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The following post come from Bill Mayer, the Executive for Research Services at the National Archives.


Attention All Researchers:

The 3:30 pull for today has been cancelled.  An issue relating to federal payroll activities at 22 federal agencies nationwide has causes significant staffing issues.  In order to address these issues, we have had to take this step so other areas of public service are not affected adversely.

While we are making every effort to contain these problems, there is some possibility the afternoon pull scheduled for Monday, September 16, 2013 may be affected.  We will advise you of the situation as we receive information.

On behalf of all Research Services staff, I wanted to thank you for your continued patience.  Please feel free to contact me directly at Bill.Mayer@nara.gov.

 



Today’s post comes from Alyssa Young and Yvonne Ruiz, student interns at the National Archives at Fort Worth, who came across an unexpected and eye-opening find amid the Galveston District U.S. Commissioner’s case files.


While perusing digitized records, Fort Worth Archives Director Meg Hacker found an interesting document in the midst of a seemingly unrelated collection.  Two graduate students, Alyssa Young and Yvonne Ruiz, were thus tasked with making sense of the series.  Masqueraded behind an apparently benign task was a fascinating journey through life in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries; sorting through the Galveston District U.S. Commissioner’s case files proved an intoxicating venture.

The actual content of the series differs greatly from its description, which defined the series as documents about foreign deserters in Galveston port.  Instead, the series comprises a wide array of issues from the Commissioner’s office, including indecent letters, production of counterfeit currency, and possession of government property.

The initial take-away seemed clear enough—accurately describing documents is crucial, and we would correct any mistakes.  But we also grew in our appreciation for the archival of human history, even seemingly unimportant documents.

Within minutes of opening the first box we were introduced to the series of emotions that would carry us through the project—intrigue, delight, shock and, occasionally, horror.  The unassuming boxes contained a treasure trove of court cases reaching the basics of our shared humanity.

Of most interest to us were the items not as important to court records.  Physical lewd and indecent letters (envelope and all) held our attention for much longer than their court case filings.  Although the latter maintains legal relevancy, accompanying artifacts uniquely reveal human behavior.

Charge

RG 21, U.S. Commissioners Case Files, Southern District, Galveston, 1887-1925

 

 

One favorite is the 1894 letter of a Sam McGee, a declaration of love to his “Lillie Dear.”  He confesses, “I want to be your paramour, and I want to take you to the opera some night when you feel like going.”

Letter 1

 RG 21, U.S. Commissioners Case Files, Southern District, Galveston, 1887-1925

Within the file is a second letter written to Lillie’s mother after she files charges against him.  Notice the handwriting difference.  The obvious care he took when writing to Lillie makes him all the more endearing.

Letter 2

RG 21, U.S. Commissioners Case Files, Southern District, Galveston, 1887-1925

 

What happened to our star-crossed lovers?  A mother’s disapproval didn’t stop Sam and Lillie, who were 19 and 16 years old, respectively, at the time the letter was written.  Census records reveal they were married a few years later!

Sam McGee’s sweet letter might lead to scoffs at the 19th Century definition of “lewd and indecent.”  Trust us—letter-writers of the time were as indecent as email-writers of today (and in the very same way).

Interacting with artifacts of a time past strengthens a primal connection between two worlds, regardless of the historical significance they’re assigned.  Though separated by the most impossible forces—geography, creed, and even time—human existence is ever-connected.  Our history teachers really were onto something.



This year the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will host a Virtual Genealogy Fair on September 3–4, 2013. As part of the planned programming, the Virtual Fair will include introductory sessions on civilian and military records at NARA that are useful for genealogical research. Military service, of course, represents one of the major aspects of family history. From 1775 to the mid-20th century, the United States engaged in numerous military conflicts, both internally and against foreign foes. These wars were fought by the U.S. military establishment, including the Regular Army, Navy, and Marine Corps, as well as by citizen volunteers in State and local militias called into Federal service. In the lecture “Introduction to Military Records at the National Archives,” Genealogy Specialist John Deeben will explain various records that document military service from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam.

Focusing primarily on research in the Washington, DC area, the “Introduction to Military Records” examines how NARA’s military holdings are divided into two main periods: “Old” Military (1775–1912) and “Modern” Military (World War I and later). The “Old Military” records cover Volunteer and Regular Army service from the Revolutionary War (1775–83) to the Philippine Insurrection (1899–1902), including border disputes (The Patriot War) and the Old Indian Wars (1784–1858). During this period, Volunteer and Regular service were documented very differently. Beginning in the 1890s, the War Department gathered or transcribed information about state volunteers from various wars, using records created during those conflicts such as muster and payrolls, hospital registers, and prisoner of war rolls. The end result was a “compiled” service file for each veteran that also contained other personal papers held by the War Department, including extra copies of enlistment and discharge papers, orders, subsistence accounts, and sometimes correspondence. For the Regular military (Army, Navy, and Marine Corps), however, the War Department maintained a variety of formal recruiting records, including the Army Register of Enlistments and Navy rendezvous reports. Regardless of the type of service (Regular or Volunteer), pension records from the Revolutionary War to the Philippine Insurrection provide additional information about the veterans’ service as well as his family.

“Modern” Military records generally cover service during the 20th century from World War I to the First Gulf War (Operation Desert Storm) in 1991. The lecture explains the general availability of official military personnel folders at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis (the Virtual Fair will also include a more detailed lecture on the NPRC’s civilian and military holdings), but focuses specifically on the military unit and operational records for each 20th-century conflict that are available for research at College Park. If you know what regiment or division a relative served in during World War I or II, for example, you can learn about the activities those units engaged in during combat in such records as unit histories, war diaries, and operational and command reports. Unit histories from the Korean War and division and brigade records (but very few company-level records) for the Vietnam War are also available. As an added bonus, an overview of draft registration records from World War I to Vietnam is also included in the presentation. For a unique opportunity to learn how to research military service at the National Archives, tune in to “Introduction to Military Records” on day one of the fair, September 3!



Today’s post comes from Susan Burch of Middlebury College, with special thanks to the colleagues at NARA-Fort Worth and to the National Archives Regional Residency Fellowship.


Stories matter. As an historian of disability, race, ethnicity, and gender in the United States, I’ve been drawn to stories at the margins, perhaps more fittingly described as “the locked wards” of our past. My current book project explores the history of the people institutionalized at the Canton Asylum in South Dakota, the only federal psychiatric institution in the United States specifically for American Indians. Its first inmate entered Canton in 1902, and before it closed amid scandal in 1934, nearly 400 men, women, and children from 17 states and nearly 50 tribes inhabited its wards. To date, relatively few people know about the Canton Asylum or its community. In admittedly limited ways, my work attempts to restore those removed from their communities, and our historical frameworks, to the American story.

This black and white panoramic photograph shows the front of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1899-1934). Narrow windows dot the four-story stone and brick building. A metal swing set stands in the front yard area; several people appear to be standing near the top steps of the front porch.

This black and white panoramic photograph shows the front of the Canton Asylum for Insane Indians (1899-1934). Narrow windows dot the four-story stone and brick building. A metal swing set stands in the front yard area; several people appear to be standing near the top steps of the front porch.

The history of the Canton Asylum is inextricably tied to larger stories of forced removals; the rise of Indian boarding schools as well as penal, medical, and disability institutions; eugenics; and contests over citizenship and American identity in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It’s also a deeply human story, marking generations of people on the inside and outside of the institution’s walls.

While incompleteness travels with histories of removal and dislocation, the individuals who lived these experiences were not themselves incomplete, or—and I use this term intentionally—invalid, because of their state of being removed. The in-between spaces of marginalized lived experiences, of dubious belongings, of sometimes difficult sources and historical repositories are locations of opportunity from which scholars can reconsider the past, the present, and our tellings of them.

These realities help illustrate why historical archives are so important.

“Doing history”

Historians depend on tangible sources, which makes projects about institutionalized Native Americans additionally challenging. But the Canton Asylum presents a unique—and complicated—learning opportunity; thousands of documents specifically about and by Asylum members, as well as materials generally related to the institution, are held at the National Archives. With generous support through the National Archives Regional Residency Fellowship, I was able to visit Fort Worth’s site, which yielded fascinating stories and thorny new questions. For example, Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) records about several men and women who were removed to Canton shed light on their family relations and economic changes on the reservations, and sometimes revealed glimmers of their personalities. Other records described people whom BIA agents considered, but ultimately decided against, removing to Canton. Recognizing that many—but not all—paths led to Canton invites critical reflection. Why did some people get taken to Canton, but not others? Who decided this? And how did individuals’ forced removals impact their families’ lives?

Realizing that the Canton Asylum was but one location in a vast constellation of forced removals, I was particularly interested in visiting the Fort Worth NARA because of its unique location and sources. It houses records on the U.S. Public Service Hospital (later renamed the U.S. Narcotic Farm), which was located in Fort Worth. When Canton closed in 1934, some men and women were sent to Saint Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC. Eight years later, in 1942, fifty-three members from this group were transferred to Fort Worth. How Fort Worth’s institution emerged, what it was like, and how it contributes to the longer story of the Canton community are questions I hope to answer.

United States Narcotic Farm, Fort Worth, TX; National Archives Identifier: 278157

United States Narcotic Farm, Fort Worth, TX; National Archives Identifier: 278157

Spending time in archives

I love spending time in archives. There’s an electric anticipation: what details, questions, and surprises await release from the stacks? Several times a day, NARA colleagues rolled out carts with my requested materials. Rows of boxes, some packed to capacity with onionskin paper sheets, held remnants of lifetimes, places, and cultures. Simultaneously daunting and enticing, the collection at Fort Worth took over my daily life for the week. Thankfully, helpful staff helped steer me towards materials I wouldn’t have located on my own, and shared in the excitement when I discovered those “aha” sources—the gems that answer a troubling question or that breathe humanity into a shadowed past. Recommendations for tasty places to eat and visit while in Fort Worth, in addition to a terrific tour of the facility, underscored the value of community that sustains this regional archive, and our broader work in history.

Many thanks to all the folks at NARA-Fort Worth for a great and productive experience.



After 10 years of providing online access to the National Archives’ holdings the Archival Research Catalog (ARC) is permanently retiring on August 15th.

You can still search descriptions and digital content using our Online Public Access search http://www.archives.gov/research/search/

Search for National Archives Records Online

Search for National Archives Records Online

Online Public Access contains all of the descriptions and digitized content that was in ARC.  Online Public Access also searches our web site, Archives.gov, and the web sites of the Presidential Libraries for information related to your search.  Your search results will be grouped into categories based upon the type of information we have that is relevant to your search:

  • Digital copies of records
  • Descriptions of records
  • Web pages on Archives.gov
  • Web pages on the Presidential Libraries’ websites

We will be sharing information and tips for using Online Public Access over the next few weeks here on NARAtions.  if you have any questions about using Online Public Access please leave a comment.

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