Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Your Name in a Book

(This post is part of a series about my research of Fitchburg architect H.M. Francis)

Today, I spent the majority of my time going through the Fitchburg City Directories.
Fig. 1: A picture of the main shelf of Fitchburg City Directories at the Fitchburg Historical Society.
The directories are a great wealth of information about the residents of Fitchburg in that a person's residence and occupation are listed. It almost reads like a brief year-by-year census report without some of the finer details.
Fig. 2: Up close view of the 1942 Fitchburg Directory's spine.
You will not find information about citizens' ages or their children and it is rare to find a listing for an unmarried woman.

The purpose of the city directory sleuthing is to confirm dates, residences and full names of the Francis clientele.
While bouncing around from one bound snapshot of Fitchburg to another, it can sometimes be frustrating to constantly look for a single answer to a single question. 

Fig. 3: An open City Directory and my open notebook.
Oftentimes, and consistent with historical inquiry: one question will only lead to more questions rather than answers. However, I believe the constant run-around and question-asking makes the answer-finding much more rewarding. The time between the question and the answer allows time for reflection, consideration, humility and reaffirmation of purpose. 

For me, I know that I can never transport back to early 1900s America, but to research the lives of people who were there is very humbling. Beyond my own fascination with H.M. Francis and the buildings he designed and the architectural legacy that is now a part of Fitchburg; I am trying to tell a story. The story of H.M. Francis can only be told by he and the people who knew him. As a researcher and budding historian who is far removed from that circle, the best that I can do is tell a story about H.M. Francis.

And I intend on doing my best.

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