Today’s post is by George Fuller, Archival Reference Technician at the National Archives at St. Louis.
Working at the National Archives at St. Louis has been one of the most educational employment opportunities of my life. I have been employed at NARA STL for almost 6 years. In that time, I have come to know so much about the nation’s veterans, the branches of service, federal employees, and all of the civilian federal agencies. It is always a pleasure for me to answer public inquiries because it will most likely expose me to someone new; a new aspect of the military and its operations; the various agencies of the federal government; or even the federal government itself.
2020 has been a very strange year. NARA STL was closed from March 23rd until July. We reopened with limited staff and hours, but had to close again beginning in November due to rising COVID cases in our geographic region.
One of the many activities that has kept me busy throughout the year has been transcribing records online in the National Archives Catalog. Records previously digitized with handwritten or printed text need to be transcribed to allow for ease of locating via the search function as well as for accessibility purposes.
I have transcribed records from the late 1780’s related to the country’s founding, letters received by the Collector of the Customs at Boston (National Archives ID 6087721) as well as from the Departments of Treasury and State (National Archives ID 118747401). It is a non-stop educational experience and a bit of a thrill. I read of the founding of the Revenue Cutter service, which became today’s Coast Guard. Then about the war of 1812, the founding of the US Marshals, the development of our lighthouse service (National Archives ID 1994855), and the many designs and redesigns of lamps and lenses.
[The entire document and full transcription is from image 353 from “Volume 5: 1789 – 1807,” (National Archives ID 118747401), Letters Received from the Departments of State and Treasury, 1789 – 1882. Record Group 36: Records of the U.S. Customs Service.]
I read about the placement of those lighthouses across the 13 states that made up the United States at that time. While these specific records are not within the holdings at the National Archives at St. Louis, the information within these records informed my understanding of the records we, in St. Louis, do hold, such as those of the Departments of Treasury, State, Justice, the Coast Guard, and the LightHouse/Life Saving Service.
I have transcribed Indian treaties, Naval exercises, Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) records, photographs, and Courts Martial records. My most recent transcription experience has been with the Recovery of Holocaust-Era Assets (Claims, 1946 – 1950, National Archives ID 1561450).
Like most people who read a book, I often feel as though I am meeting a new person when I delve into these records. Recently I “met” Evelyn Tucker who worked for the U.S. Allied Commission For Austria (USACA) Section, Reparations And Restitutions Branch, Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Program. Miss Tucker was a lead investigator attempting to locate and repatriate art looted during WWII and scattered throughout Europe. She intrigued me – I had to know more about her. As I am sure all of us today are prone to do, I instinctively sought the aid of the ever present internet. I would have preferred to go directly to our own databases, military and civilian given her service in both, and look for her there, but in the end, I was heading in that general direction.
When I began searching for Miss Tucker on the internet, so many websites offered information about her. Nettie Evelyn Tucker, as I was to discover, was quite the accomplished person. In sharing my discovery with my co-worker we decided to see if we could locate further information on Evelyn. We were able to positively identify both her Official Military Personnel File (OMPF) and her civilian Official Personnel File (OPF). We verified these locations via remotely accessible databases, which was quite thrilling, knowing that further information about this profound person was available and in safekeeping at NARA STL.
Evelyn Tucker was an art history major at the University of Miami. When the United States entered WWII, Evelyn enlisted in the Army in the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC). According to the Miami News, dated March 2, 1943, when Evelyn enlisted she took the mental alertness test, scoring 141, the highest score of any applicant in that area. The mental alertness test is a precursor to today’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB). During her military career, Evelyn would be assigned to a counterintelligence unit with the US Army Air Corps. After Evelyn came to the end of her enlistment and reentered civilian life, she became a court stenographer at the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. Following that, Evelyn’s next career step was to join the The Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives program with a title of Fine Arts Officer and offices in Austria, Vienna, Salzburg, and Linz. Evelyn helped track down missing art, high value antique furniture, and architectural objects of artistic and historic value, serving in this capacity from 1946 – 1949. Many of these assertions are confirmed through the pieces I transcribed in combination with internet research and will inevitably be more fully contextualized in her OMPF and OPF.
In a letter I transcribed pertaining to an investigation of looted art that had been sold under false pretenses, I came across a very interesting interaction between Evelyn Tucker and a man named Samuel Wood. These records are from “Miscellaneous Austian Art, File No. 132” [sp], (National Archives ID 62367196). Evelyn was interviewing Mr. Wood because the agency that had sold the art had listed him as the buyer and Evelyn wanted to inspect the art to see if it had been properly sold or sold under false pretenses. Mr. Wood invited her to come and stay with him and his wife, Wilhelmina Busch, the Anheuser Busch beer company heiress. I found a particular delight in knowing that, since Anheuser Busch is located here in Saint Louis – it was truly one of those “small world” moments.
As I have yet to see and read through Evelyn Tucker’s personnel records, both her Civilian OPF and her Military OMPF, I cannot add more definitive information, without relying solely on the internet. I look forward to the opportunity to know more about this amazing individual and her accomplishments and career. I am delighted to read and transcribe the letters and memos in this series held at the National Archives at College Park, MD while knowing that eventually I will see and get to know more about her from the records here in St. Louis.
In a reminiscent moment I would like to share with you that as a child I loved learning about anything and everything. I was the kid who watched something on PBS, Nova, or other programming of a similar vein, and would afterwards go to the family encyclopedia set and read all that I could about a subject, following every “see also” to the end of the string. I would refer to the dictionary at my side to understand what all those new and big words meant as I went along.
Working on transcription as an employee of the National Archives at Saint Louis, I am able to do as I did as a child. And once introduced to a new person or subject, I can continue the research with our records, following every record source to the very end of the string. I am following the “see also’s” once again. I have shared all of these discoveries with my coworkers as I have come across them, the information often useful to them as well, able to inform our future reference work. Though I sometimes feel as though I am a child playing show and tell, I am glad to be able to share these discoveries, to use them to start conversations. Conversations that are welcome and needed in this time of 100% teleworking with its reduced direct human interaction that we have had to grow accustomed to.
Though the teleworking can, at times, be repetitive and very dry stuff, occasionally you find a new treasure. It seems odd I know, to be thankful for the COVID19 restrictions, the stay at home mandates, the transition to 100% telework, but in this instance I am. All of this transcription work has taught me so much, greatly expanded my knowledge, and it has introduced me to historical figures I may not have otherwise come to know.
I have so many other discoveries to share with you.