Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Beginning

As many of you are aware starting in April 2011 and going through June of 2012 various organizations across the country are sponsoring various events in recognition of the Sesquicentennial (150 years) anniversary of the Civil War.  It is an appropriate time for my new blog.  This is my small effort to share an amazing civil war artifact which I acquired in June of this year.  First just a little history on the who, what, where, when and how.  My gt. gt. gt. grandfather, Henry Stephen Archer Sr. (pictured to the left) was born in North Carolina in 1832 and lived his adult life in Mississippi.  He is a huge Brick Wall in my genealogy research.  About his family and himself I have a great deal of information; about his parents, not so much.  Regardless, before June of this year, I had a pretty good idea of who and what this man was.  I knew he was a Baptist minister and served various churches in the north east portion of Mississippi (Tishomingo county) as well as the south west part of Mississippi, Wilkinson county, in his later life.  I knew he had a large family.  I knew he was not a huge land owner.  I knew he did not own slaves.  I knew he was in the Civil War, enlisting 13 March 1862 in the 32nd Mississippi Infantry under Col. Lowry as a sergeant and maybe later in the 41st Mississippi Infantry as a chaplain.  I knew he died in 1909 in Wilkinson county, Mississippi. 

In June I received an email from a gentleman I didn’t know - found it in my online spam folder.  (This only gets checked once every month or so).  He had some information about H. S. Archer.  He sounded interesting so I contacted him via email.  The communication developed into daily contact and phone calls.  As it turns out this gentleman knew of a Diary which had been kept by my ancestor during a period of his enlistment in the Civil War!  

I know most of you can imagine the amazement I felt.  I really had to get my hands on this diary.  Quickly I found a bibliographic reference to the diary and contacted Vanderbilt Library only to discover the original microfilm referenced in the bibliography could NO LONGER BE FOUND in their collection.  You can imagine my disappointment. 

However, with a little further help from my friend Amanda Perrin, Librarian Extraordinaire and member of ProGen, I discovered a microfilm copy at the University of California at Santa Barbara.  I immediately contacted the library, inquiring about their ILL (Interlibrary Loan) policy.  Yes, you guessed it another road block, the Special Collections library would not lend to any of the libraries in my small town:  reason -  no “Special Collection Room”.  

Back to the gentleman who originally shared this knowledge with me.  He decided to try to get the microfilm through ILL in his place of residence; he lives in a much larger city.  The UCSB library agreed to loan the film.  Hooray!! Upon arrival of the film at his library however he was told the microfilm reader with the digital images functionality was broken!  Really!!!

So my friend, the very generous gentleman, seeing all other avenues blocked made photocopies of the diary pages.  Now so you understand, there are 142 pages to the diary!  Granted the book itself is relatively small…. probably only 3 x 5 inches, so each two pages could be copied as one page.  Even so that is about 75 pages.  And if you have been doing research since before computers, you know how high quality those photocopies of microfilm are.  Yeah, right!!

Regardless of all these negatives -  there were 142 pages of the diary, all written by my ancestor in 1862 through 1864.  OMG, I was beside myself waiting for those images.  Then came the part of this adventure when I attempted to explain to this wonderful gentleman how to scan the copies he had; how to put those digital images on a flash drive, (he said “a what drive?”) or even simply to put them in Dropbox for me.  I will not go there, some things are better left to hazy memories, kind of like childbirth.  Suffice it to say, I did finally receive the digital images.  I did finally get to read through all 142 pages of the diary; some pages more easily than others, and not just once but several times.  I also have been able to transcribe as much of the diary as is decipherable. 

So here on this blog the next step of this grand adventure will continue.  I thought it would be really cool to do a daily post from the diary on the 150 year anniversary but that would not be until this time next year and I just can’t wait.  So this will be the 149 year anniversary and I will be posting the image and my transcription for each day or days of this amazing diary. 

I have learned so much about my ancestor.  I still do not know who his parents were but I know the man now.  I know how he felt about things.  I know how he felt about his wife and children, about his way of life and about the war.  I realize he had an amazing sense of humor.  I learned he took joy in the beauty of the world.  I hope you enjoy the view, through this small window, into the heart and soul of a man who lived over one hundred years ago.