3/28 | Building Context with Secondary Sources

What topics did you choose to research? What search terms did you use to find sources? What sources did you find?

When I first looked through my soldier’s file, I was overwhelmed for sure. The documents were so intricate and the words seemed to be at 8 point font that I just knew that once I dived into these and dissected the information, I would surely have more than enough to get a feel of what kind of person my soldier was. But once I went through them, I realized most of the documents told SOME information, but not enough to make accurate opinions of someone life who had passed away a long time ago. My files, personally, were centered much more around Milon Robinson’s afterlife (his wife, his pensions, and earnings). Many of my files were pension files and forms written for his widowed wife who had to jump through hoops to try to prove that she was indeed Mr. Robinson’s wife and not just some woman come to claim the earnings of a deceased soldier, which by the way that the files repeated themselves and questioned her multiple times, must have been a common trend in the military. I felt pretty bad for his wife while reading the files to be honest, and it made me want to figure out what else was going on in their lives, and how their marriage was before he passed away. I was intrigued by the idea of married life in the military during wartime, being that I love romantic movies and historical fiction books where lovers do not see each other for years and have to hope that they will return home one day. Sounds dark, I know, but to an avid historical fiction reader, that kind of prolonged waiting only adds to a story. And that prolonged waiting definitely added to Milon’s story and made me want to know more.

So, when I looked up in the GMU Library Catalogs for information on Milon Robinson, but as expected, no results came up. I tried searching for just his first name, which brought up more miscellaneous results than ever. I then tried to look up his wife, Ida Robinson. That proved to be difficult because much to my dismay, Ida Robinson also happens to be a very famous African-American author, and most of her results clouded any of the results that I was searching for. But how am I to look up their marriage if I can’t even find results on the couple themselves? I thought the best thing to do when you can’t find the actual subjects, is to instead look up the context surrounding them. I knew what county the couple lived in, and the time frame in which they were living there together before he was deployed and when he returned home. So, I searched Cattaraugus County, NY, and specified the dates in which I knew the Robinson’s were still married and Milon was still alive. That brought up only about 13 results, but the results gave me information about the land, the policies that were being put into action in the county at that time, and the census information. I found this to be somewhat helpful because the findings gave me context about the type of people that had settled in the area, and that much of the area still had its roots and influences from the Native Americans that settled there. That led me to think about the kind of lives that the Robinsons had to live in their neighborhood if there were actually Natives still present on the land, as being from military background might make them a target in an area where there is still much hostility and hatred from what occurred with the Natives. Although this information didn’t give me much of a snapshot into their marriage, taking this avenue of searching led me to more of the places they lived and their homes, which is all very relevant when getting a wide profile of a deceased soldier.

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