Problems and a pause

[First posted on February 22, 2018, at]

I am concerned that I have gotten several things wrong in recent posts, so for now I am going to stop posting about the JFK ARC releases at NARA. It will probably take a while to figure out what’s what. This post is a brief note on my concerns.

Catalog issues

In my last post on the the NARA releases, I was looking at NARA 18. This list shows the records in the JFK Assassination Record Collection (JFK ARC) that are not yet released in full.

I checked these against the copy of the Collection’s on-line catalog at the Mary Ferrell website, and found that 298 records which NARA 2018 listed as available in redacted form were listed as “Postponed in full”. Mary Ferrell’s copy of the catalog, which they call the JFK Explorer, is over two years old, so I checked these records again using the current on-line catalog at NARA, and the on-line catalog gave the same result.

I am reasonably certain that all of this just means that Mary Ferrell’s JFK Explorer and the current version of the catalog on line at NARA are out of date, and that redacted versions of these documents are actually available at NARA. To really find out, of course, one has to order some of the documents in question. I’m willing to do that, as long as it doesn’t involve hocking my left, er, leg, but it will take a while for the results to come in, so a pause is in order.

Other problems

I’m also concerned that my post before that, where I discussed document fragments in NARA’s 2017 releases, may have some misconceptions. In particular, I attributed the RIF numbers on these documents to NARA’s cataloging. I now think this is quite wrong.

As I understand things now, these numbers, and the RIF sheets that include the various document metadata that NARA provides, were not all done by NARA. Many of them were done by the US government agencies that produced, or had custody of, the documents when NARA tracked them all down.

In particular, as NARA archivist James Mathis told Mary Ferrell, “the Federal Bureau of Investigation did not list page numbers for documents in the Database that were declared Not Believed Relevant (NBR) and indeed often used one entry for multiple documents.” (see here) I interpret “used one entry for multiple documents” to mean ‘used one record number for multiple documents.’

If it is not NARA putting these duplicate RIF numbers on documents, it makes a difference in how one treats them. For now, please put a star on that particular post; the files which I indicated are pieces of a single document still go together, but credit or blame for this situation remains to be assigned.

In addition to being out of date, I am also now sure that the current ARC catalog online at NARA is not complete. More documents are available from the JFK Assassination Records Collection at NARA than the on-line catalog indicates. One example: the on-line catalog lists no FBI documents with the prefix 124-10203, yet there are several hundred of these on line at Mary Ferrell.

I wrote to NARA about this, and would like to thank them here for their courteous and prompt responses. The short story: 124-10203 was the number of a floppy disk containing electronic file(s) listing up to 500 FBI documents. This disk was sent to NARA along with printed versions of the listings (the RIF sheets), and the documents themselves. The documents and the rif sheets arrived, but the disk was bad (corrupt). Because of this, the metadata on these documents were never added to the on-line catalog.

In addition to 124-10203, this also happened to disks 124-10204 and 124-10223, so as many as 1500 records do not have metadata in NARA’s on-line catalog. I checked at Mary Ferrell, and they list 1412 records with these three prefixes. I believed something like this happened in a few other cases as well, though probably not as many records are involved.

All of this has affected my figuring, and my estimates of what I can do with the information available on line. So for now a pause, until I can make sure I have a proper understanding of the ARC and its reference tools.