Historic Staff Spotlight: Marion Tinling

We are taking a look at past staff and their many contributions to the National Archives throughout history. Today’s staff spotlight is on Marion Tinling, an expert on shorthand, who worked for the National Historical Publications Commission in the 1950s and early 1960s.

Marion Tinling (née Goble) was born on December 17, 1904, in Queens, New York. She attended Occidental College in Los Angeles for two years before completing her bachelor’s degree in English at Keuka College in 1929. She returned to California, where she married Willis Tinling in 1933 and had three children. After the couple divorced in 1947, she kept the name last name Tinling and raised her three children as a single mother.

Tinling worked as a research assistant and publications manager at the Huntington Library in San Marino for 19 years, then moved to Sacramento 1949 to work for the Department of Education as an editorial assistant. 

She was hired in 1954 to work in the National Historical Publications Commission (NHPC) transcribing Thomas Lloyd’s shorthand notes, which he made in 1789 during the debates of the first session of the First Federal Congress. Lloyd was a stenographer and the publisher of the short-lived Congressional Register (also known as History of the Proceedings And Debates of the First House of Representatives of the United States of America). 

Lloyd had invented his own shorthand system, and the Library of Congress had acquired two volumes that recorded what was happening in Congress during that first, precedent-setting session. In addition to his notes, Lloyd included doodles and drawings on the pages, which made the task of transcribing even more difficult. 

The NHPC (now the NHPRC), part of the National Archives, was created to promote the publication of the documents that tell the nation’s history, and the Commission was tasked with translating and transcribing the Floyd volumes. Tinling was an expert in translating shorthand, and it didn’t hurt that she had a book Floyd had written on his system which allowed her to decipher the notes. 

Tinling worked with enlarged copies of Lloyd’s notebook pages to create somewhat of a transcript. Since Lloyd’s shorthand was nearly indecipherable, an exact transcription would have been useless. So while preserving as much of the character and text of the original documents, Tinling made a translation that made sense to 20th-century readers.

Tinling was initially hired for one year to work on the Lloyd project but stayed with the NHPC for almost eight years.

During her time at NHPC, she took extended leaves of absences to work on translations of William Byrd II’s shorthand journals and diaries. Byrd, founder of the city of Richmond, was a Virginia planter and enslaver who kept detailed diaries in shorthand, which Tinling translated. Byrd had spent considerable time overseas in England, and in 1960 Tinling received a Guggenheim grant to spend a year in London researching Byrd’s letters. Tinling ultimately transcribed and edited several historical books of the Byrd family and was considered the definitive expert on William Byrd II.

In 1962, while working on a project on the ratification of the Constitution, Tinling resigned from the National Archives to move back west.

Back in California she worked with the Sacramento County Department of Social Welfare and established the first nonprofit agency to deliver meals to the elderly, Meals a la Car. During the later years of her life, she wrote several books on women’s history. Her last publication was in 2001 at age 97 about Sacagawea’s son Jean Baptiste Charbonneau.

Tinling died on December 30, 2006, at the age of 102. 

2 thoughts on “Historic Staff Spotlight: Marion Tinling

  1. I would never have imagined that William Byrd, founder of Richmond, used shorthand. Fascinating! What a life and career she had. Thank you for sharing Marion Tinling’s story.

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