KAC Vol. 2 Issue 2 Summer
Forms on the National Archives online web page
Chris W. Courtwright
Among other provisions, the President
John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection Act (PL 102-526)
mandated the creation of an electronic index to certain assassination-related
material in the National Archives. (This data base is online at
www.nara.gov/nara/jfk/jfk_search.html.) Not all material found
in the assassination collection at the archives is included in
the online index. Material in the custody of the archives that
previously was open for research on October 26, 1992, the date
the act was signed, was exempted from inclusion in the data base.
Thus, many Warren Commission materials have not been included
within the electronic index. Agencies that held assassination
records were required to record information on Record Identification
Forms (RIFs) for input into the master database. A number of the
documents in the database are still under review by certain agencies
or have been postponed from disclosure, either partially or completely.
The RIFs--Inconsistency and
the RIFs can be a valuable source of information and clues about
certain documents, including those still being withheld, their
maddening lack of consistency often requires one to do much additional
detective work. When users sign on, they should be well advised
to heed the warning that "this database is a compilation
of entries input by the originating agencies. Although the National
Archives and Records Administration provided guidelines for data
entry, the master database is inconsistent in the terms used to
describe records. Please keep this in mind when planning your
database searches." Oswald is referred to on the RIFs in
at least two different ways "Oswald" and "LHO."
Ruby turns up usually as "Ruby," but also quite often
as "JR." Another researcher tells me Clay Shaw often
is referred to as "CS." State names are sometimes spelled
out completely, are at other times abbreviated partially, and
are at other times referred to by the two-letter designations.
While working on searching for
all RIFs for FBI documents referring to a certain individual,
I have so far stumbled upon four different spellings of his last
name. (Extremely sloppy data entry, at best, on the part of someone
at the FBI. Some may suggest a more sinister interpretation with
respect to a perceived lack of cooperation with the spirit of
the JFK law.) I found the subsequent spellings only after painstakingly
combing through and doing additional searches based solely on
certain dates and the relevant data series. In short, you have
to do multiple searches for even the most basic inquiries while
attempting to play detective and guess how many different ways
words could have been misspelled or abbreviated.
The Logic of Searches
The order of operations also tends
to matter when performing complex searches. Doing a complex search
for "LHO" --or-- "Oswald" --and--"AZ"
yelds a hit on 7 RIF records, all of them containing the "AZ"
(two-letter designation for the state of Arizona) and either "LHO"
or "Oswald". Doing a complex search for "AZ"
--and-- "Oswald" --or-- "LHO" yields an entirely
different result 10,750 hits. These hits are for RIFs that contain
(1) both "AZ" and "Oswald"; and (2) All RIFs
containing the term "LHO" (not just those also containing
"AZ"). The computer search apparently does not begin
to look down a string until at least five letters have been requested.
Doing a search for all documents containing "Oswa" yields
only 4 hits, all of them containing exactly that particular abbreviation
of Oswald. A search for "Oswal" yields 25,222 hits from
RIFs containing the "Oswal" any and all times such letters
appear in that sequence. By the way, a search for "Oswald"
brings up 22,518 hits; 4 less than "Oswal." The reason
is that four RIF documents contain various misspellings; Oswall,
Oswals, Oswale, and Oswal. These RIFs can be viewed by doing a
search for "Oswal" --not-- "Oswald." As another
example, a search for "unsubstantiated sighting" brings
up hits on 243 RIFs. Doing a search for "unsubstantiated
sightings" (plural) yields 37 hits, a subset of the previous
Hopefully, my trials and errors
will assist you with your historical research in this new age
of internet resources.