The National Archives has many fascinating records documenting our history. Some of the most fascinating are contained in our Pension Files documenting veterans’ claims, or claims from their families, for benefits starting with the Revolutionary War. For a wife or parent to qualify for benefits on behalf of the deceased soldier they needed to supply proof of the relationship with that soldier. The result is a collection of letters, diaries, frakturs, embroidered family trees, photographs, and more than 100 Bibles containing family information. These files are heavily used by genealogists in their research on family histories.
Last month, one of our own, Jeffrey Kees who works at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, brought his Dad, John, to visit their family Bible. Jeffrey’s Great-Great-Great-Grandfather, Philip Kees fought in the Revolutionary War, and the Bible, which contains family history noted in the margins of the text, was submitted by his widow as proof of her relationship with Kees.
Examining the Kees Family Bible. Left to Right: John Kees, Trevor Plante, and David Ferriero
Jeffrey’s Great Grandfather, William Kees, served in the 155th Pennsylvania Infantry during the Civil War and we were able to display those pension records also.
The highlight of the visit was fulfilling Jeffrey’s wish to repeat his swearing in (the oath of office all Federal employees take when … [ Read all ]
This afternoon, the National Archives launched Founders Online—a tool for seamless searching across the Papers of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and Alexander Hamilton. Our National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) has been funding these projects in paper for some time. Working with Rotunda at the University of Virginia Press and the editors of the six papers project, Founders Online was created with NHPRC funding to provide simultaneous searching across all six collections at once.
Through Founders Online you can now trace the shaping of the nation, the extraordinary clash of ideas, the debates and discussions carried out through drafts and final versions of public documents as well as the evolving thoughts and principles shared in personal correspondence, diaries, and journals. This beta version of Founders Online contains over 119,000 documents, and new documents will be added to the site on a continual basis.
You can see first-hand the close working partnership between George Washington and Alexander Hamilton from their time in the Revolutionary War to Hamilton’s draft of Washington’s Farewell Address. Or read John Adams’ description of Congress as a place where “There is so much Wit, Sense, Learning, Acuteness, Subtilty, Eloquence, etc. among fifty Gentlemen, each of whom has been habituated to lead and guide in his own Province, that an immensity of Time, is … [ Read all ]
When Charles Lindbergh landed at LeBourget Field outside of Paris on the 21st of May 1927, among his first words- “Is there any news of Nungesser and Coli?” On the 8th of May, French aviators Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli took off from LeBourget in their plane, The White Bird, in an attempt to be first to fly nonstop from Paris to New York. French researcher, Bernard Decre, using the records of the National Archives, aims to tell the story of what happened to The White Bird.
Researcher Bernard Decre and National Archives staff member Mark Mollan at the French Embassy next to an exact model of the plane flown by the French aviators. Photo taken by Trevor Plante.
In May of 1919, French Hotelier Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 Orteig Prize to the first aviator to fly across the Atlantic non-stop between New York and Paris- in either direction. Many aviators made unsuccessful attempts to capture the prize, but it was Charles Lindbergh flying The Spirit of St. Louis who won.
The French Government maintains that The White Bird went down in the English Channel and Mr. Decre has been working with Mark Mollan, our expert on U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard records to prove that it made it across the Atlantic. Between May and August of 1927, using the logbooks of … [ Read all ]
On the 15th of June in 1859, Lyman Cutlar, an American recently settled on San Juan Island, shot a pig which ” … having been at several times a great annoyance and that morning destroyed a portion of his garden … ”
Affidavit of Lyman A. Cutlar Regarding Pig Shooting, September 7, 1859
(click on image to view the complete 5-page document in our Flickr photostream)
The pig belonged to the British Hudson Bay Company who demanded compensation in the amount of $100. The astonished Cutlar valued the pig at less than $10. While not the shot heard round the world, it did mark the beginning of the Pig War-a border dispute between the United States and Canada. While that was the only shot fired, twelve years of posturing on both sides which included troops and navies and some soon to be famous Civil War principals, George E. Pickett and Winfield Scott. The Treaty of Washington between the United States and Great Britain was signed in 1871 and the San Juan Island matter referred to Kaiser Wilhelm I of German for arbitration and in October of 1872 ruled in favor of the United States.
An early commemoration of the anniversary of The Pig War was the excuse for the staff of the National Archives in Washington and our friends across the street at the Canadian Embassy to once again test public opinion-this time on bacon. Last … [ Read all ]
On Monday, April 15, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum suffered a fire. It was quickly managed and extinguished by first responders from the Boston Fire Department and the Boston Police Department. My sincere thanks go to them for their extraordinary efforts. I am grateful that no one was injured.
This fire occurred around the same time as the awful attack in Copley Plaza during the Boston Marathon. Our hearts go out to the victims of that terrible, terrible event. I have close ties to Boston. I have run that marathon with those people in the past and have had friends and relatives cheering for me at that finish line. I found this incident to be particularly sad and troubling.
The Boston Police Department is investigating the cause of the fire and initial indications are that it was not connected to the bombings at the Boston Marathon. Please remember the people affected by the tragedy in Boston on Monday, and wish for their resilience and for their healing.
Today, the work of the American people continues in Boston, and my heartfelt congratulations go out to the people who have been working hard to develop the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA), which is launching online today. Unfortunately, Monday’s tragedy occurred at the very steps of where the official gala launch was planned to be held, the Boston Public Library. The gala has … [ Read all ]
“A state of enthusiasm or exaltation arising from the exhaustive study of a topic or period of history; the delightful but dangerous condition of becoming repeatedly sidetracked in following intriguing threads of information, or constantly searching for one more elusive fact.”
Pidgeon’s column triggered many rapture memories from my days as a research librarian. The opportunity and challenge of engaging in the research of faculty and students over the years has been one of the joys of my professional life. Some of my favorites: the archaeologist tracing the history of turpentine from the Middle East to Europe by analysis of Renaissance painting paint fragments; an Abigail Adams quote from a letter to her husband inscribed on the fireplace mantle in the East Room of the White House; details of Pablo Neruda’s life; details of a Congolese form of voodoo practices in Cuba; and, who said “We are surrounded by insurmountable opportunities,” Yogi Berra or Pogo?
In each case, except the last, the search for an answer resulted in lots of sidetracks and lots of new related information—some for the researcher, but all for me!
As a Navy veteran I have a particular fondness for U.S. Navy records, especially deck logs. From my first days here at the National Archives when I discovered that we had the actual deck logs from the US S Constitution including her service during the War of 1812 to the day I was handed a deck log of the USS Sanctuary, AH-17 , covering my time aboard that hospital ship in Viet Nam I have been hooked on this record series!
So, it was a real treat to learn that NOAA had approached us in April of 2011 with the idea of digitally imaging the logs of Navy and Coast Guard Revenue Cutter vessels as part of their work with OldWeather.org to document weather conditions in the North Pacific Arctic region during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In a wonderful crowd sourcing venture, volunteers working with OldWeather.org transcribe handwritten weather observations as well as log entries on vessel movement and activities. It is a win-win cross agency collaboration—NOAA gets the weather data and NARA gets the digital images for posting.
Scanning began in July 2012 and so far the logbooks of ten vessels have been completed and 65,000 images posted to our Archival Research Catalog.
Pressed flowers were found in the USRC Corwin log entry for 14 January 1891 from Port Townsend, … [ Read all ]
Growing up in Beverly, Massachusetts I was familiar with the legend of young George Patton rescuing three people whose sailboat had overturned off Beverly Cove. Last week we had a visit from a group of Coast Guard personnel and among the records selected to show them was the file documenting the incident. Imagine my surprise and delight to read the actual evidence. It actually did happen!
The records tell the story from both sides—the rescuers and the rescued.
George Patton Life-saving Medal file, ARC ID 568559, RG 26, USCG General Correspondence, 1910-35, File Code 181, Box 286, Patton, George S.
Beatrice Ayer Patton writes that on August 21, 1923, she and her husband, Major George Patton, were sailing just off the coast in “an seaworthy 14 foot skiff” when the weather became squally. “Our boat began to leak badly and become almost unmanageable.” Heading for shore, they “…heard a shout… The water was covered with white foam and black squally patches, making it difficult to distinguish any object. At last we saw three boys, apparently standing up to their armpits in the sea…As we approached the boys, they sank to their chins..One of them called to us that his two companions could not swim.”
Patrick T. Jackson, Jr., age 16, one of the three rescued writes that they had been in the water for … [ Read all ]
The Public Interest Declassification Board (PIDB) at the National Archives has been hard at work this year developing recommendations to the President of the United States to transform the national security classification system. PIDB is an advisory committee established by Congress to advise and provide recommendations to the President and other executive branch officials on the identification, collection, review for declassification, and release of declassified records of archival value. In addition, PIDB advises the President on policies regarding classification and declassification of national security information.
Through their “Transforming Classification” blog, they have solicited hundreds of public comments and ideas on ways to reduce inefficiency and increase public access to improve our classification and declassification system.
The work of the PIDB embodies the principles of open government, transparency and participation, and I encourage you to provide your feedback on their blog as they continue to tackle the challenge of improving the national security classification system, especially as it relates to digital records.
On Thursday, December 6th, the Public Interest Declassification Board will host an open meeting to discuss its recommendations to the President on Transforming the Security Classification System. The full Report to the President will be published online on December 6th . The meeting will focus on the Board’s fourteen recommendations, centering on the need for new policies for classifying information, new processes for declassifying information, … [ Read all ]
Veterans Day has special meaning for us at the National Archives where we hold the almost 112 million individual personnel files and medical records of the men and women who have served in the military. Housed in St. Louis, Missouri and Valmeyer, Illinois, more than 800 staff process, protect, and service those records to ensure that veterans and their families can receive the benefits due to them, can document family histories, and can received replacement medals and awards. More than 5,000 requests are received each day and I am so proud of the dedication the staff brings to their work, often going the extra mile to ensure that our veterans get what they need.
Photograph of San Francisco Yeomen attached to the Naval Reserve, June 1918. National Archives Identifier: 533764
Another more than 10 million military service records and pension files from earlier wars—American Revolution through the Philippine-American War—are serviced in Washington, DC.
Each one of those records, as is the case with each record in our custody, tells a story. Two of thousands of stories:
A veteran’s family wrote hoping to confirm a story regarding a real “Great Escape” during World War II. Staff discovered that the veteran had been captured by the Germans in 1944 and sent to a labor camp in Poland. He escaped by tunneling under the wire fence, disguised … [ Read all ]
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