Premiering Today, June 15, 2021, at 1 p.m. Eastern: Merchant Marine Records at the National Archives at St. Louis

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. Eastern: “Civil War Union Noncombatant Personnel: Teamsters, Laundresses, Nurses, Sutlers, and More”

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.

Extension Service Motion Pictures Digitized

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!

Federal Records that Help Identify Former Slaves and Slave Owners

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.

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.

“Finding Your Roots” Season 6 Preview

National Archives staff member Claire Kluskens will participate in a panel discussion as part of Howard University Television’s free preview of Season 6 of “Finding Your Roots” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on Thursday, 15 October 2020, at 6:30 p.m. This online event is free but you must register at WHUT TV’s Finding Your Roots Free Season 6 Preview.

Moderated by Sylvia Cyrus, Executive Director of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the panel will also include Dr. Nikki Taylor, Department Chair, Department of History, Howard University; and Nadine Vincenten, PhD, Science Associate, Harvard Medical School Personal Genetics Education Project.

Census Fun Fact #2 – Fictional Names: Just Call Me Another Time

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.

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.”

Record Book of Ebenezer Ferguson, Justice of the Peace, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, December 1799-July 1800

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.

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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.)

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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.