So we woke up this morning to find the government shutdown beginning. I thought I knew what that meant. “It won’t affect me,” I said. “Because I only work with the past.”

Smugness = dumbness, I quickly learned. Here’s how.

The phone rings. Some guy is interested in finding out if his ancestor served in the Civil War. He has no idea if he did, or on which side. There is a standard answer to that question.

We go to the National Park Service’s database known as “Soldiers & Sailors”. There we type in a name and the database gives us a list of all people with that name who served on the Union or Confederate side in the war.

If it is a common name, that can lead to a bit of work, but eventually we will probably narrow it down to the person in question and be given important information such as units served in and thence to more specific information. Usually works like a charm.

So I asked the caller for the name of his ancestor, as I navigated to “Soldiers & Sailors”, only to be confronted with this:

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There are other ways to get at this problem, but they will require a lot more work, which cannot be done on the phone. So the patron suffers and we resign ourselves to who knows how long without the “Soldiers & Sailors” database. Hooray for politics!

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