Cat. & Reference: Will the real C. H. Smith please stand up?
One of the things I have to do when I'm cataloging something new is check to see if the author's name appears on a big list of names maintained by the Library of Congress.*
For instance, the other day I came across a little pamphlet about the 1st Maine Cavalry written in 1885 by someone named C.H. Smith, which meant that I needed to try and find said Smith in said Big List of Names.† The difficulty with this is that names in the Big List can be in a different form from how they're found "in the wild," so to speak. I'd probably find Mr. Smith listed under his full first name or first and middle name, but I didn't know what those are, and "Smith" doesn't exactly narrow it down.
However, I did have a couple of pieces of information to help me on my quest: I knew that Mr. Smith was still alive in 1885 when he wrote down his recollections, and I knew that he was probably born no later than 1845, or he wouldn't have been old enough to fight in the Civil War. Names on the Big List (of Names) often include birth and death dates, so these two dates would help me track down the elusive Mr. Smith.
The first thing I did was check out all of the people entered in the Big List as "Smith, C. H." (My Mr. Smith was probably entered under a longer version of his name, but it was a place to start.)
There were seven people named "Smith, C. H." (or some variation of it) in the Big List. Five were too young, and the other two didn't seem to have any connection to the Civil War or Maine. (One had been an engraver in New York and the other one had been a publisher in Boston.)
Since I'd had no luck with people entered as "C. H. Smith," I decided to see if I could find out more about the 1st Maine Cavalry.
Googling "1st Maine Cavalry" led me to the Wikipedia page about the regiment. It didn't include any names of regiment members in the article, but it did include a link at the bottom to a website for a 1st Maine Cavalry reenactment organization. (Say what you will about the quality of Wikipedia articles, I generally find the "External Links" quite useful.)
When I got to the website of the reenactment organization, I clicked on the "history" link and was rewarded with the information that one Colonel Charles H. Smith had been awarded a Medal of Honor in 1895. Happy with this small victory, I returned to the Big Lists of Names.
This time there were over 40 matches for "Smith, Charles H." but I ruled most of them out pretty easily until I got to number 33, "Smith, Charles Henry, 1827-1902." According to his record, he was born in Hollis, Maine, which looked promising, but I wanted more confirmation before declaring him a match. His record said he was also the subject of the book "Horse Soldiers in Blue," so I looked that book up on WorldCat to see if I could learn more about it. Sure enough, when I found the book, it turned out to be about the 1st Maine Cavalry. Success!
*It's called "authority control" and there's more to it than this, but I'm assuming most of you don't really want a lecture on the topic.
†There is, of course, a more technical name for what I'm calling the Big List of Names, but apparently I'm trying to dumb things down for you all, today. Or maybe I think that avoiding technical jargon will help me connect better with the youth. (Those crazy kids, with their FaceSpace. Do they still like rap music?)