NARA 2021 Genealogy Series

National Archives Hosts Genealogy Series in May & June 
Participate in our genealogy series – free and online!
 

WHAT:  WASHINGTON, April 19, 2021–In lieu of the autumn 2020 Virtual Genealogy Fair that could not be held due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are pleased to offer a new Genealogy Series! Instead of a single-day event, the program sessions will be broadcast individually during May and June. You are invited to watch and participate in real time with the presenters and family historians from around the world on YouTube

Over the two months, the sessions will offer family history research tools on federal records for all skill levels. The May sessions are broad and will appeal to the beginner and beyond. The June sessions are focused on specific topics and may be better suited for the experienced researcher. All are welcome! Session descriptions, videos, handouts, and participation instructions are available at the Genealogy Series web page.  

WHEN: May & June—all sessions begin at 1 p.m. ET

May 4 Preserving and Digitizing Personal Photo Albums and Scrapbooks

May 12 Finding Genealogy Resources and Tools on Archives.gov

May 19 Tips and Tools for Engaging Family with Your Research Finds

June 1  From Here to There: Researching Office of Indian Affairs Employees

June 8  Civil War Union Noncombatant Personnel: Teamsters, Laundresses, Nurses, Sutlers, and More

June 15  Merchant Marine Records at the National Archives at St. Louis 


WHO: Staff experts in government records from National Archives facilities nationwide.

WHERE: Anywhere! The series will be broadcast on the U.S. National Archives YouTube channel
 

HOW: Visit the Genealogy Series web page to watch the broadcasts on YouTube. Participants can watch individual sessions, download materials, ask questions, and interact with presenters and other family historians. No need to register—just click the links on the schedule to view the sessions!  Videos and handouts will remain available after the event.  

Captioning:  Live captioning will be available online with StreamText. If you require an alternative or additional accommodation for the event, please email KYR@nara.gov.

Background: The National Archives holds the permanently valuable records of the federal government. These include records of interest to genealogists, such as pension files, ship passenger lists, census, and Freedmen’s Bureau materials. See “Resources for Genealogists” online.

Follow the National Archives on Twitter @USNatArchives and join the Genealogy Series conversation using #GenieSeries2021.

Letters and Financial Reports, June-December 1870, and Letters and Endorsements Pertaining to Trusses, November 1875-July 1884, by Assistant Surgeon John S. Billings

There are now 26.7 million descriptions and 136 million digital objects (images) in the National Archives Catalog. Those figures will continue to grow.

One recently digitized series – that consists of just one item (one volume) – is the “Letters and Financial Reports, June-December 1870, and Letters and Endorsements Pertaining to Trusses, November 1875-July 1884, by Assistant Surgeon John S. Billings” (National Archives Identifier 15501038).

A truss is a prosthetic appliance used by a person with a hernia. The Act of Congress of May 28, 1872 (17 Statutes at Large 164), “An Act to provide for furnishing Trusses to disabled Soldiers,” entitled “every soldier of the Union army who was ruptured while in the line of duty” during the Civil War “to receive a single or double truss of such style as may be designated by the Surgeon-General of the United States Army as the best suited for such disability.” Section 2 of the act directed the soldier to make his request to “an examining surgeon for pensions” who would “prepare and forward the application” without charge. Section 3 of the act directed the Surgeon General to purchase trusses “at a price not greater than the same are sold to the trade at wholesale.”

This volume contains two different sets of fair copies of correspondence sent by Assistant Surgeon General and Brevet Lieutenant Colonel John S. Billings.

Pages 1-32 contain fair copies of correspondence sent by Dr. Billings from June 1, 1870, to December 31, 1870, and related records. These are letters to various payees who received government checks for services or supplies; suppliers of artificial limbs concerning limbs for specific veterans; and others. There are copies of receipts issued for money received from the sale of surplus U.S. Government property as well as weekly financial statements submitted to the Surgeon General concerning the financial condition of the Medical and Hospital Department, Army Medical Museum, Surgeon General’s Office Library, and the funds for the “Comfort of Sick and Discharged Soldiers.” Pages 23-32 (August 6 – December 31, 1870) consist solely of financial statements.

Pages 35-49 contain a name index arranged roughly alphabetical by the initial letter of the surname. Each entry includes the person’s name and the page number in this volume upon which correspondence was recorded.

Page 51-201 and 204-237 contain fair copies of letters sent and endorsements made by Dr. Billings concerning trusses from November 1875 to May 1884. Letters were recorded on the upper section of pages 51-71 while an endorsement on an unrelated matter was recorded sideways on the lower section of pages 51-58, 62-65, 70-71, 85, 100, 109, and 151, and sideways on the upper section of page 165. Letters addressed to manufacturers are primarily purchase orders or, in a few cases, complaints about specific truss models. Many letters to U.S. Pension Examining Surgeons and other physicians are notifications that individual soldiers were ineligible to receive a free replacement truss, while others address concerns about a truss issued to a particular pensioner. There is also correspondence with pensioners and the Pension Office. The endorsements copied into this volume were made on truss applications returned to examining surgeons with directions to obtain measurements necessary to provide the applicants with the correct size truss. A sample of the form of notice that the Act of May 28, 1872, permitted only one truss per soldier was inserted loosely at pages 358-359. Page 358 also contains a brief note in shorthand. For unknown reasons, an anatomical diagram of the “venus sinusesal base of brain” was inserted loosely at pages 360-361.

Pages 33-34, 202-203, 238-357, and 359 are blank.

Neighborly Deception and All Things Human

Stories about local personalities, estate sales, local events, long-forgotten conflicts and more…. You just never know what you will find by digging in unusual records. Find out more in “Mrs. Hartshorne’s Estate Sale and the Joking Neighbor of Patrick McGroury of Manalapan, New Jersey.”

Confederate Slave Payrolls

Today’s Washington Post has an informative article by Michael E. Ruane, “During the Civil War, the enslaved were given an especially odious job. The pay went to their owners.”  This article discusses the Confederate Slave Payrolls in the National Archives, which have all been digitized and are available online. These records show:

  • Names (first names) of slaves.
  • Name of the person from whom the enslaved person was hired (not necessarily their own slave owner).
  • Location at which employed.
  • Name of Confederate officer under whom the slave was employed.
  • When employed (month and year, and number of days).
  • Rate of pay and total pay.
  • Signature (or mark) of the owner or the owner’s agent (designated “Atty” due to their power of attorney) to acknowledge receipt of pay.
  • Some payrolls include the power of attorney given by a slave owner to authorize another person to collect payment on their behalf. The owner would execute a power of attorney if he or she was unable to go personally to the Confederate officer.
  • There are also records of free blacks who were impressed (forced to serve) and a few payroll records for white Quartermaster Department employees.

More information about these important records is given in my 2019 article, “Civil War Confederate Slave Payroll Records” as well as in the Confederate Slave Payrolls Scope and Content Note.

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Image: Side 2 of Slave Payroll 519 that shows six slaves and one free black man hired out of Greene County, Virginia, during January-March 1863, to work on the intermediate line of the defenses of Richmond, Virginia, under the command of 1st Lieutenant John B. Stanard.

That Pesky Issue of Spelling

As citizens of the 21st century, we often expect “precision” in names, dates, places, geographic locations, and many other things. For our ancestors, however, precision in such details was not as important as things like, “How many eggs did the chicken lay today?”

Although we ‘live by the clock’ our ancestors did not, or not so much, and a Norwegian island wants to try to go back to that during their longest days. (See New York Times article here).

But back to the name thing. Today’s blog post by Damian Shiels, “Leaving Off the ‘O'”: Insights into Irish Emigrant Name Changes in 1860s America” gives good food for thought regardless of your ancestors’ nationality.

As always, superior genealogical research requires an understanding of our ancestor’s perspective and worldview. It makes understanding the records a tad easier.

Josephine Cobb’s Discovery of a Lifetime — Pieces of History

Finding a great archival record whose significance has not been recognized is one of the things that makes working with archival records a joy. Although the 1863 Gettysburg Address audience photo in this story had never been forgotten, it was clearly under-appreciated until Josephine Cobb made the effort in 1952 to examine it closely and with thoughtfulness. Great archivists have curiosity and a deep understanding of history and their subject specialties. Hurrah, Josephine Cobb, and may there continue to be more like you.

Follow the link below to read the full story!

March is Women’s History Month! Visit National Archives News to see how we’re celebrating. Today’s post comes from Michael Hancock in the National Archives History Office. According to the old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. But in the case of Josephine Cobb and her 1952 discovery in a Civil War–era photograph, it’s worth…

via Josephine Cobb’s Discovery of a Lifetime — Pieces of History

U.S. Government Horse Sales at Frederick, Maryland, and Reading Pennsylvania, February 1864

There are many unusual or unexpected records in the U.S. National Archives that shed light on the life on someone’s ancestor or relative. Among these is a slim volume in which were recorded the buyers and sale price of surplus military horses sold at auction on 12 February 1864 at Frederick, Maryland, and on 19 and 22 February 1864 at Reading, Pennsylvania. The Office of the Quartermaster General sold the horses because they were no longer fit for military duty, but were still serviceable for less demanding civilian needs.

Read about this volume in “No Horsing Around! Unusual Records in the National Archives” and then go to List of Horses Sold, February 1864 to take a look at the volume yourself.

All the names have been “tagged” so that a researcher could stumble upon this volume when doing a simple name search in the National Archives Catalog — but, beware! Names are not always spelled as expected!

Military Records for African-American Genealogy

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Afro-American Historical Society’s 2018 Black History Month Genealogy Conference in Laurel, Maryland. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with Alice F. Harris and Bernice Bennett, and to meet Marvin T. Jones, Erwin Polk, and others. All lecture handouts are available on the conference website. Much of my handout, Military Records for African-American Genealogy: Suggestions for Researchers, is applicable to all researchers regardless of color. I hope you’ll find it useful.

P.S. Any advertisements that appear on this website/blog benefit WordPress not me. Just FYI.

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.