In browsing the SIP web site Home Page clicking on the “Our Fields” screen brings you to 16 categories of study that comprise the general scope of our philatelic and postal history interests. There is something for everyone, with interests running the gamut from historic to contemporary, local to worldwide. As a postal historian let me tell you how I approach a cover that has caught my attention in order to research it for an eventual publication.
The fact that the cover, with or without its contents, indicates a certain time period and topic makes it immediately accessible to exploration on the internet. I will arbitrarily choose one of these 16 areas for purposes of today’s discussion and show you how I attack it.
Let us take a World War II era cover as an example. My initial review is to determine the sender and the receiver, the date of mailing, the countries involved and the postage used. I look for censor markings and details that tell me if this is civilian or military mailing. All of this activity takes but a few minutes and immediately tells me if this is something worth pursuing further. If you happen to be a history buff, or have a particular interest and expertise in WW II you will immediately have your antennas up thinking about this particular cover and why it might be worth researching. On the other hand, if the field is relatively new to you, there was likely something specific on that cover that caught your eye. For the moment that should be your target. As you pursue an investigation on one aspect your comfort level increases and you spread your wings further.
To research a cover you have to have at least a few basic search engines, most being free, others of reasonable subscription cost. Most of any researcher’s initial work can be done on Google, Bing, Wikipedia and Ancestry.com. Only the last mentioned has a subscription charge and can be taken on a monthly or annual basis. With these as starters you can look up details about the time period, the sender and receiver of the cover including census records, biographies, marriage and death certificates, military records, family trees set up by others, and the list is endless. After several successful “hits” on the object of your attraction you will then pursue putting meat on the bones of your initial research material.
The search engines I described above are generic enough that they will allow you to do Holy Land research almost as easily as if you were concentrating on United States material alone. You will not find yourself in a lonely avocation without friends, that is certain.
Like building a library one book at a time you then will gradually add search engines to your research favorites such as The New York Times Archives, Newspaper Archives, Geni, Jew Gen, Find a Grave.com, Archives, Fold 3, etc. Your laptop will become a veritable unlimited resource at your fingertips. You will then be able to access original newspapers and books-page by page from as far back as a century and a half ago with rapidly acquired skill. Your cover, and what attracted it to you- a Jewish name, an organization, a mailing to or from subsequent WW II belligerents, a Holy Land censored military posting, whatever- can be accessed and ever so quickly come alive. The start of your article will become a reality.
Postal history research involves inquisitiveness, patience and a desire to look at a cover and attempt to let the genie out of the bottle. You will be amazed at how frequently one succeeds. In my next column I’ll dissect a specific WW II cover with you and show you the dramatic results. We will do the same in the future in other areas of the Our Field listings.