Third Time’s a Charm?

Last Friday was our third and final trip to the national archive in DC. I personally wanted to make sure that I not only was obtaining as much information as possible but that I was also ensuring that I fully understood the files that I had already discovered to be useful. Thus, I asked for some files to be pulled a second time, so that I could take another look at them after obtaining contextual information from my secondary research.

For example, the file on Dr. Hume, which I mentioned in my last post, was no longer terribly shocking, as I had learned that medical examiners often made excuses to exclude certain persons from entry (but it’s still unclear even after a second read if Hume was doing this on purpose). Diagnosis discrepancies were not terribly common, however, so Hume remains a special case, in addition to another doctor, Dr. Wright, who’s file was found by another member of the group. He was found to be delivering clean bills of health to those who were actually ill, allowing them entry when another examiner would have excluded them.[1] Unsurprisingly, Dr. Wright was fired for this misdiagnosis in 1912, though he was able to continue practicing medicine at the hospital he also worked at. Hume, on the other hand, faced little to no repercussions; a sternly worded letter from the surgeon-general and a period of supervision by another examiner but held the position of Assistant Quarantine Surgeon until his death in 1939 when he was hit by a truck.[2] This is almost definitely due to Hume falsely excluding rather than falsely allowing entry. I had not realized prior to this that examiners at ports of entry actually did not work for the Immigration Service, but rather for the Department of Public Health.[3] I’m not sure how this different chain of command would have affected the examinations, but it is definitely one more thing to look into.

Also, another aspect I had never connected was the refugee crisis surrounding the Mexican Revolution/Civil War around 1914, which is right in the time period we are looking at for El Paso. I was given three massive boxes full of files pertaining to Mexican emigrants, looking to get away from the conflict in Texas. This influx was a strain on the administrative side of El Paso and the Immigration Service overall, with letters between the Secretary of War, the Secretary of State, the Secretary of Labor and the Supervising Inspector at El Paso.[4] While I lacked the time to fully read through all of these files, it did create a connection to international relations that I was previously unaware of. Time to start pulling everything together for the final product

[1] Inconsistency, file 53,431-025 Accession E9, subject correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington D.C).

[2] Texas Department of Health, “Death Certificate for Lea Hume,” July 28, 1939.

[3]  More Experienced for Mexican Border, file 53,511-003 accession E9, subject correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington D.C).

[4] File 53,108-071 , file 53,511-003 accession E9, subject correspondence, 1906-1932, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington D.C)

A Second Try!

The archive trip on October 18th was by far more productive and valuable than the last visit. Now as registered researchers we were able to pull more files and have more time in the reading room to look over them. I had mostly administrative files this time and spent about an hour reading through a file full of legal codes and pamphlets detailing new regulations. There was an entire page and a half about medical examinations within one of these pamphlets, detailing appropriate conduct with immigrants being examined and methods of diagnosis. Which is a topic that was also dealt with in another file. I managed to dig up some internal problems with the medical examiner at Eagle Pass in 1911, Dr. Hume. Apparently other medical examiners were finding patients Dr. Hume had diagnosed with trachoma as being in perfect health, meaning that there was no reason to deny them entry to the United States. It is unclear whether this false diagnosis was deliberate on Dr. Hume’s part as an excuse to deny entry, but this conflict went all the way to the supervising inspector at El Paso, who appeared to have been in charge of most of the Mexican border. This supervising inspector wrote to the Commissioner General of Immigration and the Surgeon-General in Washington DC asking for a more definitive method of diagnosis that could not be incorrectly interpreted. Ultimately Dr. Hume faced little repercussion, just a strong admonishment which is perfect for our project as not only does it discuss a prominent medical practitioner; the file also addresses difficulties inspectors faced in arriving at diagnosis and also the struggle of the immigrant, dealing with conflicting doctor’s opinions.

Commissioner General of Immigration, Labor Department, Washington D.C. Sept. 1912, File 53511-003, Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, RG 85 (National Archives, Washington, DC )

Welcome to the Archives!

Friday, September 27th we began our research at the National Archive. Despite excitement being high, we faced some real difficulties with our first research session. Some of the records we were looking for were missing, some did not have the information we were hoping for, and some appeared to be mis-numbered. Most of these problems, however, are because archival research, especially at the national archive, is a very different methodology, and, in the process of doing this research, we will learn how to do it as well. I only needed a handful of files from my boxes, but others in my group were able to go through larger sections of information at once. That being said, we were able to find most of the individual cases we were hoping to examine, adding to our list of examples of persons entering the United States through El Paso while afflicted with disease. However, even more cases were pertaining to the deportation of Mexican persons with diseases, a majority of the ones I found pertaining to syphilis and trachoma. While a great deal of the information I looked through will not be as useful for the overall project, we at least have those files marked down now for potential examples later on.

I am hoping to find more information on the medical examination process at that port of entry the next time we go to the Archive to further expand our paper and maintain the proper focus on the port of entry and process, not just the people coming through. This will likely mean more preliminary research before we go back in October. We will need to re-group, re-organize and come back next time better prepared to take on the sheer massive volume of information with additional files to request. In the meantime, we need to sort through the information we do have to determine what will be the most useful moving forward.