Detective Work

Jun 29, 2011

As part of their time with us, we ask our digital cataloging interns to write a blog post to share some of their experiences and “finds” while working in the Roosevelt collections. As they start to wrap up their internship hours, we will start to share their blog entries with you. Here is one from Liza, based in Texas.

One of the most surprising things about working with the materials from the Theodore Roosevelt Center has been the amount of puzzling, identity-work involved. I had rather expected everything and everyone would be clearly identified, despite all the archival training and experience that should have had me anticipating the exact opposite. Telegram from William H. Taft to Theodore Roosevelt. Letter from Elihu Root to William Loeb. People legibly signing their full names. Why on earth did I have this expectation? A random romanticization of the past? Was it because I was to be working with primarily government documents? Well, regardless of the reason, foolish me! Instead, I found telegrams signed with only a series of initials and letters addressed merely, “Dear Sir.” Sir who? However, this potentially frustrating cache often turned out to be the most rewarding. I got to play detective on documents like these. Through contextual clues and dogged internet searches, I was usually able to deduce writers and addressees. Below is one of my first triumphs: a telegram to President Roosevelt from “Morgan.”

Detail, Telegram from Edwin V. Morgan to Theodore Roosevelt, 24 Sept. 1905.

Detail, Telegram from Edwin V. Morgan to Theodore Roosevelt, 24 Sept. 1905. Library of Congress Manuscripts division. Electronic copy sponsored by the Theodore Roosevelt Center at Dickinson State University.

Transcript of detail:
The President:
The situation in Japan makes it not advisable that Miss Roosevelt visits Japan except during the necessary stops of the Siberia. It is proposed that she and her present party take that steamer at Shanghai. No mail boat for Shanghai available; the fleet goes to Shanghai from Cheefoo this week. Should Admiral offer to instruct one of his vessels to touch at Chemulpo on the way Shanghai, may the party accept transportation—Morgan.

So, how does one go about determining the identity of this Morgan? First, “Miss Roosevelt” must refer to Alice Roosevelt, President Roosevelt’s first daughter and the only one old enough at the time to be traveling abroad with a party. Perhaps there is a connection between Morgan and Alice? Search time! An initial internet search of “Alice Roosevelt and Morgan” gave me a multitude of results regarding John Pierpont Morgan and the Roosevelt family. I doubted, however, that financier J.P. Morgan would be writing to President Roosevelt regarding the situation in Japan and Alice’s trip abroad. He is probably the wrong Morgan.

The telegram’s Morgan appears to know quite a bit about Japan and the telegram itself comes from Seoul (then under Japanese dominion). So, to narrow my results, I added “Japan” to the search criteria. Bingo! A document in the top 5 results said that “Alice Roosevelt and American Minister Morgan were entertained by the emperor.” Morgan was a minister. This is very good news as it means that there is probably going to be some official documentation for Morgan. I cleared my previous search keywords and entered, “American minister Morgan.” Several articles from the New York Times archive popped up, all citing an “Edwin Morgan.” Finally, a first name! However the Times articles called Morgan the American Minister to Cuba. What would the Minister to Cuba be doing writing about the situation in Japan? However, now that I had Morgan’s first name, I could do a more refined search: “Edwin Morgan, American minister, Japan.” For good measure, I also added the date of the telegram: “1905.”

Success! Two documents came up that fairly confirmed Edwin Morgan as the sender of the telegram. The first was a list of former American Chiefs of Mission in Korea from the US Embassy . “Edwin V. Morgan: March 18, 1905 through December, 8, 1905.” The date on the telegram fit within those dates, which clinched it. The second document was another article from the Times explaining how Edwin V. Morgan was to replace Herman G. Squiers as Minister to Cuba. That explained my previous results of Morgan as the American Minister to Cuba.

Looking back, it seems like a lot of work to find out the name of a relatively obscure minister, but that kind of hunt helped flesh out the rest of the era for me. I ended up learning far more about Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency when everything wasn’t laid out for me. A simple telegram regarding Alice Roosevelt’s travel plans suddenly starts to look like a lot more.

Liza Oldham completed her M.L.I.S. at Pratt Institute’s School of Information and Library Science.
Posted by Liza Oldham on Jun 29, 2011 in History  |  Permalink  |  Comments (1)  |  Share this post

Carole Shaw said,

Lisa: For a more detailed explanation to answer some of your questions re: Miss Roosevelt and Edwin V. Morgan, may I refer you to the book, The Foreign Destruction of Korean independence, published by Seoul National University in 2007?

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