Premiering June 15, 2021, at 1 p.m. Eastern YouTube: The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently accessioned the core collection of Merchant Marine Licensing Files, which are now open to the public for the first time at the National Archives at St. Louis. Theresa Fitzgerald, Director of the National Archives at St. Louis, will discuss these holdings as well as auxiliary collections of Merchant Marine records that are complex and closely connected. Presentation slides/handout here.
Premiering today, June 8, 2021, at 1 p.m.! The National Archives Building in Washington, DC contains many records about noncombatant civilians connected with the Union Army during the American Civil War. However, the records are underutilized because there is no comprehensive index, no “one” place to look, and require time-consuming research into obscure records. Digitization is slowly changing that, however! This lecture by Claire Kluskens will provide suggestions for research with emphasis on online materials that can help you get started.
This is the 5th of six presentations in the 2021 NARA Genealogy Series.
It’s not considered one of the “traditional” genealogy record groups, but Record Group 33, Records of the Extension Service, is a treasure trove of information about farm life across the United States from about 1910 to 1950 or so. Even if one’s own ancestors are not mentioned in the records, they provide excellent county-level context on rural life. I lectured on these records on the 2011 NARA genealogy fair and have written about them a couple times, as well. My research guide, “Agricultural Extension Service Annual Reports, 1909-1968, and Related Records“ will help you get started.
NARA is working on digitizing the the Service’s microfilmed annual reports (ca. 1908-1944) so they are not yet available online. I am delighted to report, however, that nearly 350 motion picture films from RG 33 have been digitized and are available for viewing or download from the National Archives Catalog. (Some may be restricted by copyright or other intellectual property right restrictions.) Happy viewing!
I gave a presentation with this title during the 2018 NARA Virtual Genealogy Fair which is online. I’ve now added the “June 2019” version of the handout for that presentation to my “Research Guides” page on this website. This handout highlights of federal agencies or major records series that are useful; it is certainly not exhaustive.
In addition, it is good to remember that most documentation of enslavement will be found in property, estate, tax, and other records created primarily at the county level, not in federal records.
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.
Census Fun Fact #2 – Fictional Names: Just Call Me Another Time is the second installment of my “Census Fun Facts” series on the “History Hub” website. It features some folks with interesting names who are “hiding in plain sight” in New Orleans, Louisiana, on the 1910 census.
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.”
The nonpopulation census records of agriculture, manufacturing, mortality, and social statistics for 1850-1880 contain valuable information not found elsewhere. I’ve now posted my “Research Guide to Nonpopulation Census Records” (August 2020 edition) that I hope you’ll find useful for these and other records that it describes.
Updated 26 March 2020
The National Archives recently digitized the Record Book of Ebenezer Ferguson, Justice of the Peace, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 1799-July 1800 (National Archives Identifier 155501037). This is an unusual item for NARA to have as the repository of the permanently valuable records of the U.S. Government, either records created by it, or received by it.
Mr. Ferguson chronicled actions taken by him in his official capacity from December 1799 to July 1800. It may be his rough draft (often referred to as a “day book” or “waste book”) since the front cover is annotated with the letters “E & F” which suggests that the contents of this volume were subsequently recorded in permanent volumes E and F that would have been written in a neatly in a “fair hand.” The handwriting in this volume is “sloppy” and he “crossed out” many entries that may either indicate they were either resolved or copied to the permanent record book.
As justice of the peace, Mr. Ferguson was empowered to receive allegations of criminal activity that violated state law; charge suspects and require bail bond to ensure appearance at trial; require bond of prosecuting witnesses to ensure they appeared at trial to give evidence; and so forth. Most of the cases recorded in this volume are for assault and battery or for theft, but there are a few for runaway slaves or apprentices, or failure to support a wife. For example, on page 21, Benjamin Chase [Chane?], Jr., alleged that “George Harden was a Slave of his father Benjamin [illegible word] & that He has been Run away some [?] time.” George Harden was committed to jail in lieu of a bail bond. (See image below.)
Also on page 21, Geraldus Stockdale charged Demsy [?] Bauns [?] “with Leaving his wife a Charge on the Publick” funds.
Each entry is headed “CommonWelth [sic] vs. [name of defendant], and includes the date, name of person making the complaint, nature of the alleged criminal act, name of defendant(s), name of witness(es), and amount charged each defendant or witness as bond. Page numbers are written in the lower right corner of odd numbered pages.
This record book is in the custody of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) as part of the Post Revolutionary War Papers, 1784-1815, in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. (It has not been researched whether there is a “copy” of some kind in Philadelphia.)
Why can this local record book be found in the U.S. National Archives? That’s a good question for which there is no definitive answer at this time. Philadelphia was the national capital from 1790 until about May 1800. Colonel Ebenezer Ferguson commanded an artillery regiment in the Pennsylvania militia during the War of 1812. (See J. Thomas Scharf and Thompson Westcott, History of Philadelphia, 1609-1884, p. 554 (Philadelphia: L. H. Everts and Co., 1884). Perhaps this volume became accidentally mixed in with federal military records at either time, or perhaps it was purposely submitted to the War Department for a specific reason that is not currently known. In either case, it’s an interesting window into the problems and activities of ordinary Philadelphians at the turn of the 19th century.
In the years after the American Revolution, an unknown number of U.S. citizens or residents moved across the generally unregulated northern border to continue their lives – perhaps to seek opportunities or cheap land – in the country we now call Canada, whose sovereign was the British monarch.
And then things changed. The U.S. declared war on Britain on June 18, 1812: the war that we know as the War of 1812, and which is sometimes called the Second War of Independence.
War forces choices, sometimes unpleasant ones.
The Upper Canada (Ontario) Provincial President’s order of November 9, 1812, directed Joseph Edwards, William Claus, and Thomas Dickson to serve as a board “for examining into the pretensions of those persons in the Niagara, London, and Western Districts, who shall report themselves to be subjects of the United States, and, as such claim exemption from military service and will thereby become liable to be sent out of the Province with passports….”
As a consequence of that order, an examination was conducted of the following 65 persons whose U.S. state of origin is indicated:
- (1) William H. Biglow, Massachusetts [reproduced below];
- (2) Jonas Brooks Wood, New Hampshire;
- (3) Jared Rice Tyler, Connecticut;
- (4) Joseph Howel, New Jersey;
- (5) John Lawson, New York;
- (6) Andrew Lawson, New York;
- (7) Joseph Coleman, Pennsylvania;
- (8) Samuel Scott, New York;
- (9) John Height [?], Vermont;
- (10) Elijah Judson, Connecticut;
- (11) Arah Osborn, Vermont;
- (12) Daniel Waters, New York;
- (13) James Colton, Massachusetts;
- (14) Nathaniel Wilder, Massachusetts;
- (15) Alonso Lockwood, Vermont;
- (16) Chauncy Colton, Massachusetts;
- (17) Joseph Gray, Pennsylvania;
- (18) Job Haxsey, New York;
- (19) Albert Hill, New York;
- (20) Calvin Houghton, New Hampshire;
- (21) Israel Aber, New Jersey;
- (22) Benjamin Aber, New Jersey;
- (23) John Peters, Maryland;
- (24) Seneca Thomas, Massachusetts;
- (25) Dennis Spencer, New York;
- (26) Jacob Parse, New York;
- (27) Peter DeWitt, New York;
- (28) Paul Drinkwater, Gloucestershire, England, to the U.S., June 1811;
- (29) Alvin Dunbar, Massachusetts;
- (30) John Osborn, Connecticut;
- (31) Phineas Tinkum, Connecticut;
- (32) Isaac Augustus Bullard, Massachusetts;
- (33) William Bartman, Pennsylvania;
- (34) William Pound, New Jersey;
- (35) Ephraim M. Cummings, New Hampshire;
- (36) Susan Doty, New Hampshire;
- (37) William Coan, Jr., New York;
- (38) Noah Gilbert, Massachusetts;
- (39) Danforth Fuller, Massachusetts;
- (40) Eli Ruggles (also known as Eli Reynolds), New York;
- (41) Jeremiah Guest, New Jersey;
- (42) Abraham Lazalire [Lazabre?], New Jersey;
- (43) John Kelsy, New York;
- (44) Jacob Hendershot, New Jersey;
- (45) William Kelsy, New Jersey;
- (46) Luther Willis, New Hampshire;
- (47), Asa Coltrein, New York;
- (48) Aron Lloyd, New Jersey;
- (49) George Dorland, New Jersey;
- (50) Asa Brook, New York;
- (51) Simon Stevens, Connecticut;
- (52) Peter Snider, Pennsylvania;
- (53) Silas Clark, Vermont;
- (54) John Dorman, Connecticut;
- (55) Even Thomas, Pennsylvania;
- (56) Elias Emmons, Connecticut;
- (57) Samuel Washburn, New York;
- (58) Joseph Moyer, New York;
- (59) Jacob Hendershot, Pennsylvania;
- (60) William Dunnan, New York;
- (61) James Pollock, native of Ireland and naturalized U.S. citizen;
- (62) Thomas Weeks Baker, New York;
- (63) Josiah Linton (or Denton), New York;
- (64) John Pittinger, New Jersey; and
- (65) Joseph B___ [surname not indicated], Pennsylvania.
Some of the persons listed above accepted a passport to depart, such as William H. Biglow, shown in the image above, while others who had property in Upper Canada took the oath of allegiance to the Province. Each entry may indicate the person’s occupation, place of residence, property ownership, employer, other relatives, whether he has taken the oath of allegiance, or whether he wanted to take the oath of allegiance or return to the United States.
The above records, and more, come from a single volume entitled the “Record Book of Joseph Edwards, Justice of the Peace, Niagara, Upper Canada, April 1812-January 1813 [and] Receipt Book of Major William Johnson, Inspector General’s Office Headquarters, Fort George, Upper Canada, July-September 1813” (National Archives Identifier 158587783), which has been digitized and can be accessed online in the National Archives Catalog.
This record book is in the custody of National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in United States, as part of the Post Revolutionary War Papers, 1784-1815, in Record Group 94, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office. (Whether there is a “copy” of some kind in Canada, I have no idea.)
Why can this information be found in the U.S. National Archives?
Fort George (at modern Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario) was captured in May 1813 by the U.S. Army and subsequently retaken by the British Army in December 1813 after U.S. forces abandoned the British (Canadian) side of the Niagara River. Joseph Edwards, Esq., Merchant and Justice of the Peace, was one of the noncombatants ordered into custody at Niagara, Upper Canada, by U.S. Major General Henry Dearborn, June 19-21, 1813. (See Niagara (Ontario) Historical Society Publication No. 28, Family History and Reminiscences of Early Settlers.) It is likely that this record book came into the possession of the U.S. Army at that time (June 1813), and it was very soon repurposed as a receipt book by the Inspector General’s Office at Fort George.
Thus, this volume has five parts:
(1) The first part (Joseph Edwards) consists of the inside front cover and the unnumbered front end paper, which are annotated with information dated from January to August 1813. Both pages also have “Vol. 11” written in blue crayon upon them.
(2) The second part (Joseph Edwards), pages A1 to A13, contain records of Justice of the Peace Joseph Edwards from April 27, 1812 to September 29, 1812. Some entries are of a judicial nature while others are warrants for the impressment of wagons, horses, and other supplies from civilians that were employed in efforts to strengthen Fort George. Page A13 mentions that Jacob Langs (commonly called Links) formerly of Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, had resided in the province for two years and had taken the oath of allegiance “last May.”
(3) The third part (Joseph Edwards), pages 1 to 44, contains records relating to U.S. citizens in the Province of Upper Canada, including, on pages 1 to 32, the 65 persons mentioned above. Pages 33 to 44 primarily contain a record of U.S. citizens who took oaths of allegiance to the Province, U.S. citizens who were allowed to remain without taking the oath of allegiance but pledged to keep the peace and be of good behavior, and (3) aliens (U.S. citizens) who were given passports to travel to another location. These include Mahlon Willson, Willson Doan, Isaac Swayze, Joseph Smith, Jesse Turner, Samuel Moore, William Smith, James Halsey, Jacob Parce, Alvin Dunbar, William Hartman, and Peter DeWitt. There are also two records relating to itinerant ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church (pages 37-39) with their geographic areas of work in the Province of Upper Canada in January 1813: Henry Ryan, Thomas Harman, Isaac B. Smith, Andrew Prindle, John Roads, David Culp, John Reynolds, Silas Hopkins, Thomas Whitehead, Augustus Jones, Levi Lewis, John Willson, Silas Smith, James Gage, Peter Boughehala, John Smith, Philip Hous, Elias Pater, and George Lawrence.
(4) The fourth part (U.S. Army), pages 1 through 131, along with a receipt pasted on the unnumbered page opposite page 1, contain the record copy of receipts issued by Major William Johnson, Inspector General’s Office, Headquarters, Fort George, Upper Canada, July 13, 1813, to September 1813. These receipts were given for supplies or services furnished to the U.S. Army. These include the date, the service or product rendered, the amount paid, the signature of the person to whom payment was given, and signatures of witnesses to the payment if the payee was unable to sign his name. For example, at the top of page 77, “Insptr Generals office, Hedqtrs F George, Septr 9th 1813. Received of Major Johnson, Inspt Genl the Sum of Eight Dollars for one stand of Arms taken from the Enemy. Ruben Wiley [his mark], Witness Edmund Foster, 1st Lt. & Adjt 9th Regt.” (Some punctuation added; see below).
(5) The fifth part (Joseph Edwards), pages B1 through B9, March to May 1813, were written by Justice of the Peace Joseph Edwards upside down relative to the rest of the volume, beginning on the final end paper, consist of financial notes, form language for various legal documents, and oaths of allegiance. On the inside back cover, he wrote the cost of this volume and its date of purchase, December 18, 1811.
Online access to this volume will hopefully enable researchers to discover relatives who went to Canada before June 1813, as well as provide information about others who supplied goods or services to the U.S. Army at Fort George in that narrow window of time from July to September 1813. Happy hunting!