Lesson Learned: The Hunt for Primary Sources

While I was already under certain time constraints, I definitely did not help myself when it came to finding sources. More questions should have been posed to family members, mostly my father, of what was available closer to home.  My initial thought was to look through archives rather than family records. This is mainly due to the fact that I had a preconceived notion that I had already seen everything we had on my grandfather. Combined with where and how I found inspiration for this project, this was the basic problem with my hunt for primary sources.

My inspiration for this project came almost a year ago, as I was procrastinating on another hunt for primary sources, this time for a History class.  I was hitting dead ends in the search and was becoming very disheartened and stressed. To ease that feeling, I went to Youtube and searched for calming music. After settling on some Hans Zimmer, I had the sudden inclination to search for anything on the 362nd Fighter Group. Googling my grandfather had not produced anything new in a few years (I found myself doing this about twice a year since his passing), so I did not search for him, which turned out to be a good thing. In the results page, there it was; color footage of the 362nd Fighter Group, and 3 minutes in, there was my grandfather.

I subscribed to the content creator (Zeno’s Warbirds) and messaged him to find out where he had found this footage. This was the beginning of my project, even though it took me another two months to officially declare it as such. My hunt for primary sources should have started soon after I found that first video. Instead, it took another four months after my official decision to figure out where to look for more records, and still this was nowhere near home. St. Louis, Missouri, Dayton, Ohio, and Tulsa, Oklahoma were my points of reference when I could have been looking in my own house.

So, sorry to say, I’ve accomplished more in the search for records on my grandfather in the past month than in the previous eight months.  I would say this is due in large part to my lack of understanding what was actually out there, along with not asking questions  to those who would know more, a.k.a. my father and uncle. I also overloaded my class schedule in the fall so that any real searches were rushed and half hearted until December. Contact with the archives in St. Louis was not initiated until then, and I had to have my father actually do it since I was not considered next of kin.  That was also when I began my correspondence with the archives in Dayton, and both the archivist and museum curator there proved to be the second biggest help in my search for information after my father.

So the lesson learned in my hunt for primary sources:

  1. Search sooner rather than later
  2. Search near before searching far
  3. Ask questions, no matter how stupid they may sound

In the end, I felt far more foolish for not asking the obvious questions about the items closest to me months ago. Now, I know.

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