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Reparative Archival Description Working Group: ArchivesSpace Agents Reparative Task Force for Women's Names

Date: February 2022 

Project team

Alison Clemens (April 2020-2022)

Karen Spicher (April 2020-2021)

Jessica Tai (April 2020-2022)

Jennifer Coggins (June 2021-2023)

Monika Lehman (June 2023-2023)

Michelle Peralta (June 2021-2023)

With support from colleagues Alicia Detelich Boersig and Mark Custer



In April of 2020, members of the Reparative Archival Description (RAD) task force undertook a project to identify full name information for women previously referred to only by their husbands’ names or surnames. This project was conceived of during the COVID-19 pandemic when staff were working remotely, which afforded the opportunity to undertake the time intensive process of researching full name information. Over the course of the project, we consulted with colleagues from Columbia University Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the National Library of Medicine, Purdue University, New York University, and the University of Tennessee. In summer 2021, the project moved under the auspices of the RAD Task Force’s successor, the Reparative Archival Description Working Group.



To begin, we worked with Mark Custer, Metadata Coordinator, to run a query to identify each ArchivesSpace agent record where a woman was only identified by “Mrs. [Name]” (usually her husband’s name) or “Miss [Last Name].” The script for retrieving agent records with “Mrs.” or “Miss” in the name string is available here: agent_overview_for_mrs_and_miss.sql. We categorized the results into separate lists to help with the identification process. 

The different categories included:

  • Women identified by “Mrs. [Husband’s Name]” only (e.g., Mrs. Charles Healy)

  • Women who were identified by “Mrs. [Husband’s Name]” in conjunction with their full name (e.g., Agnew, Jane (Mrs. Charles D.)

  • Women who were only identified in conjunction with their husband, and therefore needed a separate agent record created (e.g., Feld, Mr. and Mrs. Stuart)

  • Women who were identified only by their surname (e.g., Abrams, Miss)

Sorting through the names also uncovered issues such as duplicate agent records with varying name forms/information, and agent records containing multiple people. We also separated names with Library of Congress Name Authority records, and names that were only added locally, as we wanted to explore how best to accurately maintain the authority links while also reflecting accurate and full name information. 

Since staff were working from home when we began this project, we did not have access to the collection material and relied on online reference sources to help identify full name information. The following sources proved to be the most useful in our inquiries:

  • Searching on Ancestry uncovered full name information through vital records. This was particularly helpful when searching for donors who often did not have biographical information located elsewhere. 

  • Archives at Yale and Orbis: Our interfaces for searching Yale's finding aids and catalog records were helpful in uncovering any other biographical notes that would not have been linked to an agent record. 

  • We frequently used this resource to uncover full name information either through the Find a Grave records themselves or through images of the headstones. This site is particularly helpful as it links spouses together.

  • This site provides a database of obituaries in which full name information could often be identified.

  • Library of Congress Name Authority Files (LCNAF): If the person had an authorized heading, we were often able to locate full name information through their authority record.

  • New York Times: The New York Times obituaries and marriage announcements often provided full name information.

  • This resource would occasionally be the only place that marriage announcements or obituaries were published.

  • Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) and Social Networks and Archival Context (SNAC) databases: may include variant names with full name information.


Identification and editing steps

Below we have outlined the identification and editing steps the RAD group undertook for this work. We are sharing these steps in case they are helpful but acknowledge that specific, locally preferred approaches will depend on context and work situations.

  1. Working from a spreadsheet created from the report, identify full name information for people. Add a brief biographical note with nationality, occupation, and any other relevant information.

  2. Route updates into categories: records to be imported from LCNAF and merged with existing records (these records often required display name changes after importing, as we decided not to retain Mrs. name forms as the primary name form, even when authorized); duplicate records to be merged; records to be created or deleted; and records to be updated via the ArchivesSpace API (which could also be updated manually, but we decided to update them in bulk).

  3. Vet potential changes with stakeholders. 

  4. Execute manual workflows for records to be imported from LCNAF; records to be merged; and records to be created or deleted. 

  5. Run API updates in the ArchivesSpace TEST environment.

  6. Perform quality control for API updates. 

  7. Add General Context notes -- include citation information with a boilerplate note (see below) that contains a brief summary of the project and dates that names were changed.

    1. For names for which we could not find full name information: ArchivesSpace Agents Reparative Task Force for Women's Names: Full name information for this Person record was not found in 2021. 

    2. For names for which we found name information: ArchivesSpace Agents Reparative Task Force for Women's Names: Full name information for this Person record was found in 2021 and was updated from [earlier name string] to [full name string].





View of the name variants displayed on Archives at Yale


Our project team was able to update or create 207 agent records for women previously identified only by their husband’s names or surnames. Out of all the names we surveyed, we were able to locate full name information for all but 9 people. For names we updated, we decided to retain “Mrs.” name forms as variants, displayed on the agent page in our user interface and indexed in search, e.g., the record for Caroline Hennell Bray

A list of names included in the project, before and after full name information was found, is available here.