I Hear Dead People

By: Dominique Fuqua (BMRC Processing Intern)


People really can speak from the grave. I know that sounds a tad bit crazy and straightjacket –worthy, but this statement holds truth. Working at the CBMR (Center for Black Music Research) for the past few months had me experiencing “supernatural” encounters. Different collections my partner T.J. and I worked on contained actual handwritten biographies from the individual(s) we were processing, such as Anna Gardner Goodwin. Goodwin, an operatic composer and performer, wrote her own personal biography regarding her life, upbringing, and education, which gained discovery during processing. This information from the direct source left little room for error and provided significant assistance in constructing the biographical note for the finding aid. Though the Goodwin collection was not extensive, her biography brought a sufficient amount of undocumented information to the forefront such as her parents’ interracial marriage and family musical lineage. If people started to document their life and career like Goodwin did then the public, especially researchers, would get more of an accurate understanding of different subjects and people without having to go on small scraps of limited information that leads them to infer certain aspects of their research.   

Researching is a very drawn-out process, and finding original sources that are suitable for a topic can be hard based on its stature; however, rather big or small, if one finds personal information from parties that were actually involved, then information at that point gives a great deal of substance to the research. There is a ton of research being done merely using secondary sources that illustrate someone’s own interpretation about a certain subject matter. This could be deemed somewhat problematic because someone’s interpretations often contradict with fact. Yet a researcher that has information from a direct source, like the actual person they are investigating, tends to be more successful regarding their subject of study and there is a smaller chance that information has been tampered with by other people’s interpretations. 

Goodwin’s wish to be remembered according to her “factual interpretation” of her life rather than another researcher’s interpretation demonstrates how she wanted others to view her in a manner that she presented to them through her own words. Original sources like Goodwin’s case hold more weight in regards to factual evidence than secondary sources solely based on its authenticity.