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  • David Grassé

Research Issues

Among the projects I am currently working on is a biography of the Edwardian-era English actress Edna Loftus. It is a bit of departure for me as I usually concentrate on Arizona territorial history (do not fret, I have a book in the works which returns to this subject). Though Edna ended up living (and dying) in California, she was born in England, went to school in France, and began her career on the stage in London. This has made the research a little more difficult. The first problem is finding archives and repositories on the continent. I have been writing Arizona history long enough, I know which archives in the state hold what materials. However, I know nothing about the archives of England and France, and what materials they hold. One can only find so much information online. Worse, I don't speak French. The other day, I actually wrote the French consulate in Los Angeles to see if they could help me to find information about certain properties and where to obtain historic birth certificates.

Further, many of the U.S. repositories, like the National Archive and Records Administration are working with reduced staff and shortened hours due to Covid-19. At one point in her life, the Immigration Department attempted to deport Edna as an "unwelcome alien." I have had the worst time trying to get information on the case due to these restrictions. I wrote the USICS Genealogy Program back about mid-January, and paid them $65, and may request is still pending.

This is another issue one runs into dealing with the archives is the cost associated with obtaining documents and/or having someone do research at an archive for me. One would think these archives would be happy to have someone use their resources and publicize them. I understand they have to pay staff and for the care and storage of documents, and their budgets are regularly slashed by short-sighted legislators. Still, some of the prices these places are charging ($100 each for photos) are ridiculous.

It is fortunate I work in a library. In writing the forward to Edna's story, I found I had need of Evelyn Nesbit's autobiography entitled Prodigal Days (Ms. Nesbit (picture here) was a principle player in the infamous shooting of architect Stanford White by Harry Thaw). Unfortunately, the book has been out of print for decades, and copies of it on Abebooks run between $200 and $2000. A little more than I want to pay for source material. However, through an inter-library loan, I was able to find a copy of the book through the Eastern Kentucky University (to give an idea of the age of the book, it is stamped inside as belonging to the Eastern Kentucky State Teachers College, which was what the institution was called from 1930 to 1948). Such are the trials and tribulations of the professional historian and researcher. To this day, I have never made back on my books what it cost me to create them, but then I am not in this for the money.



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