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.)

Advertisements

Chinese Exclusion Act Files and Records Overview – USCIS webinar, Thursday, Nov. 30, at 1 p.m. Eastern

Chinese Exclusion Act Files and Records Overview

Thursday, Nov. 30, 2017, 1 p.m. Eastern

Join Marian Smith for an overview of U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Chinese Exclusion Act records and where those records can be found today.  The presentation will use a timeline to discuss a variety of Chinese Exclusion Act records inherited or created by INS.  These records are today found at regional archives, the National Archives in Washington, DC, and occasionally in files held by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services  (USCIS).  The webinar will address the agency’s historical practice of moving some files to other file series as well as USCIS resources available to those doing Chinese Exclusion-era immigrant research.

*This webinar will not be recorded, so be sure to join it live.*

 How to Attend

1.  Visit the USCIS History and Genealogy web page.

2.  Click “Worth Repeating Webinar: Thursday, November 30.”

3.  Click “Attend Session” just before the webinar start time at 1 p.m. Eastern.

Chinese Laws and Rules

Researchers using historical Chinese Exclusion records often find themselves trying to navigate through a maze of legal citations and references to the multitude of laws, rules, and regulations that governed the admission and exclusion of Chinese immigrants. For example, what was a “Section 6 Certificate?” Or, what did it mean if someone was admitted as part of the “exempt class under Rule 9?”

Fortunately, the USCIS History Office and Library’s online catalog provides full-text access to tools that can help researchers interpret Chinese Exclusion files. Two of the most important are the Chinese Laws and Rules (1899–1936) and the Chinese General Orders (1924–1945).

The Chinese laws and rules, which the Immigration Service distributed to officers responsible for enforcing Chinese Exclusion law, initially included a list of laws governing the admission of Chinese and a compilation of major court decisions interpreting those laws. As Congress amended the laws or added new ones, the Immigration Service issued new volumes of the publication. In 1908, the Immigration Service added a list of regulations (rules) to the publication, which detailed how the agency carried out the law. The rules described the inspections process, various certificates and forms required under the law, and several other aspects of Chinese Exclusion enforcement. Today, the laws and rules help us interpret legal citations found in Chinese Exclusion files and provide a fuller picture of how Chinese Exclusion law was carried out.

In 1924, the Immigration Service supplemented the Chinese laws and rules with the Chinese general orders. The general orders announced changes to the Chinese rules and were later added to the next printed addition of the laws and rules. Today they are helpful for pinpointing changes in the rules.

To find both the Chinese laws and rules and the Chinese general orders in the USCIS History Office and Library’s online catalog, simply click the links above or select “Simple Search” from the “Search” drop-down menu and type “Chinese rules.” They will come up as the first two search results. 

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.

Finding Nemo, Finding Amelia, Finding Your Family

In Finding Nemo, Marlin has many adventures in the big, wide ocean during his journey to rescue his son, Nemo, who was captured by a diver. The journey to his destination is neither straightforward or simple.

July 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the disappearance of Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan during their attempt to fly around the world. The public’s fascination with the mystery of their disappearance continues to spur researchers to explore the vast ocean of archival records for new clues, as well as to revisit records previously viewed by themselves or others for fresh perspectives.

Millions of people, including, hopefully, readers of this blog, search archival records for evidence of their ancestors’ lives. It’s a big ocean of records that’s getting easier to swim through. FamilySearch previously announced plans to digitize all its microfilm. Numerous commercial genealogy sites vie for your business. Publicly-funded libraries and archives continually add to their online records collections also. It pays to go back and revisit online collections for “new” information.

Have you tried the National Archives Catalog recently? There’s both a “basic” search and an “advanced search” function. Try them both. What will you find? There are now some 66 million entries in the National Archives Catalog, according to my best understanding of it. Those entries can be descriptions of governmental entities, record series, files from within those record entries, individual items, and digital images of actual records. There are also many bibliographic entries, such as persons, places, and subjects.

The journey to learning your ancestors’ life stories is often neither straightforward or simple. Like Marlin, you can’t stop in the middle of the ocean. Keep swimming, and keep searching in new places. Revisit what you’ve already found for new understandings.