Best of Wives and Best of Women- Putting it all together

When I first started compiling my research and writing my biography of Eliza, I had a mix of feelings. There were a lot of nerves, of course, but also a sense of excitement. I mean, how hard could it be? I’m working chronologically, so all I have to do is put my information in some sort of a timeline, and then I’ll have a bunch of pages with Eliza’s life scribbled out onto them.

Turns out organizing all that information and writing the biography is a little bit harder than I expected.

I joke, of course, because I knew there was going to be hard work involved; five or so weeks of trips doesn’t just condense itself in a couple of days. I found that sometimes working completely chronologically doesn’t work, and it’s easier to work through themes that are present within a time period.

What I didn’t really expect were all the little mysteries that would appear in the course of my writing.

Something I think we tend to take for granted are birthdates. Most people know when they’re born, right? When we read a birthdate, we immediately absorb that information and run with it.

The problem in the 18thcentury is that sometimes birthdates are recorded in a variety of places, and they don’t always match up. So there I was, not even a page in, and already struggling to find an accurate source recording the birthdates of Eliza and her siblings. Chernow’s biography of Alexander Hamilton gives one date. Ancestry.com gives another. I’d found a source from Columbia University’s Rare Books and Manuscript Library that was supposedly a handwritten copy of the Schuyler family Bible written by “himself” that gave the kids’ birthdates. I thought ‘himself’ meant Philip Schuyler, Eliza’s father, which thus validated those dates, but turns out Philip Schuyler’s death date was at the bottom of the page, and all the dates were different than other sources I’d found.

I found a similar problem when trying to find the baptism records of the Hamilton children. Often, a baptism record includes a birthdate, so it becomes a citation for when the kids are born. Ron Chernow states in his biography of Alexander Hamilton that the three eldest children, Philip, Angelica, and Alexander, were baptized at Trinity Church in 1788. When I consulted records at Trinity Church, I found that Angelica, Alexander, and James Alexander were baptized that year; no mention of Philip. Suddenly, I was on a hunt to find the baptism locations of all the Hamilton kids. Thankfully, I was able to find Philip in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church in Albany, but that still left two kids, as Trinity Church’s website stated that five Hamilton children were baptized there. I poured through the old pages of the Trinity baptism record, but still no sign of my missing kids. Finally, I found them in a separate book, a personal book used by the man performing the baptisms. I also ran overtime and ended up missing an earlier ferry ride home from New York City, but that’s another story.

So, what have I learned in the actual writing process? No matter how much research you’ve done, there’s always going to be another mystery, something else to discover. Sometimes, it’ll stay a mystery, but that’s the gift, or the curse, of research; it’s basically never ending.

Comments

  1. feglynn says:

    This research sounds very complicated, though very exciting at the same time to put together all of these different puzzle pieces as well as you can! I appreciate what you wrote at the end of your post, that “No matter how much research you’ve done, there’s always going to be another mystery, something else to discover. Sometimes, it’ll stay a mystery, but that’s the gift, or the curse, of research; it’s basically never ending.” I think this is extremely true in all fields of research, especially as our contemporary society continues to develop and change and we have more to discover just about our present. Add a few thousand years of human history, and it gets even more complex! It’s cool that you are writing a biography of Eliza ~ how powerful to share the story of a woman when women’s voices (as well as the voices of otherwise marginalized people/communities) in history, media, and everywhere else still need to be heard so much more often.

  2. What’s up to all, the contents present at this web page are actually amazing for people knowledge, well,
    keep up the nice work fellows.

Speak Your Mind

*