonathan Ling, but only because a descendant contacted through Ancestry sent other photographs, and there he was. So if you use Ancestry, do contact all those who have your quarry on their tree or on their interest list. Some will never reply, but many do.
Find a Grave
This is one of my favorite sites and I delve in under a different name quite regularly. That is not morbidity on my part, but accompanying records often supply key information Quite often those who have supplied the information for Find a Grave, or a photograph, can sometimes supply a lot more. It is pot luck what you may find, but the database is rapidly increasing. I discovered who had left association with the IBSA by seeing who conducted their funeral, which may outside the scope of this project, but of interest to me. Links from Find a Grave to Ancestry helped me produce an article three years ago on all the names inscribed on the pyramid monument by CTR’s grave, and who they were and what happened to them.
And again, we are back to the importance of friendly communication. I always contact the person who supplied the entry and also the photographer of the grave. And on every occasion barring one, they have got back to me. So there is information from a descendant on John A Bohnet, for an article that may one day see the light of day. I also solved what was a puzzle to me about Malcom, Joseph F Rutherford’s only son. Records seemed to suggest that he married more than once (consecutively not concurrently I hasten to add). But were these people actually his wives? The person who had taken individual photographs but not joined up the dots sufficiently for my liking very kindly went back to the cemetery for me and photographed the graves together.
Malcom Rutherford WAS married twice and is buried beside both of his wives. He survived them both. The markers from left to right are for Bobby (Pauline) Rutherford, first wife, Eleanor Rutherford (second wife) and then Malcom Rutherford “in loving memory”. Which begs the question as to who put up the markers for all three, including him? My photographer couldn’t help with that one, but there are always loose ends to research.
I said on every occasion barring one. There is one exception where I didn’t get a refusal, just no response. It may be that the photographer no longer visits that site. Or being gloomy, has maybe joined the site. I probably could have just reproduced the picture and given a credit to Find a Grave, but my old-fashioned rules made me uncomfortable with that. For those who want to see the photograph check out the entry for Caroline M (Bown) Jones (1858-1933) buried in Union Dale Cemetery, Pittsburgh.
So who on earth was that?
Her gravestone says she was the wife of Albert D. Jones. Their son who only lived a week is buried there too, Albert D. Jones Jr. That is probably why the stone records the infamous Albert Delmont Jones name. Of course, our ADJ is not buried there. He dumped this wife for a society beauty, and she then dumped him when he lost his money. A third stab at matrimony had him tied with a con artiste who had a key role to play in the Fatty Arbuckle scandal. He ended his days destitute, and was buried in a potter’s field - which was subsequently covered by a freeway extension. Some mobsters who disappeared are reckoned to be buried under the freeway. In the case of Albert Delmont Jones that is literally true. Again, Find a Grave, and a detailed correspondence with a contributor, uncovered - if that is the right word - the story. It’s all been in this blog in times past.
As noted at the start, this was not intended to be a serious study in research methods. There are many who use resources and can probably find their way around them far better than I can. But sweet-talking people, being nice to them, showing an interest, and in many cases reassuring them - it’s amazing what may still be out there to find.