One day…many years ago, it was just another Manic Monday. My phone was blinking with (count them) 8 messages. EIGHT! And when it wasn’t blinking, it was ringing and alerting me to something else that needed done. And when that phone wasn’t ringing, someone was calling me on my cell phone…or texting me. I was coming dangerously close to having a “Calgon, take me away!” moment.
My son had actually been 3 of the 8 messages, calling to alert me he was staying after school to study – then calling again to see if I got his first message – then calling a 3rd time to let me know I had to come pick him up. Just as I hung up the phone, grabbed my keys and was on my way out the door to head over to the middle school – the phone rang yet again.
I looked at the caller ID and I read it in my head as “National something or other calling to solicit.” I then proceeded to pull out my annoyed voice from deep down within and answered my phone with the most exasperated sounding “hello” that I could muster. It wasn’t hard. I was truly annoyed and exasperated at that moment.
The voice on the other end said to me:
“Hi, this is so-and-so from the National Archives and Records Administration in St. Louis, Missouri…”
I know she said something else, but that was all I needed to hear. I had to sit down and prepare myself for what she was about to tell me.
You see it was about 9 weeks prior to this crazy day, when I had completed the paperwork and sent away for my grandfather’s military file from World War II. (The same soldier who’s letters I have blogged about). I popped the paperwork in the mail and busied myself with other things thinking it would be months before I would hear anything. Imagine my surprise when just a few weeks later, I received an envelope from them in the mail. Yes I was intrigued to say the very least, but this was not an envelope that was the size of a military file or anything, so I cautiously opened it only expecting to see a letter saying that grandpa’s file was destroyed in 1973.
1973 – the year when a devastating fire would rip through the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, literally destroying 80% of the Army personnel files of soldiers who had served between 1912 and 1960.
But 80% – well that leaves 20% that weren’t destroyed, right? I had to take a chance and hope that just maybe grandpa was part of that 20%. So as previously mentioned, I had mailed off my request and kept my fingers crossed. The letter I received back just 3 weeks later wasn’t exactly hopeful, but not entirely disappointing.
It stated that more than likely, yes- the file was probably destroyed. But to be sure, please fill out form #2, and if it pertains, form #3 and then they’ll dive in and see what they can find. Form #2 was easy to fill out, just some additional basic information that I was able to get just from reading his letters, and Form #3 didn’t pertain to him. So another stamp and envelope and the new info was off to St. Louis again. And again, I tried not to dwell on it.
When the phone rang as I was walking out the door.
And I heard her voice telling me where she was calling from.
And that’s when I had this incredible urge to sit down and hold my breath so I wouldn’t miss another word.
“We received your additional information that you sent us, and yes, your grandfather’s file was lost in the fire.”
I felt my heart drop just a little bit as it sunk in, but I continued to listen as she started on additional information she had for me, one sheet of paper on grandpa that pertained to his military history. A paper that listed only some basic information such as his enlistment date, his final station, and a few other things that I already knew and just didn’t foresee it being worth the $20 to look at this paper.
(Did I mention I’m a cheap-skate genealogist? Excuse me…I mean, frugal.)
And so, yes, disappointing is an appropriate word to use describing how I felt, and I now despise that 1973 fire officially more than the fire that destroyed the 1890 census records. But …BUT…the more I thought about it, how cool was it that someone who works on behalf of the National Archives took the time to personally call me and let me know this information? I mean, really, I was most definitely impressed that my request had fallen on this woman’s desk and she took the time out of her day to call me rather than just sending me a cold, form letter alerting me to the single paper that was available and the desired file that had become a pile of ash many years ago.
I found that to be a top-notch customer service move in my book.
Well played NARA. Well played.