Historical research will help identify which Lincoln assassination relics have the strongest provenance.
The investigators will search for original documents that corroborate the origin and ownership of the artifacts. Working forward in time from Lincoln's assassination and backwards from the Chicago Historical Society's acquisition of the relics, they will look for personal letters or memoirs, signatures on legal documents, Civil War military service records, or household inventories that could confirm or refute the stories associated with the collection. Understanding the historical context of the assassination relics is equally important. For example, changes in the women's garment industry may have undermined Elizabeth Keckly's income as a skilled dressmaker and forced her to sell Mary Todd Lincoln's cloak.
There are numerous Lincoln relics in private and museum collections across the United States. Does any of this evidence match? What can we learn by comparing their historical provenance? The Illinois State Historical Library owns an alleged fragment of Laura Keene's dress that matches the Chicago Historical Society's. A local newspaper article documents Keene's 1866 visit to Springfield when she donated the fragment to a Lincoln collection that eventually passed to the Illinois State Historical Library. However, a "Laura Keene" dress fragment at the Lincoln Museum in Fort Wayne, Indiana does not match the Chicago Historical Society's or the Illinois State Historical Library's remnants.
Dress fragments attributed to Laura Keene in the collections of the Chicago Historical Society (top, CHS 1935.107) and the Lincoln Museum (below). Photograph below appears courtesy of the Lincoln Museum, Fort Wayne, IN (4524).
The registry describes the relics and their provenance. When available, photographic images are included. Collectors' names may be kept confidential.