This profile is of Mitch Yockleson who holds a Ph.D. from the Royal Military College of Science, Cranfield University in the United Kingdom. He is the author of Borrowed Soldiers, Americans Under British Command, 1918. (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008) and a biography of Douglas MacArthur and another on Ulysses S. Grant. He also is an adjunct professor at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and has his own web site. (The photo and youtube video below are from the original post on the NARA blog.)
What is your name and title?
Mitch Yockelson, Investigative Archivist with the Archival Recovery Team.
Yockelson at his desk in College Park, MD.
Where is your job located?
Primarily at Archives II, but I do a lot of work at Archives I and even in the field at the presidential libraries and the regions as well.
What is your job in a nutshell?
I look into NARA’s lost or theft of historical items, things such as documents and artifacts from presidential libraries or regions. This can include everything from films to acetate recordings, documents, photographs, anything that we hold that we know is missing. They perhaps never came to the National Archives because some agency never gave it to us, or things that are reported as being stolen that we know we had.
Its tough recognizing a document that we may not have realized was missing, but luckily with the government being the bureaucracy that it is, agencies usually marked most documents with some type of unique filing system. For example, the War Department would register pretty much every document that came in up to a certain period and give it a unique marking that included the year. So we can go and look at registers that will tell us that the document was indeed in the custody of the government, but it doesn’t necessarily tell us that NARA had it at some point.
We also do a lot of outreach for these items. Besides having a Facebook page, and a Missing Documents page, we go to a lot of collector’s shows and set up tables with facsimiles of things we know have been taken, and we talk to the public and try to generate their help. Mostly Civil War shows, we’ve been to Gettysburg, PA and Richmond, VA; we’ve even been to Tennessee and Ohio.
(To view a transcript of the video, click here.)
What are you working on right now?
There are a lot of things we’re working on right now, the big one broke recently in the news. One of the other things I’m working on right now is an Abraham Lincoln signed document. It’s a neat document because it’s from the Civil War period, and shortly after the Battle of Antietam, and it’s the president trying to get an endorsement for a surgeon general to help with one of the Union Army hospitals that’s overwhelmed with casualties.
What makes this interesting is that we have no proof that it actually came to NARA, but we do have the remainder of the files that are a part of the War Department records that are downtown in DC. The document has file markings on it that match up to file markings for a collection of documents that we already have. So we know that it was in the collection at one point, but we don’t know when it became alienated, which could have been as early as 1864. We are trying to work to get this document back and marry it up with the rest of the records. It could have been stolen; we don’t really know. But we would like to get it back.
How long have you been at NARA? Have you worked at any other NARA location?
I’ve been with NARA since 1988 (22 years!), but I’ve only worked in the DC area at Archives I, Archives II and Suitland.
What has changed since you started at NARA?
I think the biggest frustration with my job is that we don’t have the subject area specialists that we used to. NARA used to be more compartmentalized as far as our holdings went. It was kind of like a university setting where if you wanted to do research in diplomatic records, you had a whole team of people where that’s all they did was diplomatic records. Because of cutback and how we go about handling our records and how we reference them, we don’t have the subject are specialists anymore. Sadly, this makes things difficult not only from a researcher’s aspect, but also from someone who looks into the investigations that needs the help of our subject area specialists who are now far and few between.
Do you have a favorite day at NARA, or a favorite discovery or accomplishment?
My favorite day was when I transferred from the reference branch and started working here in this new exciting world of investigative work. That was coming up on my four year anniversary, in November of 2006. I’ve taken up golf in the past few years, and I love music; I have satellite radio, which I listen to all the time. I also really just enjoy the passion of history: visiting historical places, traveling, and writing books and articles about history. I’ve written a book about the First World War, which is based on my PhD.
What is the last book you read, or the last book you loved?One final note, the case that Yockelson referred to in this interview ended up with a retired NARA employee going to jail and got a lot of national media attention:
The last book I finished was written by a guy named Robert Wittman, and it’s a memoir called Priceless. The author worked for the FBI and recounts his work on finding stolen art and their related cases.