Finding Its Way Back Home: The Saga of a Misfiled Document

This post was written by David Langbart, archivist in Textual Reference at the National Archives in College Park, MD.

Archival mantra holds that a misfiled document is as good as gone forever.  That is, unless somebody finds it, recognizes its status as a misfile, and refiles it in its proper location.

It can, however, be difficult to determine if a document is an actual misfile.  From time-to-time, though, archivists do run across documents that are without a doubt misfiled.  In the Central Decimal File of the Department of State (Record Group 59), it is easy to make that determination since each document is clearly marked with a file number.

Recently, while working on a reference inquiry I ran across one such clearly misfiled document.  Even though it was on the subject of Peruvian diplomats in the United States, it was found amongst the documents on the diplomats of a different country in the U.S.  Why it was filed there is unclear.  It did not fit any of the usual reasons, such as transposed file numbers.

When I refiled the document in its correct location, I found this “Charge Slip.”  The document had been charged out in July 1944.  Since it was not returned to its proper location, it was essentially lost for over 76 years.  We have no way of knowing how many people might have looked for the document over the years and not found it, but it is now where it belongs and can be seen by researchers who might go looking for it.

Charge Slip with decimal number at the top, 3 rows have been filled out. The last row is for a document checked out on July 7, 1944

2 thoughts on “Finding Its Way Back Home: The Saga of a Misfiled Document

  1. A few years ago while processing Army records, I found a circa 1919 document pertaining to Carl Sandburg which was clearly out of context with the other records in the series, with no explanation. I recognized it as a numbered Military Intelligence Division (MID) document removed from its proper series. I checked the index to MID records and found the document indexed, but missing from the series, possibly for as many as ninety years! I restored the document to its proper place in the collection.

  2. David, I can attest to the great feeling of satisfaction that comes from catching a misfile: whether the lowly Fog Signal Station file I did just yesterday or the many INS case files that other staff and I caught while on the INS Central Subject Correspondence project.
    Considering the 1920s time span of many of the INS misfiles, I was
    speculating on whether they occurred with greater frequencies on Friday afternoons with file clerks anticipating a visit to a speakeasy or on Monday mornings after a weekend of secretly imbibing …

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