Processing the Fractious Family Papers

The Anacostia Community Museum offers unpaid internships year-round to students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs who wish to learn and gain professional experience in various fields including archival science. Here, our 2017 summer intern, Shannon Wagner shares her experience processing the Fractious Family papers.

Fractious Family Papers, Blanche Queen Fractious
Fractious Family Papers, Robert Fractious

I spent my internship processing  a collection of papers that document the lives and achievements of several generals of the Fractious family of Washington, DC.

The collection was minimally processed using some suggested guidelines in the archival science article “More Product, Less Process: Pragmatically Revamping Traditional Processing Approaches to Deal with Late 20th-Century Collections” by Mark A. Greene and Dennis Meissner (2004). The authors suggest a processing strategy that takes less time while focusing on the most important parts of the collection to reduce backlogs and provide faster access to archival collections. Using the museum’s processing guidelines and in accordance with Frederic Millers’ processing suggestions, I removed “metal fasters such as rusting staples. . .” and other harmful elements to the collection. Photocopies and folded papers were flattened, certificates were placed in protective mylar sleeves to prevent tearing or bending, and photographs were separated from papers.

Processing this collection was a great way to enhance my understanding of preserving archival materials and the technical side of archival work, while also learning about  life in the the Anacostia neighborhood in the 1940s and beyond. I found the correspondence in the collection by far the most interesting; it includes over 100 letters written between 1917 and 1948. Most of the letters were written during WWII (1939-1945) between Blanche Queen and her future husband, Robert Fractious.

Fractious Family Papers, bundle of correspondence pre-processing. Photo by  Shannon Wagner.

At the time she wrote the letters, Blanche Queen (Fractious) was approximately 21 years old, and Robert Fractious was serving his third year of duty overseas. The letters reference several pivotal events in the country during the course of WWII. Blanche writes to Robert about the lack of cigarettes in the US in December of 1944, the citizen curfew in March of 1945, and President Roosevelt’s death on April 16, 1945. She states:

“Everybody here is very much broken up about the death of our President. We had Saturday off and I don’t think the US will ever go into complete mourning for any one [sic] else as they did for him. There were no places of amusement open, all the leading chain stores were closed, all the department stores, infact [sic] everything was closed. Sunday was a day of nation wide [sic] memorial services in churches army camps and the radio. All programs of entertainment were completely cut out. The whole thing was indeed the sadest [sic] affair I have ever witnessed. The streets of the White house were so full of people it was almost impossible to pass. Everybody who could went to the processional that took place at 10:00 am on Conn. Ave. That was truly an occasion I have never seen so many people crying in all my life.”

Besides documenting momentous events in her letters, Blance describes daily life and events such as weddings, deaths, church gatherings, and various happenings in the community.

Fractious Family Papers, collection post-processing. Items organized in acid-free folders in archival boxes.  Photo by Shannon Wagner.

The Fractious Family papers offers a wealth of information about the everyday life experiences of Washingtonians during WWII.  The correspondence is fascinating but there are also photographs and other materials in the collection that document family and community life.

I’m happy I had a role in making this collection accessible to the public!

References:

Greene, Mark A. and Dennis Meissner “More Product, Less Process: Revamping TraditionalArchival Processing,” The American Archivist, Vol. 68 (Fall/Winter 2005) : 208–263. http://www.archivists.org/prof-education/pre-readings/IMPLP/AA68.2.MeissnerGreene.pdf

Miller, Fredric. Arranging and Describing Archives and Manuscripts. Chicago: Society of American Archivists, 1990

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