A is for …. accurate authentic ancestors.

A is for ancestors…. As family historians, we research our ancestors to know more about the past and, more importantly, something about who we ourselves are.

A is for accurate…. As family historians, we should strive to be accurate…. to collect correct information about the correct ancestors (avoid the similar name problem, eh?) and to interpret that information correctly.

A is for authentic…. Accurate information that is properly interpreted leads to an authentic telling of that ancestor’s story. Sure, we will never know our ancestors the way they knew themselves, or as their neighbors knew them, but we can strive to do justice to their memories by striving for authenticity.

If these thoughts seem rather basic, well, yes, they are.

Many things can get in the way of accuracy and authenticity:

  • Cherished family legends that are actually mostly legend.
  • Assumptions about the past that are mistaken.
  • A preferred version of history, even if not grounded on facts.
  • A desire to avoid acknowledging historical facts that are ugly and unseemly in the 21st century. (They were probably were ugly and unseemly at the time of the historical events in question, too.)
  • Poor research skills.
  • Incomplete or unavailable records.
  • Any number of other factors.

Some time ago I was part of a conversation about a researcher’s cherished family documents that weren’t quite what they purported to be. I will never know the full story behind the documents. It was a little sad and troubling.  It involved accuracy and authenticity being deliberately thrown under the bus. Was the truth “too dull”? Was the family legend (if there was one) too cherished? How many family history researchers prefer fiction to reality?

If you want legends, read mythologies. If you want to know your ancestors, read and study real records pertinent to them and their time and place. You may be pleasantly surprised that “truth” may be just as interesting as fiction.

 

Lots of Fires

The destruction of records by fire and other disasters ranks among the genealogist’s worst enemies. These are some of the most famous ones, but there were undoubtedly many others:

Sometimes, you have to think that we are lucky that records have survived at all.

NARA’s Innovation Hub Celebrates 300,000th Page Uploaded to Catalog

Today’s post comes from Catherine Brandsen, National Archives Innovation Hub Coordinator Earlier this month, the Innovation Hub uploaded its 300,000th page for inclusion in the National Archives Catalog. Amazingly, this milestone took less than three years to achieve. Digitization opens up access to our records. Of the 13 billion paper records in the National Archives,…

via Innovation Hub Celebrates 300,000th Page Uploaded to Catalog — NARAtions

Review of USCIS Webinar: “‘Any alien’ serving in the military or naval forces of the United States? Asian immigrant soldiers and naturalization during the First World War”

On 25 April 2018, USCIS historian Zack Wilske gave an excellent presentation about the laws affecting naturalization of Asian alien soldiers and sailors during World War I. Without reproducing his webinar, which was not recorded, let me share a few highlights.

The Naturalization Act of 9 May 1918 provided expedited naturalization for “any alien serving in the military or naval service of the United States during the time this country is engaged in the present war.” The serviceman needed proof of enlisted status or honorable discharge and  supporting testimony of two witnesses.

This Act exempted service members from five requirements: (1) five years of U.S. residency; (2) filing a declaration of intention; (3) ability to speak English; (4) the need to demonstrate knowledge of American history and institutions; and (5) the need to file in a court with jurisdiction over his residence.

The question soon arose whether Chinese, Japanese, and Hindoo [sic] servicemen could be naturalized under this law. Did Congress mean “any alien”  or was the 1918 act was to be read in harmony with prior statutes and case law that held that held that most Asian natives were not “free white persons” eligible to naturalize. (In 1870, Congress extended the right to naturalize to “persons of African nativity, or African descent.” Filipinos were also permitted to naturalize.)

There was disagreement within the Bureau of Naturalization, and between different Federal judges. Judge Horace W. Vaughan of the U.S. District Court of Hawaii construed “any alien” literally to include Asian servicemen, and began naturalizing them, as did some other judges. Ultimately the Bureau decided that Asians were not eligible, and selected the naturalization of Hidemitsu Toyota, who was naturalized in Boston, Massachusetts, on 26 May 1921, as a test case to take all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court, which decided on 25 May 1925, that Asians were not included in the “any alien” language of the Act of 9 May 1918.

The Supreme Court decision made the naturalization status of those Asians murky at best and, condensing a lot of history here, eventually the Act of Congress of 24 June 1935 cleaned things up by (1) allowing Asian veterans of World War I to naturalize; (2) allowing Asians naturalized during the war to have their naturalization certificates validated; (3) allowing new certificates to be issued to those who lost them. These provisions expired 1 January 1937.

At least 700 Asian soldiers or veterans naturalized during or after World War I. Many of them were interned by the U.S. government during World War II. Racial bars on naturalization did not end until 1952.

Review of “Married at Ellis Island….”

If you missed last Tuesday’s USCIS History Office webinar, “Married at Ellis Island…., 1892-1924,” you missed a good one. I won’t review all the details, but here are a few tidbits: It’s estimated that perhaps 300 women a year “married at Ellis Island” to their intended spouse in lieu of deportation on the grounds of “likely to become a public charge” or risk of falling into prostitution. The “Record of Detained Aliens” (title may vary) that follows the regular passenger lists for a given vessel (on microfilm or online) may have the notation “married” or similar words as a part of the information for the detained woman. The marriage record will be found in the New York City marriage records for that period which are online on Ancestry.com. A marriage on the alien woman’s date of arrival or during the day(s) she was detained is a good clue that the marriage happened “at Ellis Island” and was a requirement for her admission to the United States.

The Digital Future of Prologue

For 48 years, since the Spring of 1969, the National Archives has published a quarterly magazine, Prologue, that has brought readers stories based on the rich holdings and programs of the National Archives across the nation—from Washington, DC, to the regional archives and the Presidential libraries. For many of those years, each issue also included a genealogy-focused article. The Winter 2017–18 issue will be the last printed edition of Prologue.

So, the question is, what next?

The National Archives is currently exploring options for online publishing with the goal of providing audiences with content that is most important to them. To that end, the National Archives is holding a focus group discussion with historians on Friday, February 2, 2018, from 1-2 p.m. in the Innovation Hub at the National Archives in Washington, DC, with an option to call in via conference line and video call via Google Hangouts. Space is limited. If you are interested, email Jessie Kratz at jessie.kratz@nara.gov.

Family historians (genealogists) have for decades been a core constituency of the National Archives and major user of its records (census, military, immigration, naturalization, and more), so I would encourage those who have enjoyed Prologue in the past, or have ideas on what they’d like to see in a NARA digital publication of the future, to attend the focus group in person or remotely. Or provide your thoughts by email. Either way, be sure to email Jessie Kratz at jessie.kratz@nara.gov.

Join us for Citizen Archivist Week of Service!

From David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States….

AOTUS

In the spirit of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service, join us this week, January 15-19, 2018 for the Citizen Archivist Week of Service. Our goal is to tag or transcribe 2,018 pages in the National Archives Catalog during this week-long challenge. Can you help us meet this goal?

Citizen Archivist Week of Service: January 15-19, 2018. Volunteer to help us Unlock History!

Get started by visiting the Citizen Archivist Dashboard today through January 19. During this week, we’ll have a special expanded missions section and many featured records waiting to be tagged and transcribed. You can transcribe records related to Mediterranean Passports, which were certificates issued by the Secretary of State in an attempt to ensure safe passage of American vessels in areas threatened by Barbary pirates; slave manifests from the Port of New York; marriage licenses from the Office of Indian Affairs White Earth Agency; records from a wide range of civil rights issue in United States history…

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