We knew them only by their numbers.
The spreadsheet listing them seemed endless, although that could have been a trick the mind plays on itself after scrolling through column after column of data for untold hours.
The names were missing. I began to wonder if they’d even had names to begin with.
Numbers on a sheet. Anonymous. Dead, for all we knew.
For years we’d been seeking them, in places familiar and strange, organized and disheveled. And we’d been pretty good at our work, finding hundreds upon hundreds of them, some huddled together as if by an innate tribal instinct; others were orphaned, lost and alone; still others were found interspersed within some larger, disparate grouping, purposely grafted together by careful hands long ago.
But for every one we found, others remained elusive, an ethereal set of “must be theres” that hung maddeningly out of reach. We could infer their existence because we’d found their neighbors. It was like looking at a census record for a city block where every third house was conspicuously empty, proof that the street existed but leaving the neighborhood’s story woefully incomplete.
As with so much in life, it was the off-hand comment that proved prophetic. One of our graduate students, a photographer for the campus newspaper during his undergraduate days, mentioned a resource he’d utilized in his own searches, one we hadn’t previously considered. “You should check the morgue,” he said with the kind of casual directness common among the young but so often lacking in more seasoned seekers.
“The morgue.” Where else would one check for the missing? The suggestion carried with it the twin sensations of being both sensible and undeniably obvious. It was the aural equivalent to the heady scent of petrichor, a reminder that life hangs on, subterranean, even after weeks of drought.
Entering the morgue was a revelation. In their long gray boxes were the stories we’d been seeking, filed away in ranks dating back almost a century. Some had suffered for their years of inertia, bearing the physical scars of a hard-used life. Others appeared as lifelike as the days they wandered abroad, colorful and immediate and alive.
We walked reverently among them, our list in hand. Here was one known to us only as 1966-03-29e but whose name is actually Peace Corps World: 1966. Here was 1938-10-22, a document of the 1938 Homecoming stalemate (6-6) against Texas A&M.
Most amazingly, here was an entire family missing since 1948: forty-eight members of it, in fact, together in death as they’d been in life.
In all, we found all or parts of 94 previously missing entities. We arranged for their delivery to the Riley Digitization Center where they were handled with the care and compassion reserved for the honored dead who were long thought lost.
Today, those 94 missing lines from our list – repositories of stories and memories past – have been reunited with their spiritual brethren in their new incarnation as digital surrogates, given new usefulness and broader impact as items available to the world. And while they represented only .8% of the total resources available, remember the lesson of the Prodigal Son: the Father rejoices moreso over the homecoming of those that were lost than over those who never left in the first place. A hard lesson for the older brother to grapple with, but one with a sense of rightness when experienced from the parental perspective.
The joy of rediscovery is tempered somewhat by the knowledge that others remain unknown to us, many likely gone forever. Perhaps some day we will turn to you, good people of the Internet, in our quixotic quest to locate every missing piece, to complete the tapestry of our history that was born of many parents and mourned by many children.
But for today, we celebrate the returned. The list of numbers will still be there tomorrow.
The Baylor Lariat collection contains all known copies of the campus newspaper dating from 1900 to the most recent academic semester that are house in official Baylor repositories. If you have issues of the Lariat that don’t appear in our collection, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will happily check to see if your items can help us fill in a gap in our holdings.