Adventures in the Archives, Part 3

Adventures in the Archives, Part 3

Adventures in the Archives, Part 3

As much as I love to visit in person, and as vital as it is to my research, though, there are limits to my ability to travel. For the most part, I’ve paid for my own research trips. I had funding from my college and help from the Mayflower Society for my most recent trip, but other than that, I’ve paid for everything else.

So I’m learning to use technology in other ways. Another clue from an old book led me on a path to a previously unknown archive in a small public library. That archive never came up in searches; all of their finding aids were in separate PDFs that weren’t searchable at once. I had to go through about 12 files before I found the information I sought. Before, I was spoiled and naïve enough to think that if it didn’t come up in an online catalogue search, it didn’t exist.

That information was a historical file on a house the Austins built, as well as a letter from Austin and a publicity photo for a dedication of a book to the library. I requested scans and promptly sent in my check to cover the cost, but I honestly wasn’t expecting to find much. I’ve seen dedicatory letters such as this one and they’re usually polite and friendly, but they don’t yield much information.

Much to my surprise, though, the photo was one I had never seen, and it featured Austin in a deep (and apparently costly) mourning ensemble, complete with veil and full gloves. I wish I could share it here, but I don’t have permission. Fortunately, she had hand-written the date on the photo, so I was able to double-check it with my other records and realize she was mourning her brother, John Abbott Goodwin, who had died a few weeks prior to the photograph.

This image is from the page linked above and features a very similar ensemble, although this woman was supposedly mourning her husband, not her brother (does anyone else think it’s a little strange to have a publicity photograph taken of yourself while you’re in mourning?).

But even more important than the photograph, the historical file on the house contained detailed information providing me with quite a few more leads for investigating the early years of the Austins’ marriage in Cambridge. It took me 7 years to find this material, and I didn’t have much hope for it, but it turned out to be an important find.

I’ve also learned that just because I checked an archive before, it doesn’t mean that I should assume I found everything. I asked about Isaac Goodwin, Austin’s father, when I was at the American Antiquarian Society 7 years ago, and the librarian couldn’t find anything on him. Turns out they’ve either updated their catalogue or acquired some new items, because I was following up on another lead and ran across his name a few days ago. Now I’ve got quite a bit to follow up on.

I also spent a lot of time at the Houghton Library at Harvard and pored over their catalogue, but recently I discovered that they have letters from Austin’s mother to her employer. The scans arrived within a few days and they are incredibly poignant and telling. But I’m ending on that cliff-hanger, because I haven’t thoroughly processed them myself just yet!

 

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