A Guide to the Perplexed

We hope this guide will facilitate a visitor's initial exploration of the site. With the above highlighted names of Poirrier family members in hand, you may now begin your efforts by clicking on one of two buttons, "Search" or "People", on our Home page. The "People" button is perhaps the easiest initial path to follow. You will find a "Biographical Index" on this page which will introduce you to some of the major protagonists whose letters are to be found on the site. These biographical sketches will be updated as old letters are edited and new letters are added to the site.

Next, click on "Search Biographies" and then under the "Select a Name" pull-down menu, click on one of the Poirriers and then clicking on "Find Biographies" and again clicking on their names will yield some summary but indispensable biographical information.

Most importantly, a column list of "Relevant Documents" both authored and received by your subject will appear. Like the spreading branches of a tree, clicking on the names of people who either authored or received letters from your subject will yield their biographies and their "Relevant Documents".

All in all, this procedure will provide you a birds-eye view of a great deal of what is currently on site. By either noting down the accession number of any particular letter, or a subject's ID number, you may return to the Home page and use the "Search" - "Full Text Search" mechanism to access a letter or all the letters of a particular subject.

But, however encompassing a bird's-eye view may be, it probably will not provide an adequate direction to your continued explorations. Biographical information situates our subjects in time, place, occupation and affiliation but what is invaluable about so many of these letters is what they tell us about what our subjects experienced and how they experienced it, what they thought or felt about what happened to them as agents acting and being acted upon and finally about those events, structures and institutions which influenced them in their daily lives.

In short, how do you discover a "reason" for reading any one or many of these letters? Here is where the "Search" mechanism of our site is absolutely indispensable. Clicking on the "Search" button on our Home page will yield two paths: "Full Text Search" and "Search Options". We have already explained the way "Full Text Search" can be put to use. Once you have decided on a direction to your explorations, you can call up a range of letters by name or date.

How do you arrive at a question to ask about the individuals who are on this site, how do you deepen your exploration? To do that you will need to take full advantage of at least one of the "Search Options" offered you once you click the "Search" button. The two options most valuable in this effort are those to be checked off in the "Subject" and/or the "Document Type" boxes. Checking the "Subject" box and then clicking on the "Modify Search Option" will yield a pull-down menu which somewhat resembles the index of a book. It comprises over one hundred and ten entries referencing persons, aspects, things, events or institutions described or discussed in any particular letter. The content of this subject list, indeed of all the pull-down lists under "Search Options" are continuously enlarged as more letters are transcribed but the Subject and Document Type lists are also constantly modified to more accurately reflect what is in each letter. Furthermore, by using the "Match all" or "Match Any" options for combining searches under more than one of these lists, you can isolate a number of relationships, constants and regularities reflected in the correspondance of our subjects. Similarly, the Document Type list can organize your search by providing you with a baker's dozen of inclusive categories that supplement or generalize what is to be found under the more specific Subject list.

Other "Search Options" provide a variety of services, from telling you how many and which of the letters have been scanned or translated, to organizing a search by a date(s) or location(s) sent or received. Probably the two you will likely most use once you have fixed the direction(s) of your research, are the "Person" and the "Series" boxes. Under the Person option, type in a name; specifying "Author", "Recipient" or "Cited". This will yield a list of the relevant letters. The Series option does something similar for the Person option as the Document Type option did for the Subject option - it organizes any individual subject's letters on site into Author or Recipient folders and, in some cases, isolates a particular content category.