Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Genealogy Source Citation Frustration

Yankee Merchants
During my research on John Murdoch, I came across a statement in a book which mentioned that Murdoch had been backed by an East coast firm when he set up his company in St. Louis in 1838. It went on to say that when the East coast firm failed, it took Murdoch's company down with it. The book, Yankee Merchants and the Making of the Urban West, cited Missouri Vol. 37, p. 576 as the source of the information. Digging through all the citations in the back of the book, I determined that it referred to the R.G. Dun & Company Collection. R.G. Dun was the first successful commercial reporting agency in the United States, and it began in St. Louis. The firm later merged with J.M. Bradstreet & Company to become Dun & Bradstreet.

I was cautiously optimistic that I could look at the Dun collection at a local library, since they operated out of St. Louis. Unfortunately, the collection is housed at the Baker Library, Harvard University Graduate School of Business. I checked with the library online, and while the librarians there will look up items in an index, they will not look at the actual collection. This is not helpful, since I already know exactly which volume and page number that I need. I contacted a genealogist in the Boston area that I had previously met at a conference to see if I could hire her to go look at the book for me. She responded that she is located an hour out of Boston, so this would not be feasible for her. Then she gave me two other names to contact. The first had a seven hour minimum for researching (wow!), and the second required a three hour deposit. I contacted them both anyway, on the off chance that they were already heading to Harvard on another project and could tag mine along with it. They both declined my request, but one of them gave me an additional person to contact. This fourth person also stated that he was not interested in the job. Strike four...

It is unfortunate because it made sense to me that Murdoch was backed by someone else. After all, he was only 24 when he arrived in St. Louis. I think it would add to the story to know who that person was, and what became of him and his own business. But there is only so much time (and money) that I am willing to invest in the pursuit of that particular piece of information. The story will have to go on without it.