Upcoming Presentations

NARA staff member Claire Kluskens will virtually present “Genealogy Research with Government Resources” on October 22, 2021, at 11:30 a.m. EDT at the North Carolina Library Association’s 64th Biennial Conference, held jointly with the Southeastern Library Association. Register by October 14, 2021, for virtual or in-person attendance.

NARA staff member Claire Kluskens will virtually present “Digital Images and Descriptions in the National Archives Catalog” to the Humble Area (Texas) Genealogical Society, on Monday, October 11, 2021, at 7:00 p.m. (CDT). Click here for registration information.

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.

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 “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

Revised 7 February 2021

For 48 years, beginning in the Spring of 1969, the National Archives published a quarterly magazine, Prologue, that 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 was the last printed edition of Prologue.

So, the question is, what happened after the final print issue?  The answer is not surprising:  Blogs.

NARA staff in many parts of the agency are sharing information and stories found in the records through blog posts. There’s the Pieces of History Blog at https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov as well as 18 others listed on the web page, “The National Archives Blogs.” Some of them have specialized audiences; others will appeal to genealogical researchers and others with a general interest in history.  Check them out!

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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