by Ligon on December 3, 2013
Today’s blog was written by William Smith, Information Technology Specialist at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.
The internet and new technology has lowered the cost of access to electronic records. In the past, researchers would have to pay a fee to obtain just one electronic file in a collection. With the development of NARA’s Online Public Access (OPA) researchers can download many of the National Archives’ electronic holdings for free and, the download can take place from the comforts of their home or their internet access point. Please keep in mind that NOT all electronic records in NARA’s holdings are available online.
After one has used OPA to download an electronic file, the next step would be to analysis the data. If the data is in a cvs format or has some delimiters, the researcher can use a spreadsheet tool or desktop database to complete the task. In most cases, NARA does provide detail documentation on the electronic file. This documentation can be used to get an understanding of the data and the data contents.
“Two smiling French soldiers fill the hands of American soldiers with candy, in Rouffach, France, after the closing of the Colmar pocket.”, 02/05/1945 (National Archives Identifier 531247)
An example of downloadable data is the World War II Army Enlistment Records (National Archives Identifier 604357). This series consists of records on nearly nine million men and women who enlisted in the United States Army between 1938 and 1946. The records contain the serial number, name, state and county of residence, place of enlistment, date of enlistment, grade, Army branch, term of enlistment, longevity, nativity (place of birth), year of birth, race, education, civilian occupation, marital status, height and weight (before 1943), military occupational specialty (1945 and later), component, and box and reel number of the microfilmed punch cards.
Although this data can be use through Nara’s Access to Archival Databases or AAD, a researcher may want to explore the data in a different format, develop a chart from the data, or just do something further then what AAD can provide currently.
Further description of the World War II Army Enlistment Records will be included in the upcoming Black History Guide.
For Additional Information relating to Electronic Records contact:
National Archives at College Park – Electronic Records (RD-DC-E)
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, Maryland 20740-6001
by Ligon on November 19, 2013
Today’s blog was written by Sonia A. Prescott, Doctoral Student in History at the University of Maryland, College Park.
Scholarship on the Panama Canal has steadily evolved from focusing solely on the United States and its triumph over the land to a more nuanced look at the plight of the everyday people involved in the work of the Canal. Scholars are beginning to recognize that the story of how the Canal was built is a fascinating story but it is not the only story. Instead historians are beginning to push researchers to look closer at the workers who built and maintained the Panama Canal. Recent academic research highlights that the vast majority of the laborers that worked on the Canal Zone were from the English-speaking Caribbean and worked under the harshest labor conditions, were given the worst housing and the lowest wages. The story of these workers does not however end there. Records from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) demonstrate that Caribbean laborers joined unions, went on strike and fought tirelessly for the rights and respect that their labor on the Panama Canal earned them.
To learn more about their story researchers can begin by looking at the records related to one of the largest and most active unions in the Canal Zone, the United Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way and Railway Shop Employees, a U.S. based railroad union. This union was more commonly known as the United Brotherhood. Despite the fact that the United Brotherhood was a railroad union, employees from all the over the Canal Zone joined. This was due to the tremendous efforts of two men, William Preston Stoute and Eduardo V. Morales. Stoute was a schoolteacher on the Canal Zone that was originally from Barbados while Morales was a Panamanian who worked as a clerk in the municipal engineering department. As employees of the Canal Zone their personnel records are held by the National Archives and Records Administration and can be found in Record Group 185 Records of the Panama Canal.
One component of their personnel records is the Applications for Photo-Metal Check series (National Archives Identifier 6821421). These applications were completed when employees wanted to apply for a photo metal check which was part of the payroll system on the Canal Zone. A glance at Stoute’s photo metal check application provides some really important details about his life. As you can see below Stoute was born in Barbados on April 21, 1884 and arrived in Panama on June 15, 1906. This means that he was 22 when he first arrived in Panama. Other details like his salary and his residence on the Canal Zone are also available on the application. Details such as these can be used to learn quite a bit about the man who led the United Brotherhood.
A glance at Morales’ photo metal check application provides important details about his life. For example, Morales was born in Panama on November 14, 1882. The application also indicates that Morales was able to read and write which would have been crucial skills in his position as clerk. Morales was also paid $50.00 (USD) per month which would have been significantly more than the average laborer received at the time. Other details like his residence on the Canal Zone are also available on the application. These types of details can be used to create a more complete picture of Morales life on the Canal Zone and thus his involvement with the union movement.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the Photo Metal Check Applications as a collection of records is that almost all employees of the Panama Canal had to complete these forms. NARA thus maintains these files as part of its extensive collection of personnel records that are generally open to the public. This means that these files can be used for genealogy research, labor union research and for a number of other uses. The files are currently being housed at the National Archives facility in College Park, Maryland, but are in the process of being digitized and may be available online shortly.
For information about this particular set of records please contact the reference staff at Archives2reference@nara.gov.
Twelve Years a Slave, the theatrical depiction of the memoir of Solomon Northrup, has garnered much deserved media attention. Not since Alex Haley’s Roots (1977) have discussions about the depictions of slavery been so prevalent. The National Archives blog Education Updates has a great post about how the story of Solomon Northrup is revealed in our documents (The Document Behind Twelve Years a Slave). The followup post, Kidnapping Free People of Color, shares an account of the problem of slave catchers and kidnapping.
We hope you find these posts about American history interesting and informative.
by Ligon on November 5, 2013
Today’s blog post was written by Tina L. Ligon, Archivist at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland
Most of what we know about African American inventors came from the research of Henry E. Baker. Born on September 1, 1857, in Columbia, Mississippi, Baker made it his mission to identify and publicly highlight the contributions of black inventors. RG 241 Records Relating to Colored Inventors (National Archives Identifier 7451732) contains letters, handwritten lists of inventors, and pamphlets regarding Baker’s attempt to collect information about black inventors.
Flyer for Colored Inventors
Baker attended the Naval Academy where he was subjected to racial insults and physical violence at the hands of southern white students and staff. He withdrew prior to graduating because of the treatment at the school. Baker took a position at the US Patent Office in Washington, D. C. in 1877, as a copyist and continued to work his way up the ranks. In 1902, Baker was appointed as Second Assistant Patent Examiner. While at the US Patent Office, he noticed that there was a lack of knowledge and awareness about black inventors among his colleagues and the general public.
Baker collected the names of African American inventors, along with their patent numbers. He sent letters to patent attorneys, company presidents, newspaper editors, and black leaders asking them to list any African American inventors they knew. The lists were complied to help create Baker’s book The Colored Inventor: A Record of Fifty Years (1913).
The list of African American inventors allowed Baker to provide information that was used to select inventors who were showcased at national and international exhibitions. Several African American inventors participated in the Negro Exhibit at the 1900 Paris Exposition. Inventors, as well as artists, educators, and religious leaders displayed drawings, photographs, and artifacts that portrayed positive images of African American life to the world.
Many of the identified black inventors also demonstrated their inventions at the Pennsylvania Emancipation Exposition of 1913, which celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Michael Arzate is the Summer Diversity Intern in the Research Services Division, Textual Records at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. He is currently a History undergraduate major at the University of California, Berkeley.
As the 50th anniversary of the iconic March on Washington is being celebrated, I’ve come to reflect on major legislation that soon will be celebrating their 50th as well, many of which came from Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society programs, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Higher Education Act of 1965 . My attention today is focused on how the Higher Education Act forever changed higher education for African Americans. While government support for higher education for African Americans did not stem from the Act, it did create a standard for which future presidential administrations and Congress would provide financial support.
(The Higher Education Act of 1965. National Archives Identifier: 299923)
The primary vehicle for which higher education for Black Americans is advocated and supported is through Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). While HBCUs existed well before Johnson’s Higher Education Act (many were established after the Civil War), the Act created a federal definition for which HBCUs were to be accounted for and provided direct federal funding for these schools, support which is still relied on until this day.
Of the 104 HBCU institutions today, about 90% still receive some type of federal aid (Howard University, for example, received $234 million in federal appropriations to cover an $851 budget operating budget for the 2012 fiscal year). With the rising cost of quality education and the pressure to keep tuition and other student expenses low so that the education can become more accessible to low-income students, HBCUs have found themselves reliant on state and federal help in order to survive and provide educational opportunities for African Americans.
At the National Archives we have a plethora of documents including speeches, photographs, and audio recordings regarding federal support for HBCUs, dating back from Herbert Hoover’s visit to Howard University (National Archives Identifier: 6337952) to Ronald Reagan’s Executive Order* to significantly increase the participation of HBCUs in federally funded programs (National Archives Identifier: 4556129).
Included amongst the records regarding HBCUs is an especially inspiring speech given in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the dedication of a new set of buildings funded by Congress at Howard University, located in Washington D. C. The speech set the tone for the government’s mission to support those same people that it had willfully discriminated against for hundreds of years before. The New Deal author was met with applause as he declared, “[Howard University] typifies America’s faith in the ability of man to respond to opportunity regardless of race, or creed, or color.” President Roosevelt characterized his domestic agenda when he said, “These [newly dedicated] structures…represent the happy conjuncture of two important federal programs to meet the difficulties of the depression. As far as it is humanly possible, the federal government has followed the policy that among American citizens there should be no forgotten men or race. It is a wise and truly American policy and we shall continue to faithfully observe it.”
(Transcript for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s address at Howard University, given on 10/26/1936. National Archives Identifier: 197359)
Since higher education is one of the most common medium for upward social mobility, federal programs initiated in order to help African Americans receive an education gained strict attention during the progressive social movement of the 1960s . In order to assimilate a once-repressed group into a highly skilled and educated working and middle class, expanding educational opportunities for these groups became necessary. With the increased priority in the federal government to fund higher education for African Americans and other minorities, those who experienced poverty were finally given the opportunity to escape through affirmative action policies and new federal funds that were being pumped into schools specifically designed for these people.
*Researchers should note that with this file, records must be screened for personal privacy and law enforcement information under 5 U.S.C. 552(b) prior to public release. Some documents remain classified in whole or in part. Access to some case file subjects requires a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FBI.