My goal for these weekly reference questions is to show something useful or interesting. This week's just show how exasperating reference can be.
I have a painting that I think is by Max Bill. These suckers go for $300,000, so I want to compare the signature on it to his signature on the internet so I can unload it.
Okay, that seems reasonable. And after about ten minutes of searching, we had found some signed artwork [pdf]. But none of the signatures match the one on the patron's painting, and we couldn't find any record of the title of the patron's painting.
At this point I would have concluded it must not be an authentic painting, or that he'd need to contact a professional to make the determination. But the patron insisted on continuing, as he really, really wanted to find a matching signature.
After another 20 minutes with no results, I told him I had to help other patrons (a woman had just walked up behind him - no one else had come to the desk during this half hour). We looked up the number of a couple art appraisers, and I took his name and number in case I was able to find anything else.
I want to know the genealogy of Abraham Lincoln.
Huh. Well, this seemed to rule out biographies, and nothing else in our catalog looked applicable, so I tried the internet.
Pretty quickly we found Lincon's ancestry on Genealogy.com, which traces Lincoln's ancestors back thirteen generations. We looked at a couple generations, then the patron says,
No, no, I want it to go the other way. I want to prove that I'm related to him, because my grandmother says we are, and she's never wrong.
This of course doesn't rule out that she is related to him in some way, but probably not a blood-line direct descendant. She had that look in her eye like she was going to ask me to prepare her entire family genealogy for her to connect her family to Lincoln's, but other patrons were waiting so I had to cut it short. She checked out a couple of his biographies, and was going to go talk to her grandmother.
Sigh. I never like giving people bad news, but trying to answer a question by continually searching for information that might not exist is tough. Still, I enjoyed looking at the Max Bill art, and that was good Lincoln trivia I hadn't known.