11 April 2006 by Published in: Civil War books and authors 5 comments

In a comment to yesterday’s post, Andy MacIsaac asked, “Could you provide some insight on your experience in using paid researchers. I have never done this so I am unfamiler with the process.” Sure, Andy. No problem.

Please let me set the stage for why I use paid researchers. Believe me, it’s not for laziness.

First, and foremost, I live in Central Ohio. On a good day, it’s a seven hour drive to Washington, DC. That means that for me to make a trip there, I spend two full days just driving. So, any trip has to have that time built in. Then, there are my professional responsibilities. My time is billed at an average rate of $200 per hour, as I am a partner in a law firm. Aside from the fact that my practice keeps me EXTREMELY busy, a day out of the office costs me $1000-1500 in billable time for which I do not get paid. Thus, I have to be careful about taking time away from the office, both for reasons of having a busy schedule, but also because of the need to maintain/control cash flow.

As I have a long history with the town of Carlisle–I went to college there–and I have long-standing relationships with some of the personnel there, I usually try to save work at USAMHI for myself, although for the last two projects, I found myself without time to do so. I also will handle the Ohio Historical Society myself, as their facility is about ten minutes from my office.

By contrast, the researchers that I use charge me $15.00 per hour. Thus, I can purchase 13 hours of their time for the cost of one hour of my time. Now, I’m no accountant, but even my feeble mind understands that it makes good economic sense for me to pay them to do the work for me while I remain here, plugging away at billing hours. Further, two of the three live in the Washington, DC area (one lives about a block from the Library of Congress), so there’s not much of a travel time issue involved.

Let me also be clear about the scope of what they do for me. I direct all activities. I give them very specific instructions as to what I’m searching for, and, in most cases, actually provide them with very specific lists of sources that I want them to review. At all times, I direct the process, although I’m always willing to accept suggestions from those who are familiar with the available resources. Basically, they’re doing my leg work for me.

I use two in Washington by necessity. One used to do all of the work. However, he was banned from the National Archives for allegedly damaging an original document (a muster roll he was examining at my behest while working on strengths and losses for the Battle of Monroe’s Crossroads). It was originally intended to be a lifetime ban, but a lot of us–including Gordon Rhea and Andy Trudeau–use his services, and we put together a concerted effort to have him reinstated. He has been partially reinstated on a probationary basis. He can now go there, but he is restricted to the microfilm collection. If he has six months incident free, they will consider full reinstatement. However, the microfilm collection is only a very small portion of the collection, and not much of it is pertinent to my needs. So, that left a big hole in my line-up. This particular individual does my Library of Congress work. He’s thorough and he knows the collection. He’s especially good at newspaper research–I have no real ability or patience to go through endless rolls of microfilm, but he does.

That meant that I had to locate someone to access records for me at the National Archives. I had quite a few record groups that needed to be reviewed in depth in order to complete the research for my regimental history of the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry, so I have retained the services of another researcher whose specific task is to review those record groups for me and to obtain copies of anything pertinent to the 6th Pennsylvania Cavalry.

The third researcher is an archivist at the Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia. I’ve been using his services for more than a decade, and I have absolute trust in his abilities. He does work for me in the Philadelphia area, and is the one who coordinates my efforts to obtain things from the various university archives that I often obtain. As this is his primary source of income, he’s also willing to travel for me, and regularly does so. He’s great, but I only get one package of material from him per month, so I have learned to be sure to give him plenty of lead time to get things done. Nothing is ever done quickly.

So, the issue is this. On one hand, I would prefer to do the work myself–it’s great fun, and I really enjoy the detective work. On the other hand, being self-employed, it just doesn’t make a great deal of economic sense for me to spend a lot of time traveling and doing the work myself. It is, therefore, a mixed bag for which I have intensely mixed feelings.

I hope that answers the question, Andy.

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Comments

  1. Andy MacIsaac
    Tue 11th Apr 2006 at 8:49 pm

    Eric, thank you for taking the time to indulge my question. I completly understand the economics. It makes sense. Sounds like your researcher in DC had a bad run in with the staff at the Archives. I have seen some of these muster rolls and monthly reports and they are in bad shape. It is not fair to blame one person for the ravages of time and poor storage. I remember thinking about how bad off some of the storage areas must be when I saw crock roaches in the elevator.

    In regards to the Civil War Library in Philly what a great place. The staff there was very helpful. Although I did not find what I was looking for it was not for lack of trying. They went all through the attic an basement looking for a copy of the Mollus War Papers from Indiana.

    Regards,
    Andy

  2. Tue 11th Apr 2006 at 8:54 pm

    Andy,

    You’re very welcome, and I’m glad to hear that I answered your question.

    The Civil War Museum and Library in Philadelphia is a fabulous place–I love it. They damned near lost it all due to financial reasons a number of years ago, which was really a shame. Fortunately, they were able to get things worked out and the place remains as it always was.

    Interestingly enough, it is less than a block down the street from a house where my aunt and uncle lived for the first thirty years of my life. I walked past the place many times, but I never knew it was there. I only found out about it–and visited it–after my uncle died. Go figure.

    Eric

  3. Tue 11th Apr 2006 at 9:05 pm

    I agree with everything you said here Eric. I’ve both hired and have been hired to do research. As a high school teacher I find it very difficult to make research trips and have used hired help on two occassions. A few summers ago I did some research for Earl Hess in Richmond. Luckily, all the documents were relevant to my own topic so I ended up “killing two birds with one stone.” As far as the reinstatement of your research associate I know exactly who you are talking about. I had no idea he was allowed back in the NA.

  4. Tue 11th Apr 2006 at 9:07 pm

    Kevin,

    It’s a fairly recent thing, about 90 days ago. Only time will tell whether it’s permanent. Since you know that person, you know that he has a real talent for pissing people off–me included at times–and I’m quite certain that that factored into his being banned in the first place. He’s his own worst enemy, and we will see whether he manages to torpedo himself again.

    Eric

  5. Charles Bowery
    Mon 17th Apr 2006 at 1:20 pm

    Eric/Andy,
    I did research for Ed Longacre a few years ago in North Carolina (I was doing grad school at N.C. State at the time), and helped him complete his book on the ANV cavalry. It was a great experience for me, and I hope for Ed as well.
    Charles

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