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Missing Files; A Teachable Moment

Folks, I will be off the grid for at least several days.

The problem: Several hundred images that I captured from microfilm have disappeared. The adjectives “anxious” and “frustrated” barely describe the feelings I’ve had for the past 48 hours.

I discovered the images were missing by accident on Saturday. I was looking for a specific .jpg file of a letter that Cephas wrote for Emmett’s congressional campaign that I wanted to use in a character sketch, and I could not find it anywhere.

Usually, I can pull my notes/sources/images up quickly. When I can’t, I get worried.

For the record, whenever I find an item for my research in the microfilm or elsewhere, this is what I do:

  • Transcribe the item word-for-word, including title, date, author, publication, page number.
  • Enter the item into a timeline chart with a brief description, note (if any is needed), and location of the document on my computer, or, if it is a link off to another site (such as
  • Scan or photograph the image into either .jpg or .pdf.
  • Save the image into a specific folder on my hard drive.

This has worked well for me in the past.

When I couldn’t find this particular .jpg, I then noticed several other related .jpg items for Cephas were missing. I stopped what I was doing, and began cross checking everything.

I started with the main backup drive — no luck. I could feel my stomach drop to my shoes.

I checked my second backup drive (I use this one periodically, but not regularly since it is not my main backup utility). Thankfully, I found some of the missing articles on that drive.

I am still going through old backup files of my main drive. I haven’t given up yet, but I have been looking for two days, and cannot figure out why the .jpg files are missing — oddly, the other ones, the .pdfs, are not missing. I am coming to the conclusion that the .jpg images are gone, and it is user error. I may have deleted them by accident, somehow, somewhere.

Mea culpa.


All is not lost because I do have the text/content and the source information for ALL of the .jpg and .pdf files. The worst case scenario is that I’ll have to request the film again, and recapture the images, but reading the film will go faster, since I know what I’m looking for, and where to find it.

Also, I don’t necessarily need every single image that I had captured previously. Some of the .jpg images are piddly little things about Emmett’s sister at a church meeting on a certain Wednesday, and so forth.

Because I have the exact source information and the verbatim text from the image/article, I’m fine without the image. Most of the .jpg images I had were hard to read, because the original newspaper was not in great shape when it was filmed anyway.

I just like having the complete package, you know.

The other thing is the knowledge that I spent over a year reading microfilm newspapers page-by-page to capture these images — and now, being unable to find these treasures on my drive — troubles me. I dislike being sidetracked, but there is a huge lesson in this for me: More diligence in backups and file management, periodic file checking. I take it to heart.

I am also bothered by this because I thought I was being painstakingly careful with Emmett’s information.

This project is a part of my life, so this loss feels personal. I’ve come to understand how much Emmett was disregarded and used by people who purportedly cared about him, had his best interests at heart, and then, dismissed Emmett when he was no longer useful in terms of personal and professional advancement. This episode makes me feel like I’ve fumbled Emmett, somehow (if that makes sense), although it certainly wasn’t intentional and I don’t want to drop the ball on Emmett’s story.

Finally, I also have to shove back the fear of moving forward (as if I am going to screw up another major section), and the overwhelming urge just to say f*ck it, and drop the project entirely. When I first realized what had happened, I will admit that was my first reaction, but (as I know from my own AA program), my first reaction or response to anything troubling or upsetting is usually NOT the right one.

Hell. I’m not anywhere near finished. I’m sure I’ll screw something else up along the way (hopefully nothing major, though). Who am I to think I’m going to do Emmett’s book perfectly? I can only do the best I can. Anyone out there expecting perfection?

Well, f*ck that.

Honestly, I think I was trying to do Emmett’s book perfectly. Maybe this file loss experience is just the thing I needed to get a reality check. You know?

Apologies for the f-bombs. I’m tired. But at least I’m in a good place with this now.


When I was writing my dissertation, and three months away from the final defense, I lost my data analysis chapter — the main chapter of the dissertation. The whole thing. Gone. Completely. I could not find the data summary sheets. But: I had the tests, the interviews, the surveys, the observation notes, all of that, thankfully. All was not lost: I just had to recreate an entire chapter, under a really tight deadline. The original chapter had taken two months to put together, so the rewrite was stressful. At one point, I got physically sick over it, but I had no other choice. I had to keep moving forward. Once I got the feeling of panic and frustration out of my system, I just started over.

The second version turned out to be a lot better, by the way.


I’m not under any kind of external deadline with Emmett’s book.

Also, I haven’t lost any information. I have it, just in a different form. Too, there’s a lot to be gained in revisiting old data, old microfilm. The second view of the film may be more revealing than the first. That is usually my experience with things in general, for what it is worth.



I am moving forward today. I’m going to keep looking, but with a better data management strategy. All is not lost. I am not letting one flat tire on the Emmett research highway stop the journey altogether.

Besides, if I quit this project now, Emmett would probably haunt me for the rest of my life, and bring his oleaginous brother Cephas along for the haunting, too, just for good measure. Eternity with Cephas would be my own personal hell. Gross.

I’ll let you know what I find out in the next day or so.



Categories: Book Research Status


Communication, Arts, and the Humanities
The University of Maryland Global Campus

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