USSC Processing Project: The United States Sanitary Commission Records Open for Research on July 16, 2013
We are delighted to announce that archival processing of the records of this important Civil War humanitarian organization has been completed. The collection will be available for research in the Manuscripts and Archives Division reading room beginning on July 16, following usual procedures. A draft guide to the collection will be made available at that time.
The project marks the first comprehensive arrangement of the entire collection since 1878, made possible by generous funding from the Robert W. Wilson Charitable Trust. Intensive foundational arrangement, description and rehousing of the collection has been conducted over the past three years, thanks to the efforts of project staff members Elizabeth Delmage, Melissa Haley, Joseph Lapinski and Jane Rothstein. We also thank Division staff Jeffrey Stovich and Elizabeth Shulman for chipping in when needed.
Every effort has been made to restore the identity and functionality of correspondence, records books, and other materials so that the work of the USSC, in partnership with the American people and the U.S. government, can be more easily discovered and explored.
As a sampling of work accomplished:
Approximately 1,500 volumes have been analyzed and described to provide context as to their creation and use. Many lacked their original bindings, and were encased in wrappers with minimal and sometimes erroneous labelling. Partially-filled journals, record books and letterpress copybooks were often reused by others at a later time. When possible, these multiple and varied uses have been identified, to make pertinent information about a particular person, place or activity more visible to researchers.
Tens of thousands of tri-folded and bundled documents in multiple record groups have been sorted, flattened, identified and foldered. These include letters, reports and other documents which were numbered, endorsed and listed in registers by the USSC's Archive Department. We were also able to return a large amount of unsorted and mislocated materials to their appropriate record groups. As a result of this work, the records of USSC offices, departments, auxiliary branches, and aid societies are now more comprehensive and accessible.
A substantial body of records highlight a core "special relief" service of the USSC—helping soldiers and their relatives file pension, back pay and other claims with the government, free of charge. Roughly 35,000 jacketed claim application files have been opened, flattened and placed in individual files identifiable by name and claim number. The register volumes used by the USSC to formally record and manage the applications have been identified and described to provide enhanced access to claim information. We are grateful to our loyal group of NYPL volunteers, who helped process the claim files.
Special thanks are due to staff in the Barbara Goldsmith Preservation Division, who provided conservation treatment and housing for a variety of materials. To give just one example, many thousands of letters and other documents, which had been glued to stubs in over one hundred letterbooks, were removed, cleaned and repaired. Their efforts and expertise have done wonders in making large amounts of heavily soiled and damaged materials physically accessible for research. Their dedication to the project is much appreciated.
The leaders of the USSC, men and women, did their best to ensure that a documentary record of the Commission's work would be left for posterity. We believe that the records now present a clearer view of the USSC's organizational structure, its working relationships, and its methods of communication. Our goal has been to improve access so that researchers can fully explore its activities during and after the Civil War, and hear more easily the voices and thoughts of those who experienced those times, as captured by pen, pencil, paper and telegram. We encourage those who have previously worked in the collection to make a return visit!
Past blog posts on the project:
Apr 26, 2010: The USSC Records Processing Project
Sept 30, 2010: Diving In
Oct 8, 2010: The USSC's Archive Department
Dec 2, 2010: Harvests for Health
Dec 22, 2010: Giving
Feb 23, 2011: A Sense of History
Mar 31, 2011: Accounts and Vouchers
July 19, 2011: Tales from the North Carolina Record Books
Aug 30, 2011: What’s My Line?
Nov 18, 2011: Department of the Gulf
Dec 20, 2011: Army of the Potomac
May 9, 2012: A Day at the (Civil War) Office
Oct 4, 2012: After Antietam