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.
Your NGS Virtual Family History Conference registration features two components: NGS 2020 Live! on 20 May at 11:00 a.m. and NGS 2020 On-Demand! that will open July 1, 2020. Three different options are offered: (1) 5 live and 20 on-demand sessions; (2) 5 live and 45 on-demand sessions; and (3) 5 live and 10-on demand sessions. Details at https://conference.ngsgenealogy.org/registration-packages/ #NGS2020LIVE
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!
If you were intrigued by the horse sales records mentioned in a recent post, there are plenty more records in the U.S. National Archives that are unusual, unexpected, or unknown to most persons, that are just waiting for researchers to examine and make good use of.
I’ve outlined search strategies in an article entitled, “The National Archives Catalog” which I hope you’ll try for yourself. Hint: URLs in “green” colored text in the article are clickable links!
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!
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.
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?
Researching the career of a 19th or early 20th century federal employee requires delving into specialized records. Twenty-three years ago my article, “Documenting the Career of Federal Employees” was published in NARA’s Prologue magazine. The advice given then is still relevant today. There are still three basic steps in this research process. What has changed is online access to publications, finding aids, and–to some extent–records.
Step 1: Determine When, Where, and By Whom Employed. The Official Register of the United States is still the basic resource for this task. You can read more about it in John P. Deeben’s 2004 article. Fortunately, many of them are now online on Hathitrust.org. This important step enables the researcher to identify the federal agency or agencies that employed the ancestor. Knowing the agency means the researcher can then identify the appropriate Record Group(s) of interest in the National Archives and Records Administration.
Step 2: Identify Records Series that Might Provide Information. In the days before digital access, researchers had to consult inventories, preliminary inventories, and other finding aids onsite at the National Archives, or find them in a library, or obtain copies of them to peruse at home. Now, nearly every record series for every Record Group can be found in NARA’s online Catalog. Although using the Catalog can be daunting, it is accessible from home, and at your convenience.
Step 3: Examine Relevant Records. In most cases, the researcher will have to examine these records onsite at the NARA facility that holds the records. However, online access is slowly increasing through (1) enhanced description and/or (2) digital images.
- Enhanced Description provides detailed information to allow the researcher to decide whether the records will be useful. For example, each of the 22 files in the series, Records Relating to the Protection of Mail Transport by Armed Guards, 1926-1932 indicates which postmasters and post offices (primarily larger cities) are included in the series. Here is the direct link to the Indiana file as an example. The records can then be perused onsite in the National Archives Building, or specific records can be requested by mail. If your ancestor was the postmaster or a postal employee of that post office, the records will provide insight into some of the work processes involved at that post office.
- Digital Images of actual records will increase over time. One example of a currently-available digitized record about specific federal employees is the series Register of Civilian Employees in Field Offices, ca. 1890-1904 from RG 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army), 1775-1994. The series actually consists of two items: the register and a copy of a relevant presidential executive order of March 1, 1904.
Learning more about an ancestor’s federal career will add biographical details to incorporate into their life story. You’ll get to know that person better.