Yet More Unusual Records…. and How to Find Them

If you were intrigued by the horse sales records mentioned in a recent post, there are plenty more records in the U.S. National Archives that are unusual, unexpected, or unknown to most persons, that are just waiting for researchers to examine and make good use of.

I’ve outlined search strategies in an article entitled, “The National Archives Catalog” which I hope you’ll try for yourself. Hint: URLs in “green” colored text in the article are clickable links!

USCIS Webinar, Thursday, 24 May 2018, 1 p.m. (Eastern): Interpreting Odd INS Naturalization Index Cards: The Case of “Gladys H”

“Interpreting Odd INS Naturalization Index Cards: The Case of “Gladys H” — Thursday, May 24, 1:00 PM Eastern

If you’ve ever searched online for mid-20th century naturalization records, you may have encountered unusual or hard-to-understand index cards. This webinar by a USCIS historian, will discuss examples of these cards, then present a real-life case study of the variety of numbers in Gladys H.’s complicated road to naturalization.

To attend the webinar (which will not be recorded), go to USCIS History and Genealogy Webinars, choose the May 24 session, and hit the “attend session” button. If you have not attended one of these webinars previously, hit the “attend session” button 10 or 15 minutes in advance, in case you need to download the appropriate software.

U.S. Government Horse Sales at Frederick, Maryland, and Reading Pennsylvania, February 1864

There are many unusual or unexpected records in the U.S. National Archives that shed light on the life on someone’s ancestor or relative. Among these is a slim volume in which were recorded the buyers and sale price of surplus military horses sold at auction on 12 February 1864 at Frederick, Maryland, and on 19 and 22 February 1864 at Reading, Pennsylvania. The Office of the Quartermaster General sold the horses because they were no longer fit for military duty, but were still serviceable for less demanding civilian needs.

Read about this volume in “No Horsing Around! Unusual Records in the National Archives” and then go to List of Horses Sold, February 1864 to take a look at the volume yourself.

All the names have been “tagged” so that a researcher could stumble upon this volume when doing a simple name search in the National Archives Catalog — but, beware! Names are not always spelled as expected!

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.

Military Records for African-American Genealogy

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of speaking at the Afro-American Historical Society’s 2018 Black History Month Genealogy Conference in Laurel, Maryland. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with Alice F. Harris and Bernice Bennett, and to meet Marvin T. Jones, Erwin Polk, and others. All lecture handouts are available on the conference website. Much of my handout, Military Records for African-American Genealogy: Suggestions for Researchers, is applicable to all researchers regardless of color. I hope you’ll find it useful.

P.S. Any advertisements that appear on this website/blog benefit WordPress not me. Just FYI.

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.