* Civil War telegrams from Abraham Lincoln.
* Original signatures of Andrew Jackson.
* Presidential portraits of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
* NASA photographs from space and on the moon.
* Presidential pardons.
What do these all have in common? They were all in the National Archives at one time but now are not, or at least can’t be found. Some were stolen and later found on Ebay or in the possession of collectors, some I don’t doubt were misfiled (it’s easy enough to do, you often get stacks of material with no index).
The Archives’ stewardship of the nation’s records has been questioned before. In a well-publicized incident, former President Bill Clinton’s national security adviser, Sandy Berger, took documents from the Archives in the fall of 2003 while preparing, along with other ex-Clinton administration officials, for testimony to the Sept. 11 commission. In September 2005, Berger was sentenced to two years of probation, 100 hours of community service, a $50,000 fine and loss of his security clearance for three years. Some records have been missing for decades from the Archives’ 44 facilities in 20 states and the capital, including 13 presidential libraries.
Perhaps eventually all this information will be digitally archived, although the holdings are vast, and there will be times when you need to look at the original documents. For example, I’ve found some CW era documents that were so faded as the be unreadable, but could be “brought up” to readability by copying them with the contrast turned all the way up.
Blogger/teacher Betsy Newmark has some thoughts as well.
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