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Modern technology helps public, National Museum of the Marine Corps curators research Marine history

12 Nov 2015 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

Jill Rumble, of Manassas, Va., happened to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps on the right day.

When she entered the lobby of the building, she encountered tables of computers, reference books, and the museum’s entire curatorial team, who were on hand for Marine Corps History Day on Friday, Nov. 6. Members of the public were invited to bring in artifacts, prints, papers, or uniforms with ties to the Marine Corps to get input from the curators on how to care for the items and research their history.

“We want to show the public the tools that are available to them for conducting their own research,” said Owen Conner, curator of uniforms and heraldry.

Rumble was able to ask about a green World War II-era coat, now in her possession, that originally belonged to her father, Carl A. Leary, a former mess sergeant. Conner and fellow curator Gretchen Winterer helped her identify the coat in a reference guide and showed her how she could research her father’s Marine Corps service using muster rolls archived on Ancestry.com. They also told her how to preserve the coat by storing it flat and tucking non-acidic paper in the sleeves.

“I really want to make sure I take good care of it,” Rumble said. “I’m so glad I happened to come here today.”

David Wallick, of Stafford, Va., a former Marine and collector of Marine Corps memorabilia, brought in a poster he’d purchased at a local Goodwill. The poster bears the headline “Still a Pup!” and depicts a bulldog puppy wearing a Marine helmet and sitting on a scale that measures enrollment in the Marine Corps from 1915 through 1942.

“It’s a print the Marine Corps had mass-produced for recruiting purposes in 1943,” said Joan Thomas, art curator. “It asks where the Marine Corps will be in 1943.”

Thomas said the print is properly framed and matted and should be well-protected provided it’s kept out of direct light.

Wallick said he has a large assortment of Marine Corps collectibles.

“I like everything about the Marine Corps,” he said.

This is the second history day the museum has sponsored. Conner said the goal is to let the public know that the museum curators and the staff of the Marine Corps Base Quantico history division are available to assist with research—and also to demonstrate the tools that are available for anyone to use.

Conner said the curatorial staff regularly uses the muster rolls archived on Ancestry.com, which cover the years from 1798 through 1953.

“Before that was available, the only thing we’d know about an item is what we could see,” he said.

Now, the staff can research a name written on an item of clothing to find out more about the Marine who wore the item.

For example, the museum had in its collection an officer’s coat with the name “H. Colvocoresses” and the date “Sept. 1900” marked on the interior tailor’s label. They didn’t know anything else about the coat until this past August, when they were able to research the name “H. Colvocoresses” in the muster rolls.

They matched the name to Harold Colvocoresses, who was born in 1880 and died in 1965. He came from a line of distinguished Navy admirals; his father during the Spanish-American war and his grandfather during the Civil War. Harold Colvocoresses accepted a commission in the Marine Corps in 1900 and served until 1944, mostly in recruiting roles. Unusually, he was authorized to work in uniform even after retiring from the Marine Corps.

Modern photograph editing software has also helped the curators research items for the collection. Recently, Dr. Walt Cottrell, a local veterinarian and retired Marine captain, contacted the museum about an early 1900s field hat he’d been given by a client of his practice. A name was written on the inside but it had faded and was incredibly hard to read, Conner said.

One of the staff interns took a picture and was able to manipulate the exposure so that the name “Chadbourne” could be clearly read.

A search of the muster rolls revealed that Bailey P. Chadbourne had enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1918 and sailed for Haiti two months later, where he participated in the U.S. occupation of Haiti as part of the 54th Company, 2nd Regiment, 1st Brigade.

“If we hadn’t been able to decipher the name and research it, we wouldn’t have been able to accept the hat into the collection,” Winterer said. “Chadbourne’s story would have been lost.”

— Writer: auphausconner@quanticosentryonline.com

Marine Corps Base Quantico