Recent Discussions on U.S. Civil War Records

Civil War Talk Radio with Gerald Prokopowicz recently had two informative episodes that featured guests with connections to the National Archives.

On 23 February 2022, archives specialist Jackie Budell discussed Civil War widows’ pension files, photographic materials in pension files, research at the National Archives, and related subjects.

On 2 February 2022, retired senior military archivist DeAnne Blanton discussed the origins of the Society for Women and the Civil War, of which she served as first president, and her book, They Fought Like Demons: Women Soldiers in the Civil War, on the 20th anniversary of its publication.

These and all other Civil War Talk Radio shows remain available for listening at Impediments of War.

NARA 1950 Census Webpages Now Online

This week the National Archives launched several webpages devoted to the 1950 census, including the main page, 1950 Census Records, at https://www.archives.gov/research/census/1950. Information on these pages will undoubtedly evolve over time. The supporting informational pages include:

As noted on 1950 Census Records, you will be able to search the 1950 Census website by name and location beginning on Day 1 — April 1, 2022. To develop the initial name index, NARA used Amazon Web Services’ artificial intelligence / optical character recognition (AI/OCR) Textract tool to extract the handwritten names from the digitized 1950 Census population schedules. Because the initial name index is built on optical character recognition (OCR) technology, it will not be 100-percent accurate. The National Archives is asking for your help in submitting name updates to the index using a transcription tool that will be available on the 1950 Census website. You can help us improve the accuracy of the name index and make the records more accessible for everyone. More information on this volunteer opportunity will be forthcoming.

Researchers can learn more about this census from the 1950 Census blog posts at the History Hub and watch for news at National Archives News.

Tintypes and Photos in Civil War Pension Files

If you’ve ever wondered why some U.S. Civil War pension files have tintypes and photos – wonder no more! NARA archives specialist Jackie Budell details the reasons in three excellent recent blog posts at The Text Message:

(1) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Your Questions Answered

(2) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Why Private William Carman Sent a Tintype to His Wife

(3) Civil War-Era Personal Tintypes Exposed: Why William Carman’s Tintype Was in His Widow’s Pension File

Exciting 1950 Census News from NARA

When the 1950 Census becomes available on a NARA website on April 1, 2022, there will be a name search function powered by an Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning (AI/ML) and Optical Character Recognition (OCR) technology tool. Granted, it will be imperfect on opening day – but that just means that all of us will have the opportunity to make it better through a transcription tool that will also be available. Exciting times! Read more about it at 1950 Census Release Will Offer Enhanced Digital Access, Public Collaboration Opportunity, a December 14, 2021 press release.

An 1890 Census Fragment for Alaska is Rediscovered and Digitized

The National Archives recently digitized a previously unappreciated fragment of the 1890 census that contains information about 13 families in Alaska. This piece of the (mostly) destroyed 1890 census has essentially been “hiding in plain sight” since the National Archives published the Preliminary Inventory for Record Group 29, Records of the Bureau of the Census, in 1964. You can read more about it in “An 1890 Census Fragment for Alaska is Rediscovered.” Digital images are in the National Archives Catalog as “Logbook of Frank Lowell, Special Agent, Alaska District No. 2, 1890 Census” (National Archives Identifier 202288465).

A Horse, of Course!

From colonial times to the early 20th century horses were the primary means of transporting the mail, whether by a single rider on horseback or by wagon or stage coach pulled by a team. Certainly mail was also transported by railroad as as the network of “iron horses” developed, as well as by river- and ocean-going vessels.

The image below is a detail from a poor quality photo postcard from circa 1916. There are two men on horseback. The man on the right is identified as W. H. Bennett of McKee, Kentucky, whose age (in 1959) was 87 years. His horse has two mailbags, one on each side to distribute the burden. The other man is not identified. There are trees and other vegetation behind them but no buildings are visible.

Mail carrier on horseback about 1916. W. H. Bennett, McKee, Kentucky, age 87 in 1959, and an unidentified man from [76] Transportation of Mail – Saddle Bags” (NAID 204376381).

This postcard was privately printed. It is in the U.S. National Archives by an accident of history. On 11 August 1959, Postmaster D. N. Thomas of McKeesville forwarded the postcard along with two leather saddlebags to the Post Office in Cincinnati, Ohio, as “Items for a Postal Museum.” The mailbags were “not desired” and thus were “left in Cincinnati.” The postcard, however, ended up in a collection of “Exhibit Materials Relating to Postal History, 1905-1958” (National Archives Identifier 17027514) assembled by the Post Office Department Library that was subsequently accessioned into the National Archives.

National Archives Catalog Email Newsletters

The staff of the National Archives Catalog has a bimonthly newsletter to which anyone can subscribe; a pop-up invitation appears just about every time you visit the basic Catalog search page at https://catalog.archives.gov.

Recent past issues of the newsletter are archived here: https://us11.campaign-archive.com/home/?u=bfeaf03e7b0b1636c0b375892&id=921cecd7dd.

1810 Census for Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts

In 1810, Salem, Massachusetts, was the 9th largest city in the United States, with 12,613 people. New York City was first with 96,373, and nearby Boston was fourth with 33,787.

From 1790 to 1870, U.S. Marshals and their assistants conducted the census. Preliminary Inventory 161, Records of the Bureau of the Census, on page 94, states:  “Under the provisions of the decennial census acts, 1790-1820, the population schedules were to be deposited with the district court clerks, ‘who were to receive and carefully preserve the same.’ …  A resolution of May 28, 1830 (4 Stat. 430), directed the clerks of the district courts to forward the population schedules for the first four censuses to the Secretary of State.  …  It is known that the 1790 schedules for Rhode Island were forwarded to Washington on June 22, 1830, as a result of the May 28 resolution. Presumably other extant population schedules, 1790-1820, were forwarded at about the same time, but no documentation of such action has been found.”

The Bureau of the Census bound the extant 1810 census schedules into volumes sometime between 1902 and 1934, but the volume that included Essex County lacked the town of Salem. Decades later these same records were microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M252, Third Census of the United States, 1810, which can be found digitally on popular genealogy websites. It’s likely that many people looking through the 1810 census schedules for Essex County have wondered why Salem was omitted. The answer finally came to light this year.

For unknown reasons, the 1810 census schedules for Salem, Essex County, Massachusetts, became aliened (separated) from Federal custody. Somehow, they eventually came into the custody of the Peabody Essex Museum Library in Salem, Massachusetts. A National Archives staff member noticed a reference to these records on Instagram in February 2021, which set NARA’s Permanent Records Capture team on a mission to return these important records to federal custody. Read more about it here: “Instagram Post Leads to Recovery of 1810 Census Rolls.”

Digital images of the 1810 census for Salem can be viewed in the National Archives Catalog at https://catalog.archives.gov/id/205601220.