Today’s post comes from Alan Walker, archivist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
Now, maybe it’s happened to you: that “needle in a haystack,” “home run,” unbelievable find that blew you away, and brought joy to a researcher. We archival folks live for that moment.
Let me share with you one such moment from my career. During busy times in the Still Picture Branch, the processing staff can be called upon to help answer reference letters, or staff the research room. One day in early 1995, I was asked to help with the backlog of letters.
This one from Mr. Evan Evans looked promising:
A 90mm antiaircraft gun? No problem! We have tons of photos of various artillery pieces and vehicles in our files. Or so I thought.
I spent half the day trying to track down a decent shot of the antiaircraft gun Mr. Evans requested, and I came up empty. Then I read through his letter again. He and his gun crew set a record for downing 12 Japanese bombers over Rendova? Maybe they had been photographed after their feat; the military services are always on the lookout for a good story to tell the folks back home.
So I checked out series 127-GW, under the heading Rendova . . . and what do you know?
Needless to say, I was amazed, and Mr. Evans was overjoyed! He wrote me a touching letter saying how he’d never expected that a photo of him would be in the Archives. Seeing it brought back for him a flood of memories and emotions. And yep, I teared up, too.
Some time later, a new orientation exhibit was being installed in the basement area of Archives II and there was a call for “success stories” among the staff. I sent along my story, and it was selected for display. Here it is in 2013.
Making someone’s day—there’s really nothing better! What needles have you found in your archival haystack? Tell us about your home run!