43 Million More Images Uploaded to the National Archives Catalog Since June 2021

NARA’s “Record Group Explorer” page at https://www.archives.gov/findingaid/record-group-explorer is a good place to get information on the number of digital images available in NARA’s online Catalog at https://catalog.archives.gov/ as well as the immense quantities of textual records that exist. As of July 2022, there are 179,271,436 images in the National Archives Catalog – or approximately 1.541% of 11.6 Billion textual records. (And that’s only textual records: that count does not include motion pictures, audio recordings, or data files).

Just over a year ago, in June 2021, there were 135,404,569 images in the National Archives Catalog, or about 1.175% of an estimated 11,524,683,948 textual records. That’s an increase of over 43 million digital images in a little over a year! Progress! (Back in June 2020, those numbers stood at 109,384,656 images or .95% out of an estimated 11,509,956,576 textual records).

Want to follow along and see what’s added? The “What’s New in the National Archives Catalog” page at https://www.archives.gov/research/catalog/whats-new links to record series to which digital images have been added – and may also highlight a few interesting items.

Digitization is a slow process. Records are typically one-of-a-kind items that may be fragile, bound into volumes, or otherwise unsuitable for “high speed” automatic sheet-feeding imaging systems. Records may require unfolding; removal of staples, pins, clips, and other fasteners; repair by trained records conservators; and other preparation for imaging, such as arrangement and new or improved description. Just consider the handling care required for the bundle of records shown below, which was just a small part of a small series, Records of Clerks, Wagonmasters, and Printers Employed at Various Posts, 1865-66 (National Archives Identifier 4707062), from Record Group 92, Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General.

Bundle of records from “Records of Clerks, Wagonmasters, and Printers Employed at Various Posts, 1865-66 (National Archives Identifier 4707062), prior to digitization.

This small series is fully digitized. Each individual file unit is now is described in the National Archives Catalog by the name of the commanding officer and his geographic location, which vastly improves discoverability by researchers: see the screen shot below, which shows a few of the 389 file titles.

What records will you discover online in the National Archives Catalog?

Memorial Day Remembrance: Beneath His Shirt Sleeves

On this Memorial Day, as we remember the fallen heroes who sacrificed their lives to defend our freedoms and preserve one United States of America, I respectfully direct your attention to an excellent two-part article by archives specialist Jackie Budell entitled “Beneath His Shirt Sleeves: Evidence of Injury” with Part I here and Part II here. This article highlights the sacrifice and stories of eight Union Civil War veterans who lost most – or part – of an arm during their war service.

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

Civil War Chaplains

My colleague, John P. Deeben, recently published an excellent article on records in the National Archives about Union and Confederate Civil War chaplains. It is “Faith on the Firing Line: Army Chaplains in the Civil War,” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2016).  Researchers will find it informative and useful.chaplains-cooke-l

Civil War Telegrams

Like the Civil War? Like codes and cyphers? Looking for an interesting do-it-at home volunteer project? This one might be for you.

Smithsonian Magazine‘s article, “You Can Help Decode Thousands of Top Secret Civil War Telegrams,” describes an interesting project recently launched by the Huntington Library (San Marino, California), which holds the telegrams.

The project is partially funded by a two-year grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration.

Call Number 13

The near-infinite variety of records in military pension files is the very essence of a truism: a statement that is obviously true and says nothing new or interesting. And yet, of course, you do not know what will be in any particular pension file until you look. It is in looking that interesting things are found. Egads, another truism.

A Civil War (or later) veteran’s answer to “Call Number 13” is one of those interesting things that will only be found in certain Union Civil War pension files. You can read about Call 13 and the circumstances under which it is found in “Did Your Civil War Ancestor Respond to Call Number 13?” NGS Magazine, Vol. 42, No. 2 (Apr.-May 2016): 35-39.