Free through Nov. 28 – “Research in Federal Records: Some Assembly Required” by Malissa Ruffner, JD, CG

Malissa Ruffner’s excellent webinar, “Research in Federal Records: Some Assembly Required” is available online free through November 28. Don’t miss it!

Ruffner’s presentation will greatly help you “get beyond” the usual records. Did you realize there are over 250,000+ record series in the National Archives? I know you’ve only used a fraction of those records. Certainly not all of them will be relevant to you, but there are probably quite a few that would be useful if only you knew about them. (Don’t miss the syllabus that accompanies the lecture.)

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Chinese Exclusion Act Files and Records Overview – USCIS webinar, Thursday, Nov. 30, at 1 p.m. Eastern

Chinese Exclusion Act Files and Records Overview

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, 1 p.m. Eastern

Join Marian Smith for an overview of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Chinese Exclusion Act records and where those records can be found today.  The presentation will use a timeline to discuss a variety of Chinese Exclusion Act records inherited or created by INS.  These records are today found at regional archives, the National Archives in Washington, DC, and occasionally in files held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services  (USCIS).  The webinar will address the agency’s historical practice of moving some files to other file series as well as USCIS resources available to those doing Chinese Exclusion-era immigrant research.

*This webinar will not be recorded, so be sure to join it live.*

 How to Attend

1.  Visit the USCIS History and Genealogy web page.

2.  Click “Worth Repeating Webinar: Thursday, November 30.”

3.  Click “Attend Session” just before the webinar start time at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Chinese Laws and Rules

Researchers using historical Chinese Exclusion records often find themselves trying to navigate through a maze of legal citations and references to the multitude of laws, rules, and regulations that governed the admission and exclusion of Chinese immigrants. For example, what was a “Section 6 Certificate?” Or, what did it mean if someone was admitted as part of the “exempt class under Rule 9?”

Fortunately, the USCIS History Office and Library’s online catalog provides full-text access to tools that can help researchers interpret Chinese Exclusion files. Two of the most important are the Chinese Laws and Rules (1899–1936) and the Chinese General Orders (1924–1945).

The Chinese laws and rules, which the Immigration Service distributed to officers responsible for enforcing Chinese Exclusion law, initially included a list of laws governing the admission of Chinese and a compilation of major court decisions interpreting those laws. As Congress amended the laws or added new ones, the Immigration Service issued new volumes of the publication. In 1908, the Immigration Service added a list of regulations (rules) to the publication, which detailed how the agency carried out the law. The rules described the inspections process, various certificates and forms required under the law, and several other aspects of Chinese Exclusion enforcement. Today, the laws and rules help us interpret legal citations found in Chinese Exclusion files and provide a fuller picture of how Chinese Exclusion law was carried out.

In 1924, the Immigration Service supplemented the Chinese laws and rules with the Chinese general orders. The general orders announced changes to the Chinese rules and were later added to the next printed addition of the laws and rules. Today they are helpful for pinpointing changes in the rules.

To find both the Chinese laws and rules and the Chinese general orders in the USCIS History Office and Library’s online catalog, simply click the links above or select “Simple Search” from the “Search” drop-down menu and type “Chinese rules.” They will come up as the first two search results. 

Records of Claims Against the Federal Government

The idea of looking for ancestors in records of claims against the U.S. Federal Government (or against foreign governments) would be an afterthought, at best, for most researchers. Yet, they can contain valuable data. Here’s a few examples:

French Spoliation Claims. These were claims presented by U.S. citizens against France, Spain, and Holland for vessels and cargo taken by privateers prior to September 30, 1800, and condemned at ports controlled by those countries. There are records of these claims in the National Archives of the United States. The long and convoluted general history of those claims, along with guidance on the research process, is found in Angie Spicer VanDereedt’s 1991 Prologue article, “Do We Have Any Records Relating to French Spoliation Claims?

Claims Involving Various Foreign Countries, 19th-20th centuries, in a variety of contexts. For brief introductory information, see Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations.

Southern Claims Commission approved, barred, and disallowed claims. From March 1871 to March 1873, over 22,000 Southerners filed claims alleging they had been loyal Unionists during the Civil War and had furnished to, or had materials taken by, the Union Army or Navy. These are very useful to family historians because the paper trail created by the claimants and various witnesses included relatives, neighbors, friends, former slaves, and free people of color. Their testimony provides a wealth of information about individuals living in the South during the Civil War. Get started with these records by learning more about them in the guide to “Researching Southern Claims Commission Records” on the Saint Louis County (Missouri) Public Library website.

Civil War Claims against the Office of the Quartermaster General The Quartermaster General (QMG) and his staff were responsible for procuring all the equipment and supplies the Army needed. Generally, claims arise when mistakes happen of one kind or another. In 1901, a clerk in the office of the QMG compiled a list of 19 different claims boards that had been created during the Civil War which gave a brief description of the location, purpose, composition, and authority of each board. You can read through that 9 page list here.

One of those 19 boards was the Cairo Claims Commission. By direction of President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton appointed a commission to examine and report upon all unsettled claims against the War Department at Cairo, Illinois, that originated before April 1, 1862, due to allegations of fraud and corruption in the Quartermaster Department there. Stephen B. Logan, Charles A. Dana, and George S. Boutwell were first appointed, but Shelby M. Cullom soon replaced Mr. Logan, who resigned due to ill health. The commission examined 1,696 claims totaling $599,219.36, and approved and certified for payment $451,105.80. Most of the claims rejected were for losses suffered in active operations of the army, either from misconduct soldiers or from requisitions made by officers who failed to give receipts and certificates to the claimants, who thus had insufficient evidence to support their claims. Some claims were rejected due to proof of disloyalty by the claimant. Claims by owners of vacant lots and by the Cairo city trustees for use of city land were disallowed. A small percentage of the claims were rejected due to fraud. Charles A. Dana discusses the Commission in his biography, Recollections of the Civil War: With the Leaders at Washington and in the Field in the Sixties (New York and London: D. Appleton and Company, 1913), pp. 11-14.

The Proceedings of the Claims Board Meeting at Cairo, Illinois, are online. Following the meeting minutes, they include a roughly alphabetical list of claimants that gives the voucher number, date, name of claimant, name of officer who had approved the expense, type of article or claim, amount of claim proffered, and the amount allowed by the claims board.

In conclusion…. As always, finding records in the National Archives about an ancestor requires that person to have had some kind of interaction with the Federal Government. Claims against the government are one possibility, but it will take time and effort by the researcher to locate that information.

Going Digital, One Twig or Leaf at a Time

If you haven’t tried a surname search in the National Archives Catalog in awhile, it’s time to try it again. Additional information about records, as well as actual digital images of records, are added frequently.

A search for the surname “Twigg” provides good examples of what’s been added thus far. In no particular order, there are references to persons named Twigg for which there are–

  • Alien Case Files
  • Personnel Files
  • Cherokee Indian Records
  • Compiled Military Service Records–Civil War (Union)
  • Compiled Military Service Records–Civil War (Confederate)
  • Correspondence (Letters Sent or Received)
  • Seaman’s Protection Certificates
  • Draft Registration (World War II)
  • Compiled Military Service Records (Spanish-American War)
  • Official Military Personnel Files
  • Mentions in a roster of hospital matrons at U.S. Army posts
  • Mentions in summaries of World War II casualties
  • Mentions in applications for inclusion of properties on the National Register of Historic Places
  • Mentions in various other records

Certainly, this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Obviously, when the surname is included in the file or item description, it’s easier to determine potential relevance, than when it’s necessary to ferret out the name by searching a PDF or other multipage items. Nonetheless, it is a free resource available to anyone with an internet connection. It will continue to grow in usefulness in the years to come.

Give it a try. What might you find?

 

Webinar: “World War I Repatriations” on Thursday, October 26, 2017, 1 p.m. Eastern.

An historian from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will present a webinar on Thursday, October 26, 2017, at 1 p.m. Eastern time., on World War I Repatriations. THIS WEBINAR WILL NOT BE RECORDED.

Did you know that hundreds of native-born and naturalized Americans lost their U.S. citizenship by serving in the armed forces of an allied country during WWI? Whether eager to join the Allied cause before the U.S. entered the war or wishing to fight in their native countries, many Americans joined foreign allied armies. Most desired to remain U.S. citizens and were even unaware that their enlistment had stripped them of their citizenship. To aid these expatriated Americans, Congress passed the Act of October 5, 1917, which allowed them to take the Oath of Renunciation Allegiance and reassume U.S. citizenship.

This webinar will use real case file examples to explore how Americans who were expatriated through service in the armed forces of an allied country during WWI regained their U.S. citizenship.

How to Attend

1.  Visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ (USCIS) History and Genealogy web page.

2.  Click “Guide to I&N History: Thursday, Oct 26.”

3.  Click “Attend Session” just before the webinar start time at 1 p.m. Eastern.