Wednesday, August 31, 2016


     The Digital Public Library of America1 describes itself as a “Wealth of Knowledge”and invites viewers to “explore 13,997,962 items [as of 30 August 2016] from libraries, archives and museums.” A simple search box is provided. Access to the collection is free.
    About eight months ago (in January 2016), I searched DPLA for “Marks family” and found an item that featured a pair of spectacles made by Edmund Hughes, my 3X great-grandfather, a silversmith in Middletown, Middlesex County, Connecticut. The identifier is “Eyeglasses of Lucy Marks,” which are in the collection of the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.2 The complete description is “Eyeglasses worn by Lucy Marks, mother of Meriwether Lewis. A portrait of Lucy Marks shows her wearing the spectacles (see 1936 030 0002).” Edmund Hughes is not mentioned. The portrait, painted between 1830 and 1842 by American artist John Toole, is in the collection of the University of Virginia Art Museum.3
    The Missouri History Museum’s identification of the eyeglasses includes the name of the maker/creator, Edmund Hughes, but only “Lewis, Meriwether, 1774-1809" and “Marks, Mrs. Lucy” are listed as subjects. Not very helpful for someone interested in the Connecticut silversmith who plied his trade for over 50 years. Of course, a search for him on DPLA was negative.
    I was unsuccessful in retrieving Lucy Marks's eyeglasses in a recent search for “Marks family” that returned only nine items and wondered how I stumbled upon them in the first place. I did find them by searching for “Lucy Marks.”4 Obviously, for a surname such as Marks (which returned 39,524 results), I would like to have the option of limiting the returns to items that are associated only with the surname, thereby eliminating maker’s marks, trade marks, “x marks the spot,” etc.
    Since there is no advanced search and item descriptions are brief, I wondered whether genealogists and family historians would be able to locate much of interest via DPLA.
     On second thought, however - without DPLA, would I have known that the market for Edmund Hughes's eyeglasses reached from Connecticut to Virginia?

   The photographs are of Hughes spectacles in the writer’s collection. Crafted of coin silver, they are similar to those in the Missouri museum.

   1Digital Public Library of America.
   2“Eyeglasses of Lucy Marks,” Missouri History Museum (St. Louis).
    3“Lucy Meriwether Lewis Marks,” Thomas Jefferson Foundation (Charlottesville VA).
   4"Lucy Marks," DPLA.