Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Dealing in Historical Documents

A scary report for South African genealogists to note:

What family historian wouldn't love to possess their great, great grandfather's original will or a centuries old family Bible? Such items are treasures for anyone with a love of history. But they are also a rich source of income for collectors, leading to our nation's history disappearing piece by piece into private hands.
  • In the summer of 2006, a former National Archives intern named Jim McTague stole 164 historical documents from NARA's Philadelphia facility, selling almost half of them on eBay.
  • Six years earlier, former National Archives employee, Shawn P. Aubitz, pilfered several hundred documents and photos over a period of months, including pardons signed by Presidents James Madison and Abraham Lincoln.
  • During a six-year period from 1996-2002, a Virginia amateur historian named Howard Harner repeatedly tucked Civil War papers into his clothes and smuggled them out of a National Archives research room.
  • In 2006, Western Washington University discovered that more than 600 pages of maps, lithographs, charts and illustrations had been torn from at least 102 vintage volumes.
  • Edward Forbes Smiley III, a Massachusetts dealer, was sentenced to 42 months in prison for stealing 98 rare maps from university libraries in the United States and United Kingdom between 1998 and 2005.
These and other thefts of historical documents are discussed in the excellent article To Catch a Thief which appeared in the April issue of Smithsonian Magazine. In response to such thefts, the National Archives has a program in place to help recover lost and stolen documents.

Read more at: Genealogy.

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