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!

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

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!

How to Use This Blog / Website

Since I’ve had a bunch of new subscribers recently (thank you), I thought a quick overview would be useful on how to use this blog / website.

  • Blog Posts are added irregularly to highlight records in the U.S. National Archives. Occasionally, I’ll also highlight other federal facilities that hold records of genealogical value. If you subscribe to the blog, you will get an email every time there’s a new blog post.
  • The Articles page is a bibliography of articles on genealogy-related topics that I’ve written for national, state, and local genealogical societies, and other historical periodicals. Links are provided many of the newer ones. When I add an article, I usually make a blog post to alert you to the records discussed. It’s also a great resource of information on a variety of topics.
  • The Civil War page focuses on articles about Union Civil War personnel.
  • The Research Guides page is a bibliography of research guides that I’ve written on specialized subjects, and links to those guides are provided.
  • The Microfilm Publications page is a bibliography of descriptive pamphlets (DPs) that I’ve written for NARA microfilm publications. Links to the DPs are provided for some of them. As time allows, I’ll add more. The records described in these DPs are often online on Ancestry or FamilySearch, but, please understand, I don’t provide links to where the records are online. You’ll have to research that yourself.
  • The Lectures page provides links to lectures I’ve given for which there is online content.

Words in GREEN are links.

Thanks for reading this!

Internment of Enemy Aliens During World War I

The internment of over 110,000 Japanese citizens and Americans of Japanese descent during World War II is well-known. In contrast, U.S. internment of over 6,000 German citizens and other enemy aliens during the First World War has been largely forgotten.

Was your ancestor interned? Read my article, “Internment of Enemy Aliens During World War I” for more information. I recommend starting with online newspaper databases which sometimes contain news reports about aliens arrested and detained. Then, you’ll want to locate federal records in the custody of the U.S. National Archives. My article will introduce you to available records and how to request record searches and copies.

EnEmAlienToymakersNAID31478939.jpg

Photo: Enemy aliens interned at Fort Douglas, Utah, pass the time by building model ships. 165-WW-161C-94. NAID 31478939. American Unofficial Collection of World War I Photographs, 1917-18; Record Group 165, Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs; National Archives at College Park, MD. 

National Archives 2017 Virtual Genealogy Fair Online on Oct. 25, 2017

The National Archives and Records Administration will have its 2017 Virtual Genealogy Fair online on Oct. 25, 2017. If you miss any part of it, don’t worry, it will be posted online at a later date.

If you missed the 2013 to 2016 Virtual Genealogy Fairs, you’re still in luck – all the videos, PowerPoints, and other handouts are still online. Just follow these links:

19th and Early 20th Century Federal Employees

Researching the career of a 19th or early 20th century federal employee requires delving into specialized records. Twenty-three years ago my article, “Documenting the Career of Federal Employees” was published in NARA’s Prologue magazine. The advice given then is still relevant today. There are still three basic steps in this research process. What has changed is online access to publications, finding aids, and–to some extent–records.

Step 1: Determine When, Where, and By Whom Employed. The Official Register of the United States is still the basic resource for this task. You can read more about it in John P. Deeben’s 2004 article. Fortunately, many of them are now online on Hathitrust.org. This important step enables the researcher to identify the federal agency or agencies that employed the ancestor. Knowing the agency means the researcher can then identify the appropriate Record Group(s) of interest in the National Archives and Records Administration.

Step 2: Identify Records Series that Might Provide Information. In the days before digital access, researchers had to consult inventories, preliminary inventories, and other finding aids onsite at the National Archives, or find them in a library, or obtain copies of them to peruse at home. Now, nearly every record series for every Record Group can be found in NARA’s online Catalog. Although using the Catalog can be daunting, it is accessible from home, and at your convenience.

Step 3: Examine Relevant Records. In most cases, the researcher will have to examine these records onsite at the NARA facility that holds the records. However, online access is slowly increasing through (1) enhanced description and/or (2) digital images.

  • Enhanced Description provides detailed information to allow the researcher to decide whether the records will be useful. For example, each of the 22 files in the series, Records Relating to the Protection of Mail Transport by Armed Guards, 1926-1932 indicates which postmasters and post offices (primarily larger cities) are included in the series. Here is the direct link to the Indiana file as an example. The records can then be perused onsite in the National Archives Building, or specific records can be requested by mail. If your ancestor was the postmaster or a postal employee of that post office, the records will provide insight into some of the work processes involved at that post office.

 

Learning more about an ancestor’s federal career will add biographical details to incorporate into their life story. You’ll get to know that person better.