Going Digital, One Twig or Leaf at a Time

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?

 

19th and Early 20th Century Federal Employees

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.

 

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.

National Archives Draft Strategic Plan for FY 2018-2022

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) announced a Draft Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2018-2022 in August, and has just issued its revised plan, based on public and staff comments. This is a process that every federal agency goes through every four years.

One of the goals is to digitize 500 million pages of records and make them available through our online Catalog. This is ambitious; there are about 37 million images in the Catalog currently.

The future: it will be interesting. Never a doubt about that.

Finding Nemo, Finding Amelia, Finding Your Family

In Finding Nemo, Marlin has many adventures in the big, wide ocean during his journey to rescue his son, Nemo, who was captured by a diver. The journey to his destination is neither straightforward or simple.

July 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan during their attempt to fly around the world. The public’s fascination with the mystery of their disappearance continues to spur researchers to explore the vast ocean of archival records for new clues, as well as to revisit records previously viewed by themselves or others for fresh perspectives.

Millions of people, including, hopefully, readers of this blog, search archival records for evidence of their ancestors’ lives. It’s a big ocean of records that’s getting easier to swim through. FamilySearch previously announced plans to digitize all its microfilm. Numerous commercial genealogy sites vie for your business. Publicly-funded libraries and archives continually add to their online records collections also. It pays to go back and revisit online collections for “new” information.

Have you tried the National Archives Catalog recently? There’s both a “basic” search and an “advanced search” function. Try them both. What will you find? There are now some 66 million entries in the National Archives Catalog, according to my best understanding of it. Those entries can be descriptions of governmental entities, record series, files from within those record entries, individual items, and digital images of actual records. There are also many bibliographic entries, such as persons, places, and subjects.

The journey to learning your ancestors’ life stories is often neither straightforward or simple. Like Marlin, you can’t stop in the middle of the ocean. Keep swimming, and keep searching in new places. Revisit what you’ve already found for new understandings.

 

Spanish-American War Nurses

It’s become a little bit easier to research Spanish-American War nurses. The National Archives Catalog now identifies 761 women for whom there are correspondence files, primarily for those who wanted to obtain government benefits based on their service. These files are in the series, “Correspondence Relating to the Service of Spanish-American War Contract Nurses, 1898-1939,” which is in Record Group 112, Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army). The files themselves are not online, but copies can be requested from archives1reference@nara.gov.

To search for a specific person in the Catalog, you have two options. One option is to click on the catalog link that says “761 file unit(s) described in the catalog.” The files are in alphabetical order.

Here are the first four files:Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 6.48.44 PM.png

The second option is to click on the button that says “Search within this series” THEN replace the *.* in the search bar with the surname of interest. Then click on the magnifying glass icon to perform the search. (Yes, that is not an intuitive process.)

Additional records about Spanish-American War nurses in RG 112 include “Personal Data Cards of Spanish-American War Contract Nurses, 1898-1939” (NARA staff has a list of nurses included in that series) and “Registers of Service of Spanish-American War Contract Nurses, 1898-1900.”

The Record isn’t Always Where You Expect to Find it.

April 14, 2017, marked the 105th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Its passenger list went down with the ship.

However, some of its passengers were rescued by the Carpathia, and naturally, one would expect to find those persons listed on a passenger list. For many years, the Carpathia (Titanic) list was thought to be lost. In the 1990s, however, the list was discovered.

This list was erroneously filed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service with June 18, 1912, arrivals, and can be found in NARA microfilm publication T715, Passenger and Crew Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1897-1957, Roll 1883, Vol. 4183, which is online on various genealogy websites. A direct link to the individual Carpathia-Titanic passenger list pages is online at the National Archives website.

Marian L. Smith wrote an article on this rediscovery: “The RMS Titanic Passenger Manifest: Record of Survivors – and Revival of a Record,” Voyage (Journal of the Titanic International Society, Inc.), Volume 29 (1999), pp. 4-9.

The record you seek may not exist … but sometimes it’s hiding in plain sight. It pays to be creative and persistent.

Accidental Genealogy! Jan. 10-11, 2017

I suspect that my colleague, Ray Bottorf, has come up with some interesting stuff. You can watch … live … or later… on YouTube…

Tuesday, January 10, 2017, at 2 p.m. EST, William G. McGowan Theater at Archives I & View on YouTube 

Accidental Genealogy—Part 1 of 2  Learn about various genealogy sources from Ray Bottorf, Jr., as he describes valuable information accidentally found in our records, including records regarding military permissions to marry, deceased military personnel, and military personnel passenger lists. This is a two-part series. Presentation materials available at www.archives.gov/calendar/know-your-records.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017, at 2 p.m. EST, William G. McGowan Theater at Archives I & View on YouTube 

Accidental Genealogy—Part 2 of 2  Ray Bottorff, Jr., returns to describe valuable information accidentally found in our records, focusing on records from the Selective Service System. Presentation materials available at www.archives.gov/calendar/know-your-records.

2016 NARA Virtual Genealogy Fair, Oct. 26-27, Online

The schedule for the 2016 National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair is now available, and by the time the fair starts, all the presenters’ handouts and PowerPoint presentations will be available online, too.

If you missed the 2013-2015 online fairs, not to worry! They’re still online – video, handouts, PowerPoints – just go to the 2016 Fair page and follow the links under past fair posters.

poster-l.jpg

Gen-Fed Tales of Discovery, 2016

Malissa Ruffner, Director of Gen-Fed, the unique week-long course on using federal records in the National Archives for genealogical research, recently posted a list of “Tales of Discovery” by members of the Gen-Fed Class of 2016. The discoveries they made were in original paper records that are not online and not on microfilm. Their findings broke through brick walls, shattered erroneous conclusions made by others, and enriched their understanding of their ancestors’ lives and times. Fabulous stuff.

There’s no substitute for going beyond the “easy” online pickings to the harder-to-find or harder-to-access offline material.

There’s not enough time in the day, or in one’s life, to research everything, so one strategy is to focus on those ancestors or family groups that are most dear to you, and learn as much as you can about them. And then publish–or your work will perish.

Women in the Civil War

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When we think of the Civil War, the image that likely immediately springs to mind is that of thousands of men in uniform clashing in epic battles, such as at Gettysburg.

Forgotten are the thousands of women who performed tedious, dirty, inglorious tasks–hospital matrons, hospital nurses, laundresses, cooks, and others. They were there, too, on both sides of the conflict.

Documenting their presence, identity, and contributions, is infuriatingly difficult, however, due to the paucity of records that were kept–or retained. A new article,
“Union Army Laundresses,” NGS Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 3 (July-Sept. 2016): 33-37, breaks new ground by outlining research strategies for documenting the service of hospital laundresses, fort and post laundresses, and camp laundresses.

Most of these women likely came from the poorer end of the economic spectrum. They included African-Americans as well as Caucasians. Their efforts deserved to be better remembered, and I hope this article will encourage research.