Free through Nov. 28 – “Research in Federal Records: Some Assembly Required” by Malissa Ruffner, JD, CG

Malissa Ruffner’s excellent webinar, “Research in Federal Records: Some Assembly Required” is available online free through November 28. Don’t miss it!

Ruffner’s presentation will greatly help you “get beyond” the usual records. Did you realize there are over 250,000+ record series in the National Archives? I know you’ve only used a fraction of those records. Certainly not all of them will be relevant to you, but there are probably quite a few that would be useful if only you knew about them. (Don’t miss the syllabus that accompanies the lecture.)

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Records of Claims Against the Federal Government

The idea of looking for ancestors in records of claims against the U.S. Federal Government (or against foreign governments) would be an afterthought, at best, for most researchers. Yet, they can contain valuable data. Here’s a few examples:

French Spoliation Claims. These were claims presented by U.S. citizens against France, Spain, and Holland for vessels and cargo taken by privateers prior to September 30, 1800, and condemned at ports controlled by those countries. There are records of these claims in the National Archives of the United States. The long and convoluted general history of those claims, along with guidance on the research process, is found in Angie Spicer VanDereedt’s 1991 Prologue article, “Do We Have Any Records Relating to French Spoliation Claims?

Claims Involving Various Foreign Countries, 19th-20th centuries, in a variety of contexts. For brief introductory information, see Records of Boundary and Claims Commissions and Arbitrations.

Southern Claims Commission approved, barred, and disallowed claims. From March 1871 to March 1873, over 22,000 Southerners filed claims alleging they had been loyal Unionists during the Civil War and had furnished to, or had materials taken by, the Union Army or Navy. These are very useful to family historians because the paper trail created by the claimants and various witnesses included relatives, neighbors, friends, former slaves, and free people of color. Their testimony provides a wealth of information about individuals living in the South during the Civil War. Get started with these records by learning more about them in the guide to “Researching Southern Claims Commission Records” on the Saint Louis County (Missouri) Public Library website.

Civil War Claims against the Office of the Quartermaster General The Quartermaster General (QMG) and his staff were responsible for procuring all the equipment and supplies the Army needed. Generally, claims arise when mistakes happen of one kind or another. In 1901, a clerk in the office of the QMG compiled a list of 19 different claims boards that had been created during the Civil War which gave a brief description of the location, purpose, composition, and authority of each board. You can read through that 9 page list here.

One of those 19 boards was the Cairo Claims Commission. By direction of President Lincoln, Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton appointed a commission to examine and report upon all unsettled claims against the War Department at Cairo, Illinois, that originated before April 1, 1862, due to allegations of fraud and corruption in the Quartermaster Department there. Stephen B. Logan, Charles A. Dana, and George S. Boutwell were first appointed, but Shelby M. Cullom soon replaced Mr. Logan, who resigned due to ill health. The commission examined 1,696 claims totaling $599,219.36, and approved and certified for payment $451,105.80. Most of the claims rejected were for losses suffered in active operations of the army, either from misconduct soldiers or from requisitions made by officers who failed to give receipts and certificates to the claimants, who thus had insufficient evidence to support their claims. Some claims were rejected due to proof of disloyalty by the claimant. Claims by owners of vacant lots and by the Cairo city trustees for use of city land were disallowed. A small percentage of the claims were rejected due to fraud. Charles A. Dana discusses the Commission in his biography, Recollections of the Civil War: With the Leaders at Washington and in the Field in the Sixties (New York and London: D. Appleton and Company, 1913), pp. 11-14.

The Proceedings of the Claims Board Meeting at Cairo, Illinois, are online. Following the meeting minutes, they include a roughly alphabetical list of claimants that gives the voucher number, date, name of claimant, name of officer who had approved the expense, type of article or claim, amount of claim proffered, and the amount allowed by the claims board.

In conclusion…. As always, finding records in the National Archives about an ancestor requires that person to have had some kind of interaction with the Federal Government. Claims against the government are one possibility, but it will take time and effort by the researcher to locate that information.

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.

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.

Dangerous Assumptions!

We all do it. We make assumptions all the time. About everything.

In genealogy, we make assumptions about our ancestors, although their worlds were far different than ours.

We make assumptions about the records. Beginners often assume there’s “no record” of an ancestor simply because they cannot find it–for any one of a myriad of reasons. A researcher might assume that absence of one kind of record means that related records are also lost. Experienced genealogists are not immune from the assumption disease, either.

The 1820 population census schedules of New Jersey are long gone. They were lost long before there was a National Archives. But are all 1820 census records for New Jersey lost? No.

The 1820 manufacturing census schedules for New Jersey did survive, and they are published on National Archives Microfilm Publication M279, Records of the 1820 Census of Manufactures, Roll 17. There are schedules for over 300 men and firms, and it’s great stuff.

Here’s the list of New Jersey marshals, types of industries, and manufacturers found in the 1820 manufacturing schedules. The schedules are arranged by county (although not in alphabetical order), but they are also arranged in numerical order. Before microfilming, National Archives staff arranged the records geographically according to the arrangement in the published Digest of Manufactures compiled from these records in the 1820s, and then by any discernible system employed by the marshals. This arrangement permits the searcher to compare the individual schedules with the marshals’ abstracts and the Digest of Manufacturers tabulations.

Certainly, the records show that these (presumed) heads of families lived in a particular geographic location in 1820. Better than that, however, the manufacturing census schedules document the economic underpinnings of these households and their communities. Here is the two page record for a cotton textile factory owned by D. Holsman in Paterson town, Aquacknonk township, Essex County (sorry for the blurriness in my photos). Page 1:

1820NJManufacturing23a.jpg

Page 2:

1820NJManufacturing23b.jpg

Some Assistant Marshals used pre-printed forms, as shown by this one dated at New York [City], December 1820, by J. Prall, part owner of the Rutgers Cotton Factory, also in Patterson [sic].

1820NJManufacturing.jpg

Great  stuff. Both of the factories I’ve highlighted were “large” concerns, but there were also plenty of small shops included in the manufacturing schedules. If you had ancestors in New Jersey (or any state) in 1820, take a look at M279. You’ll be glad you did.

M279 Roll List:
1 – Maine and New Hampshire
2 – Massachusetts and Rhode Island
3 – Vermont
4 – Connecticut
5 -New York
6 – New York
7 – New York
8 – New York
9 – New York
10 – New York
11 – New York
12 – Pennsylvania
13 – Pennsylvania
14 – Pennsylvania
15 – Pennsylvania
16 – Maryland
17 – New Jersey, Delaware, and District of Columbia
18 – Virginia
19 – North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia
20 – Kentucky and Indiana
21 – Ohio
22 – Ohio
23 – Ohio
24 – Ohio
25 – Ohio
26 – Eastern District of Tennessee
27 – Western District of Tennessee, Illinois, and pages from the published Digest of Manufactures for Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri, Michigan, and Arkansas

I have not found M279 online. Viewing copies are available at the National Archives Building, Washington, DC, and at National Archives Regional Archives in Atlanta, Boston, Kansas City (Missouri), Philadelphia, and Riverside (California). It can also be found at libraries with large genealogical collections.

Here is an easily accessible copy of the descriptive pamphlet (DP) for M279, which also describes and identifies where manufacturing data embedded within the 1810 population census can be found.

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.