Digging for Robert E. Rodes

robert_e_rodesAt some point in the next few weeks I am going to have an opportunity to rummage through an attic.  You may be thinking to yourself, “big deal”, but what if I were to tell you that the attic is owned by a descendant of Confederate Major General Robert E. Rodes?  It turns out that I happen to work with a descendant of the general, and the family is getting set to clean out an attic that contains a great deal of family documents and artifacts.  A few years ago the family shared with me a very fragile scrapbook that was owned by Rodes’s wife, who supposedly burned all of her husband’s correspondence following his death at the Third Battle of Winchester in  1864.  The scrapbook included a number of newspaper clippings following his death as well as public eulogies.  From what I’ve heard there are boxes filled with all kinds of documents from the Civil War period and beyond.  The family is pretty much convinced that the stories of the burning of his letters are true so there is little confidence that the attic will yield much in this regard.  Still, anything is possible.  It would be nice to find something about or by Rodes, but I am intrigued by other possibilities.  My job will be to help organize the materials and give the family a sense of what they have.  I hope to convince them to donate the collection to the University of Virginia so that it is properly preserved and accessible to researchers.

I know there is a new biography of Rodes by Darrell Collins, but I have yet to read it.  I’ve read a number of positive reviews, but nothing that really considers Collins’s methodoloy or his handling of primary sources.

I will keep you updated.

16 responses... add one

Hi Kevin,

As I was making my way through my morning RSS jaunt, I noticed your post on the papers of Robert Rodes. I think that you’re doing a good thing by working with the family and attempting to get the papers (if there are any) into the archives at the University of Virginia, but my archivist “spidey sense” was tingling just a little bit, which is why I’m emailing you. First: have you (or the family) already talked with an archivist at UVA to determine whether they would want these papers? I’m not trying to discourage you at all, and their collections policy does leave room for this type of material so it could be a moot point, but sometimes donors who expect to donate some materials are really offended when the archivist doesn’t want them. (Here’s the collection policy link: http://www2.lib.virginia.edu/small/collections/policy.html)

Second: while you’re talking with the archivist about donating the papers, you probably want to be aware of how the papers are arranged. In fact, you may want to think about not moving them around at all when you first look at the boxes. Context can be very important when appraising and processing a collection; indeed, “original order” is one of the central tenets of arrangement practices. Now, of course if these papers have been in the attic for 150 years and intermingled with other family stuff, etc, then it’s a different problem (and a different process). My suggestion though, is for you to take a look at what’s there, take detailed notes (but don’t move stuff around), and give the archivist a call before sorting things. Every archivist does things differently, but taking a few minutes to figure it out now could save hours and hours of trying to piece the narrative back together in the processing room later.

Heather, — Thank you so much for the advice. I discovered that a number of family members have fiddled around with the contents, but I am going to do my best to keep track of what I touch. Honestly, I didn’t know any of this.

White cotton gloves, boxes of them, and acid free everything. Newspaper and scrapbook pages deteriorate to dust with little urging, as you have already discovered. Caring for an inherited family record has taught me that I, too, didn’t know anything when it to conservation of archival material. Cool and dry storage and free circulation of air (mold is a document killer and you can smell it) were the immediate requirements for the family papers, scrapbooks etc that I care for. A complete inventory of every newspaper clipping in some cases was not possible because the scrapbooks were too fragile to handle, so each got a general description of the period covered, the types of records contained, and who made and maintained the scrapbook. Such an inventory is very helpful when approaching a possible institution to hold the collection. It is also possible, and worth the family considering, the terms of any donation, including how the records will be stored and the family’s future rights of access. I have not (yet) donated our archives in part due to this consideration.

Best wishes and good hunting!

Thanks so much for sharing your own rich experience with archival materials.

Tim,
You’re on the right track– storage conditions can make a huge difference to the condition of the collection. Temperature and humidity control can be big issues for paper-based collections, and so can other conditions like ambient air (for example, soot from a chimney or woodstove can settle in the paper fibers), insect/vermin populations, mold, etc. I would caution against the use of cotton gloves for manuscript and newspaper collections of advanced age because they reduce your sense of touch, and it’s much easier to accidentally tear or crumble the pages, particularly if they are already embrittled. On the other hand, if you are working with photographs, tintypes, ambrotypes, etc, I would encourage the use of cotton gloves because the oils from your skin can damage the emulsion and result in image loss.
My most-oft related tip to patrons who store family artifacts in the attic or basement: it would be much better to store them in a living area with circulation and temperature control. Think about putting them under your bed, or in the back of your closet (not near the water heater, though). Basements are cool and dark, but also encourage vermin and water damage. Attic temperatures get way too hot and contribute mightily to the rapid degradation of paper and film-based media. Storing important family heirlooms in living areas also encourages you to check on them periodically because you are more likely to see them during your daily activities.
Tim, it sounds like you have been active in determining what you have– that’s great! I think it’s really important for donors (and potential donors) to understand the terms of agreement when it comes to donation. It’s also good to look carefully at the materials you have, and at the collections of several institutions to determine which might be the best fit for your materials. That could be whether the donation matches an area where they excel– or perhaps that they will use them to create a new area of expertise, or even that they will be used actively in exhibits; whatever makes you more comfortable. Ask around– archivists should be able to direct you not only to their own collection, but to others that might also match your needs. Good luck!

From a Confederate Southern American. Get your dirty hands off – you don’t deserve to touch or even look at anything of General Robert E. Rodes. This family is ignorant of the hateful things you posts about Southernors and your systemic hatred of us. Your posts reveal your heart.

Kevin My greatgrandmother was RR’s first cousin Jennie Rodes Fletcher. Iam interested in our family history and would like to get in toutch with the family. Iwas in Lynchburg in the fall and visited the Presbyterian cemetary. Good luck with your work. Rick

My great great grandfather, Robert Guy, of Staunton, VA, was married to Gilly Stevens Rodes, an aunt of the General. Since I have been doing considerable genealogical work on the Rodes family, as well as being a lover of history, I would be delighted to discover what you found in that family attic. There is so little available concerning the General that I am in hopes that you find something that sheds a little light upon a man who, I believe, deserves so much more recognition than has previously been accorded him.

Hi, Kevin– As the general’s great-grandson and namesake, I would be interested in hearing about what you find in these papers. I believe that a lot of his papers are archived at VMI, so you may want to consider sending thes there instead of to UVa. And do you know Paul Treanor, another great-grandson, who is into geneology? Best — Bob Rodes

I only wish I were a descendant of the General, rather than a mere kinsman; however, I am most interested in some of the early letters of the Geneal and also his brother, Virginius Hudson Rodes, particularly as they pertain to visiting “Uncle Guy” and his family in Staunton. Apparently there was some slight difficulty about finances concerning Grandmothe Gilly when she was living over there, and those letters, so far as I have been able to recover them, have been most interesting.

If more are found, I would be interested in copies…

-Jim

Kevin, et. al., This is very interesting. It seems that many more of RR’s family members are out there than I was led to believe. I am one of his great great grandsons. My grandfather was Albert Henry Rodes, RR’s grandson. I, too, am interested in any news that you have found. My branch of the family was fairly mum about The General other than that he existed and was well respected. Thank you for your efforts but also for this opportunity to connect with family.
Best,
Chris Vaughan

Kevin,

Just wondering if any significant discoveries were made and if any of the material may have found its way to a public repository.

Sincerely,

William Houston

No major discoveries. I don’t believe any of the family’s collection has made it to the archives. I am no longer in touch with them.

Greetings from another relative. Paul Treanor was my great uncle. He and my maternal grandmother Ruth Treanor Bridges were siblings and my mother Virginia Yancy Bridges was named after Gen. Rode’s daughter Belle Yancy Rodes.

Keep us posted.

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