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.

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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. 

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.

National Archives Draft Strategic Plan for FY 2018-2022

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) announced a Draft Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2018-2022 in August, and has just issued its revised plan, based on public and staff comments. This is a process that every federal agency goes through every four years.

One of the goals is to digitize 500 million pages of records and make them available through our online Catalog. This is ambitious; there are about 37 million images in the Catalog currently.

The future: it will be interesting. Never a doubt about that.

Andersonville Prison Records

Researchers who find mention of the Confederate prison, Andersonville, in their ancestor’s Compiled Military Service Record (CMSR) or pension file should be interested in taking the next logical step in their research.

Andersonville prison records that were microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication 1303, Selected Records of the War Department Commissary General of Prisoners Relating to Federal Prisoners of War Confined at Andersonville, Georgia, 1864-65, and can be found digitized online at FamilySearch.org at https://familysearch.org/search/collection/2019835, as well as at Ancestry.com.

In addition, it’s worth checking the “Claims Made for Money Taken from Federal Prisoners of War Confined in Confederate Prisons, 1866–1867,” https://catalog.archives.gov/id/615449, to see if the ancestor filed a claim. There is only a small possibility of this, because the opportunity to make a claim was not well known. My article about these records – “The Rebs Took My Money!” – is online here: https://twelvekey.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/ngsmagazine2015-04.pdf.

William Marvel’s book, Andersonville: The Last Depot, is an excellent book on life at Andersonville, and solidly grounded in archival research.

2016 NARA Virtual Genealogy Fair, Oct. 26-27, Online

The schedule for the 2016 National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair is now available, and by the time the fair starts, all the presenters’ handouts and PowerPoint presentations will be available online, too.

If you missed the 2013-2015 online fairs, not to worry! They’re still online – video, handouts, PowerPoints – just go to the 2016 Fair page and follow the links under past fair posters.

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Gen-Fed Tales of Discovery, 2016

Malissa Ruffner, Director of Gen-Fed, the unique week-long course on using federal records in the National Archives for genealogical research, recently posted a list of “Tales of Discovery” by members of the Gen-Fed Class of 2016. The discoveries they made were in original paper records that are not online and not on microfilm. Their findings broke through brick walls, shattered erroneous conclusions made by others, and enriched their understanding of their ancestors’ lives and times. Fabulous stuff.

There’s no substitute for going beyond the “easy” online pickings to the harder-to-find or harder-to-access offline material.

There’s not enough time in the day, or in one’s life, to research everything, so one strategy is to focus on those ancestors or family groups that are most dear to you, and learn as much as you can about them. And then publish–or your work will perish.