World War I Records Online

April 6, 2017, marked the 100th anniversary of America’s entrance into the Great War. After remaining neutral for three years, the United States reluctantly entered what was supposed to be “The War to End All Wars.” By declaring war, President Woodrow Wilson committed the nation to join the other Allied countries in their efforts to defeat the German-led Central Powers.

As the largest repository of American World War I records, the National Archives invites you to browse the wealth of records and information documenting the U.S. experience in this conflict, including photographs, documents, audiovisual recordings, educational resources, articles, blog posts, lectures, and events from its new World War I Centennial portal. This portal links to selected digitized records.


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:


Page 2:


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].


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.

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 at, as well as at

In addition, it’s worth checking the “Claims Made for Money Taken from Federal Prisoners of War Confined in Confederate Prisons, 1866–1867,”, 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:

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.


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.

Women in the Civil War


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.

Temporary footnote: The article mentions that digital images of the “List of Female Nurses, Cooks, and Laundresses Employed in Army Hospitals During the Civil War,” have been placed online in the National Archives Catalog. Unfortunately, they are not online yet, but should be within a few weeks.

30 Million and Growing

There are now some 30 million entries in the National Archives Catalog at, 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. The following information comes from the NARA’s Digital Public Access Branch, which manages the Catalog.

This posting takes a peek behind the curtain at the number of offices and people at the National Archives it takes to add descriptions and digitized records to our Catalog.

April 2016 was a fairly ordinary month for the number of descriptions at the National Archives, but when you look at the numbers in this context it is quite extraordinary.

You may have some questions about the graphic above, for example:

What is an archival unit?
Think of an archival unit like an office that specializes in certain kinds of records.  We have units based on the kinds of records they hold (e.g. Textual Records or Still Pictures); based on their regional location (e.g. the National Archives at Atlanta, or the National Archives at Fort Worth); and the Presidential Libraries (e.g. the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library or the John F. Kennedy Library).

What is an archival description?
An archival description describes the records we hold in the National Archives.  Series descriptions describe records that were accumulated and used together during a distinct period of time. The records in a series are usually arranged in a particular order. A file unit usually describes the equivalent of a folder.  A file unit could have a single record in it or many.  An item describes a single record – it could be a letter, a report, a photograph, a film, or even a memorandum.  The 200,479 descriptions written in April include series, file units and items.

What are the three levels of review?
A staff member writes a description in their archival unit.  Then a description reviewer in that office reviews the description and sends it to the Digital Public Access Branch.  In Digital Public Access the description is reviewed and edits are sometimes suggested or made to meet the National Archives’ description standards. Then once corrections are made (if needed) it is reviewed once more before it is uploaded to the Catalog.

What does “adding a digital object” mean?
Archival descriptions are written descriptions of records and when possible we also add images, sound or video to the descriptions.  In this process we marry a digital file (e.g. jpg, pdf, mp3, mp4) to the written description.  Most of the time this can be done in an automatic process after the data is formatted correctly, but sometimes it is a manual process to add the data into the description for every single page.

New and interesting records in the Catalog

Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission: Staff Documents, 2009-2011
Incoming and outgoing correspondence, administrative files, witness lists, records supporting hearings, chronologies of the financial crisis, risk model data, press releases and other records relating to the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) interaction with the media.

Branch of Alaskan Geology: Project Chariot Files, 1958-1963
Geologic, geophysical, and geochemical studies and other records created by personnel connected with Project Chariot. Project Chariot was one of several projects planned under the auspices of Operation Plowshare which was developed to explore the use of nuclear explosions for peacetime construction. Project Chariot was a plan to use nuclear blasts to create a harbor at Cape Thompson, Alaska.

Pacific Command, Military Personnel and Services Division: General Records Relating to Bob Hope Christmas Shows, 1970-1972
Correspondence, memoranda, messages, and an after action report pertaining to the planning and preparation for the Bob Hope Christmas programs in Vietnam. Included is an after action report for Operation Holly; diagrams of stage constructions and seating arrangements; records relating to transportation arrangements; and itineraries for the visits.