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Archival Data Write Up        

I have decided to work with marriage certificates for my archival data assignment, specifically the marriage certificate of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Eleanor Roosevelt. This Certificate and Record of Marriage[1] was produced on March 17, 1905 on the day of their marriage in the City of New York. Although a specific agency isn't listed on the marriage certificate, it can be inferred that the agency that produced the marriage certificate was some 20th century version of the New York City Clerk. Their Certificate and Record of Marriage contains typical information you would expect on any marriage certificate such as their full names, residences, age, and birthplaces. It also contains racial information, but instead of using the race or ethnicity terminology, this category is simply referred to as color. Their color is listed as White. After doing some research into New York's racial classification system in the early 1900s, I discovered that color and race were used interchangeably and the categories that were typically used were: white, black, and mixed. I also found a copy of the US Census in the year 1900 and the column name was listed as: color or race. I was then compelled to compare the differences between this New York City Certificate and Record of Marriage with the 1900 US Census.[a]


There were a number of interesting things about the historical context of this marriage certificate. The first being that this marriage certificate was signed by two presidents—Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt—and two first ladies—Eleanor Roosevelt and Edith Roosevelt. Teddy Roosevelt and Edith Roosevelt acted as witnesses of this wedding. Furthermore, I discovered that their marriage date was specifically chosen so that President Theodore Roosevelt was able to give away his niece, Eleanor Roosevelt. Franklin D. Roosevelt and Theodore Roosevelt were fifth cousins. There were two separate branches of the Roosevelt family and Franklin Roosevelt belonged to the Hyde Park Roosevelt branch while Theodore belonged to the Oyster Bay branch of the family. Elenor Roosevelt's father died when Eleanor was young; Therefore, Theodore took over some of the paternal responsibilities. Franklin Roosevelt greatly admired Theodore Roosevelt and very much looked up to Theodore Roosevelt as a role model. It is important to note that FDR's wing of the family was Democratic while Teddy Roosevelt's wing of the family was Republican; However, that did not stop the two men from being close.


        As mentioned earlier, this Certificate and Record of Marriage contains most of the typical information one would expect on a marriage certificate. One of the puzzling details of this marriage certificate was that Franklin Delano Roosevelt's occupation was listed as law student, but the bride did not have the occupation field. I thought this was very interesting because women did work in the early 1900s and I was not able to find a reason for this being excluded on the bride's side.  Another interesting detail of this marriage certificate was that the color of the ink for the information of the groom and bride was a dark black ink while the location and witness information was written in blue ink. This makes me think that bride and groom information was filled in by Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt while the other information was filled in by either the office in charge of issuing the marriage certificates or the witnesses—Theodore and Edith Roosevelt. The marriage occurred in Manhattan, NY at 8 East Seventy Sixth street. After doing some research on this location and their marriage, I discovered another marriage certificate which was issued by the Church of Incarnation. However, this church is listed as being on Madison Ave. and 35th street which has left me confused on the true location of their marriage. The Roosevelts also have a history of attending this church so my guess is that the marriage certificate was signed at the residence of Eleanor Roosevelt and the formal service was at the Church of Incarnation.


Since the Certificate and Record of Marriage of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt was produced in 1905, I decided it would be interesting to compare it to the US Census of 1900[2]. Specifically, I wanted to explore what data was collected on the individual bride and groom and how it related to the data that was collected during the US Census. As anticipated, the 1900 US Census collects much more data than this marriage certificate. The major difference between the US Census and the Marriage Certificate is their respective approaches to information collection. The US Census first asks for the head of household information then asks for information about each member of the household and their relationship to the head of household. The Marriage Certificate, on the other hand, asks for the groom and bride's information on two separate columns. The Marriage Certificate separately asks for the residences of both the bride and the groom in one column while the US Census is much more detailed in its approach by asking for the street and house number on seperate columns. The 1900 US Census also asks for a lot more information that the marriage certificate doesn't ask for such as a more detailed personal description of the person, the nativity of the person, citizenship information, and ownership of home information. In the marriage certificate there is simply one filed for occupation on the groom's side. In FDR's case, his occupation states that he is currently a law student. However, in the US Census, Occupation and Education are two separate categories and each category has multiple columns. By comparing these two documents, I came to the conclusion that different agencies can have different goals when it comes to data collection, therefore their questions are tailored to the goals of their dataset,


As I was examining this marriage certificate, I began to think of how one would go about digitizing this certificate. I was then urged to do some research in order to find examples of digitization processes. I stumbled across the National Archives' Plan for Digitizing Archival Material[3]. This publication describes how the digitization process works at NARA, and how archives are prioritized to be digitized. Based on this framework that was presented by NARA, the first step in digitizing marriage certificates would be to identify a reason for digitizing a particular piece since the entire process can be costly. In the case of FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, they were a former first family and among the most prominent Americans to ever live. Once we have decided that we would like to move forward with this process, I believe the next step would be to try to figure out the target audience and then decide where our digitized archival will be available. Assuming we decide to use the web to showcase our archival piece, we now have to decide on a format for our archival so that it could be displayed on our website. In the case of FDR and Eleanor's marriage certificate, the archival data format was a JPG image format. Once we have a desired image format, we may begin to scan the  paper dataset. One of the most important parts of this scanning process is to make sure we have a quality assurance process that will ensure our scans are of the highest quality. The next step in our digitization plan is to include metadata for our digitized archives to help users better understand the material. The final step is to upload our scans to our website alongside any metadata we may have captured. Depending on the number of items in our dataset and the format of our data, this process could be very fast or extremely long and cumbersome. For this particular archive, I think it was a smooth process; Largely due to the format and the simplicity of this archive.

A question I often posed to myself during my analysis of this marriage certificate was whether it was ethical or not to digitize and share someone's marriage certificate. Although FDR was one of the most famous US Presidents of all time, I think he still has a right to privacy. However, marriage certificates are records that are issued by state governments; Therefore, these should be made available to the public since it can be beneficial to private citizens to hold their governments accountable. They can also be useful for purposes such as this assignment, for historical analysis. As I thought about what we lost during the digitization of these marriage certificates, I began to think of things such as the emotional sentiment alongside the story behind the document. For example, someone would never know that this marriage certificate was signed by two former presidents and first ladies unless they had some context on every possible marriage certificate.


        Overall, this was a very interesting assignment that allowed me to time travel to a time where data was not digitized and paper was the technology of the day. This assignment further empowered me to compare two very different forms of paper records from the same time period. Through this process I learned that datasets can collect very different information on people depending on the agency in charge. In the US Census, the federal government was interested in learning about the makeup of our country to determine the allocation of federal funding and seats in the House of Representatives. In the case of marriage certificates, the state is more so concerned with proving that a marriage took place therefore the questions that are posed are not as exhaustive as the US Census. I also saw about the digitization plans for both of these different pieces of data and I created a framework that one could follow to digitize a dataset.

[1] Certificate and Record of Marriage of FDR And Eleanor Roosevelt 

[2] Image of the 1900 US Census: https://broadcast.census.gov/pio/photos/1900/1900a_hi.jpg

[3] National Archives Plan for Digitizing Archival Materials for Public Access