I love mystery stories and I find that reference questions let me play sleuth every once in awhile. That happened last week when a nice gentleman from South Dakota contacted me about a manuscript he had that was a “religious exegesis” on the book of Romans written in Greek and English. On the cover of this 13-page document was written the name “Professor Smith”. Having done some research, he thought Professor Smith might be Julia Smith, one of the Smith sisters of Glastonbury. Wow, that would be a great addition to our holdings on Julia Smith.
I received a fax with images of the cover and several interior pages, but they were hard to read. I kept trying the Julia Smith angle, and the handwriting seemed similar, and we knew she studied Greek and Hebrew in order to translate portions of the Bible in the original language. It was looking good. Then I got PDFs of the entire volume, and a different story appeared.
At the top of the cover was written George E. Gordon West River. Below that was written “For Professor Smith and Kier”. This looked like a class assignment by Gordon for Professor Smith. Julia would never have been called professor in the 19th century; no woman would have. I decided to pursue the George N. Gordon angle.
On a whim, I did a Google search on George E. Gordon. Wikipedia popped up and gave me an entry for Gordon informing me that he was a missionary to Erromango, an island in the Pacific Ocean, from Canada. He attended Presbyterian Theological Hall in West River near Pictou, Nova Scotia. Two of the instructors there were James Smith and John Kier. I had found our man!
The gentleman from South Dakota wondered where he might find a home for this document, since he had no use for it. My first query was to the Archives of Nova Scotia, to whom I sent the PDFs. They decided it was not a good fit with their collections and directed me to the archivist at the Presbyterian Church in Canada. I emailed her the PDFs and heard back the next day that they would indeed be interested, since Gordon was an important figure in their church history. Success! I relayed the good news to our man in South Dakota and the two parties have since been in touch.
While the document did not end up here at CHS, and the research took a bit of time, it was an interesting challenge and now there are two very happy individuals, a manuscript that has found a good home, and good feelings generated about CHS. I think that is a job well done.