NIGR is now Gen-Fed

The message below was received from Gen-Fed. The week-long institute’s focus on Federal records and how to find them–especially those that are not online–is  intended for moderately experienced researchers and librarians; it is not for beginners.

The Board of Trustees of the National Institute on Genealogical Research (NIGR) has announced that the institute’s name was changed to the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed) on December 22, 2015. The institute, held annually at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., was founded in 1960 as a three-week general course on genealogy. In 1987, it narrowed its focus to federal records.

“Given the growth in genealogical education, it made sense to choose a name that clearly identifies the institute’s mission,” said Malissa Ruffner, JD, CG, director. “A new website,, offers a closer look at the program, which is scheduled for July 11–15, 2016.  You can also follow the institute on Facebook and Twitter (@GenFedInstitute).”

Diane Dimkoff, coordinator of research customer support at the National Archives, stated, “We are pleased that the institute’s new name reflects the significance of federal records and look forward to continuing our traditional collaboration.”

The institute’s alumni association (NIGRAA) has joined with Gen-Fed at its new website:

Alumni can now update contact information, join or renew, and pay dues online.

Malissa Ruffner, JD, CG℠

Federal Laws Online

I needed to hunt down federal laws a few times in recent weeks, so make it easier on myself and others to find online links, I’m posting them here.

High school civics lesson reminder: Federal laws are passed by Congress, then approved by the President. If the President vetoes (disapproves) the legislation, it can still become law if the Congress overrides the veto by a two-thirds vote in each chamber. Once they are the law of the land, they are published in the Statutes at Large.

Digital copies of the Statutes at Large can be conveniently found online at four websites listed below. (The links take you directly to the right place on each website.) There is some overlap between the sites, and you may find you like the interface on one better than the other.

Are You Hearing Voices?

You could be. It might be the voice of an ancestor speaking to you directly about his or her life. Don’t worry, you’re not losing your mind. That voice may be speaking to you from testimony in a court case file, claims file, military pension file, investigative file, or immigration case file. Finding it may take a bit of work–and luck–but it might exist. “In Their Own Words: Family Stories in the National Archives.” Vol. 41, No. 4 (Oct.-Dec. 2015): 34-35, 37 takes a brief look at a few types of “case file” records in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration that contain ancestral voices.

Legacy Finding Aids

Archival research requires the researcher to develop critical thinking skills–strategies for determining which records may be relevant, based on subject matter, geographical coverage, and time frame. And, of course, how did the person or subject of interest interact with the record-keeper.

The National Archives Catalog is NARA’s version of a modern finding aid, providing a means to search for record groups, record series, files, and even items.

It’s the archival version of an online library catalog, which lists all the books in a particular library. But NARA is not a library, and NARA is not full of books. NARA has records, and records are much different than books. And there’s a lot of stuff: 10 billion pages of textual records; 12 million maps, charts, and architectural and engineering drawings; 25 million still photographs and graphics; 24 million aerial photographs; 300,000 reels of motion picture film; 400,000 video and sound recordings; and 133 terabytes of electronic data. These are the permanently valuable records of the United States Federal Government.

The good thing about the the online National Archives Catalog is that it can, over time, be updated to include

  • (1) more detailed information;
  • (2) descriptions of files;
  • (3) descriptions of items;
  • (4) images of items, whole files, and even whole rolls of microfilm.

Every working day, archivists are adding more and more information to the Catalog. It is growing by leaps and bounds. Just understand that it will not, repeat not, be an “every name in every record” database in our lifetime.

The bad thing about the Catalog is that it doesn’t behave like an old fashioned finding aid, such as a Preliminary Inventory, which described records of a particular record group (Federal agency) in a logical hierarchical way. As a printed product, a Preliminary Inventory was something you could sit down and study at your leisure. The relationships between record series were easier to understand. The bad thing about printed products is that they can’t be updated very often, and the larger they are, the more expensive they are to produce.

Despite their limitations, the old NARA finding aids that were published decades ago can still be useful. The researcher just needs to remember that NARA has more record series for most record groups than were listed in the old finding aids, and that more up-to-date information is in the National Archives Catalog.

The Allen County Public Library has placed online searchable PDFs of over 50 NARA Preliminary Inventories as well as five Special Lists. They’ve also placed online descriptive pamphlets (DPs) for some NARA microfilm publications, most of which are also available on the NARA website for free through the “Order Online” system (click on microfilm tab). Updated 19 November 2015.

NARA’s 2015 Virtual Genealogy Fair

The National Archives for the 2015 Virtual Genealogy Fair is now history, but you can still view the presentations, handouts, and slides at the links below.

Speakers included genealogy experts from National Archives locations across the nation. Lectures were designed for both new and experienced genealogists, and featured tips and techniques for using Federal records at the National Archives for genealogy research.

For general information, visit:
NARA’s Virtual Genealogy Fair

For specific session information, presenters, and handouts, visit:
Fair Schedule and Handouts

Day 1: Wednesday, October 21 –
Watch live video stream on YouTube US National Archives YouTube Channel

Day 2: Thursday, October 22 –
Watch live video stream on YouTube US National Archives YouTube Channel

Updated 18 November 2015.

Online Records – Carded Marriage Records

The images of the cards in the record series, “Carded Marriage Records, 1883-1916” are now online. This series, which is part of Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, consists of cards with the following information: name of man, his rank or occupation, and unit to which he belonged; name of woman, her age and birthplace; date and place of marriage; name of medical officer who signed the report; and, sometimes, the date of report. Some of the marriages were performed at civilian locations off-post. If the woman was the daughter of an Army officer, his name, rank, and unit may also be noted. The information on these cards was copied by clerks from the original reports submitted by post medical officers. One of the clerks who wrote these cards had excessively ornate handwriting that is often difficult to interpret.

These records may help descendants of the 898 marriages included in this series locate an otherwise difficult-to-find marriage–for example, if their Regular Army ancestor married at an unexpected location.

These records have been placed online as a part of the continuing effort of the National Archives to make more records available online through its Catalog of holdings.

More Post Office Department Records

The records of the Post Office Department (Record Group 28) can be useful for learning about ancestors who were postal employees, the communities in which they lived, and, of course, the operation of the mail system. As a part of NARA’s ongoing mission to provide greater access to the records in its custody, staff at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, continue to add descriptions for RG 28 record series to the online National Archives Catalog. Here’s a list of some 133 record series for which descriptions were added to the Catalog in recent months.

NARA Catalog Updated!

The National Archives Catalog was updated over the Labor Day weekend for the first time since April. Updates had been suspended due to technical difficulties, but hopefully the Catalog will again be updated on a regular basis henceforth.

National Archives Catalog Home Page (detail)

I am not conversant with the full extent of the update, but it’s certain that there are many additional series descriptions, file description, item descriptions, and digital images. Here are some examples.

Digital image updates include Maps and Correspondence Relating to Minor Civil Divisions, 1940-1950 from the Bureau of the Census.

Numerous series descriptions for records in Record Group 28, Records of the Post Office Department, have also been added. These are records that the National Archives received after the publication of Arthur E. Hecht, et al., Preliminary Inventory 168, Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Post Office Department, published in 1967. Watch for additional series and file descriptions to be added over the coming months.

File descriptions provide information about contents of specific files. For some examples, here’s a link to files described in the Records of the Post Office Department.

Stevenson and Stephenson……

As many have said before, it’s no secret that ancestors with common forenames and surnames are challenging to research. The William Stephenson and Thomas Stevenson families of Hubbard Township, Trumbull County, Ohio, exemplified this challenge. This article in the Ohio Genealogical Society Quarterly, a publication of the Ohio Genealogical Society, presents preliminary results on research into their English origins in County Durham and County Northumberland, England. Although not specifically noted in the article, three factors aided the research: (1) Isabella’s less common forename, (2) family and U.S. record information pointing to County Durham; and (3) two known associate families–Marsh/March and Pringle.

Pension Payment Cards, 1907-1933

Any time money is involved, a record must be created. Successful pension applicants expected payment. Records were created to ensure that payment was timely, correct, and made to the right persons. Records also helped guard against theft and fraud. Read more about the 1907-1933 pension payment cards for Caroline S. Moulton, widow of George H. Moulton, 38th Massachusetts Infantry (Civil War). More information is in a longer article from this summer’s NGS Magazine. Updated 8 October 2015.