Print

Print


I recently had the need to revisit the NAF records for the chain of companies owning the canals along the Potomac River.  In so doing, I noticed that the chain of earlier/later was wrong, based on someone's misinterpretation of orignial source material and the use of erroneous sources based on other misunderstandings.



N 50057653 is for the "Potomac Canal Company" which is placed as intermediate between the Potomac Company and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.  I have attached the record with proposed modifications.



The facts of the case are that the Potomac Canal Company was incorporated in 1823 by the state of Virginia, but the sate of Maryland not concurring, the charter never became operative, and remained nothing more than a few pages in the session laws.  Subsequently, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company was incorporated by both states under an entirely new act of incorporation.  This company organized successfully and, per its charter, acquired the franchises and property of the Patowmack Company.



The first 670 note is misleading.  The C&O Convention did indeed recommend changing the name of the enterprise, but they could only petition the state legislatures, not modify an existing charter of a company with eminent domain powers.  Only a legislature could do that.



The second 670 note is bad metadata drawn from an unreliable source created by someone who could not properly read the basic source materials.  There is just enough truth to fool people, but most of the information was false, including the fact that it was called the "Washington Canal," which was a separate canal entirely within the District.



I have added two replacement 670s from more reliable sources.  I have to go to a law library to access session laws, which are the ur-source, and did not have time to do that.



So replacing the two 670s with the new ones and converting the earlier/later to a plain "see also" would make the record "correct," but there is a further issue.  As the Potomac Canal Company never had an actual existence, i.e,, stockholders, officers, real estate, it almost certainly never authored anything and would appear only as a subject as a few lines within works on the C&O Canal, does it make sense to have this record at all.  Its existence has already confused things by muddying the proper distinction between the Patowmack Company and the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company.



There are already two records in WorldCat that erroneously use "Potomac Canal Company" as author.  One, "Account book of the Potomac Canal Company, 1821" is properly the book of the Potomac Company.  The date even preceeds the Potomac Canal Company charter.  The other, "Proposition 22d December 1823 to be submitted to the Potomac Company" is an even more blatant cataloging error, as the proper name is right there.



Unfortunately, errors of this type are legion.  As I have said before, having spent over 30 years as historian and archivist for what is probably the largest repository devoted to original materials from the business sector, I consider the NAF to be a very unreliable source for business names, not quite as bad as canalbird.com, but not by much.  When it comes to corporate successions and intercorporate relationships, it is even worse.  The amount of bad metadata is probably beyond repair.



Before I invest any more time in this, short of excising "Potomac Canal Company" from our own data base, what is a reasonable response to the problem of propagating bad metadata.



Chris Baer

Hagley Museum and Library