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Frances Perkins aided the von Trapp Family Singers

Today’s post comes from Rebecca Brenner, an intern in the History Office at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 12, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1938 the von Trapp family singers were in danger.

Baron von Trapp, a heroic Austrian sea captain in World War I, declined a commission to serve in the naval forces of the Third Reich.

His eldest son, Rupert, likewise declined a request to serve as a doctor for the Nazis.

Finally, according to daughter Agathe von Trapp’s memoir, the singing family “refused in unison” an invitation to sing on the Munich radio in honor of Hitler’s birthday.

In 2005, Prologue magazine published an illuminating account of “The Real Story of the von Trapp Family,” which relied on immigration and citizenship records held in the National Archives at Boston.

Documents at the National Archives at College Park—in Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins’s immigration correspondence—build upon this story. These documents suggest that Perkins was instrumental in the immigration case of the von Trapp Family Singers.

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration, March 15, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In 1933, less than two months after the Nazis seized power in Germany, Perkins became Secretary of Labor. As Secretary, she oversaw the Immigration and Naturalization Service throughout the 1930s. Perkins’s immigration correspondence includes a series of letters from American citizens to Perkins concerning refugees.

The von Trapps were one case among hundreds in Perkins’s correspondence.

The family left Austria for Italy in the summer of 1938. They then entered the United States on temporary visitors’ visas. After a brief stay in the United States, the von Trapps traveled to Scandinavia for a singing tour.

In the fall of 1939, the family returned to the U.S. for another singing tour. This time, Ellis Island officials detained the family because Maria von Trapp cried, “Oh, I am so glad to be here—I never want to leave again!”

The Department of State, which shared some jurisdiction over immigration with the Department of Labor, had asserted that the repeated extension of visitors’ visas conflicted with American immigration law.

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 19, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Gertrude Ely to Frances Perkins, March 19, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

In her memoir, Agathe mentioned that the other detainees cheered when the family was released from detainment after three days because this was rare on Ellis Island. She attributed their release to a kind friend in Pennsylvania they had met during their first singing tour. That friend was likely Gertrude Ely, also a friend of Perkins.

Ely wrote to Perkins on behalf of the family on March 12, 1940, saying, “I am sending this note with the sheaf of forms made out by Baron von Trapp for his singing family, making the request that their visitors’ visas be extended six months.”

Three days later, Perkins requested safe passage for the von Trapps in a memorandum to the Commissioner of Immigration.

On March 19, 1940, Ely replied that the Baron hoped to thank Perkins for her successful efforts.

The family became citizens nearly a decade later.

Baron von Trapp’s calling card. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Baron von Trapp’s calling card. (National Archives Identifier 6600095)

Baron von Trapp’s calling card is in Perkins’s correspondence file to this day at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland.

Staff from St. Louis are “unofficial rock stars” at National Genealogical Society conference

This post comes to us from Communications intern Lia Collen.

Staff from the National Archives (NARA) at St. Louis participated in the annual National Genealogical Society’s (NGS) Family History Conference in St. Charles, MO, from May 13–16. More than 2,200 professional genealogists attended the conference.

Archivists Daria Labinsky, Ashley Mattingly, and Theresa Fitzgerald at the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Conference in May.

Archivists Daria Labinsky, Ashley Mattingly, and Theresa Fitzgerald at the National Genealogical Society’s Family History Conference in May.

Access Coordinator Bryan McGraw and archivists Theresa Fitzgerald, Daria Labinsky, and Ashley Mattingly gave presentations about the large collection of personal data series records available at NARA at St. Louis.

“While, individually, a particular record may not seem as critical as a landmark document or treaty, taken as a whole, these records are among the most powerful and essential to our existence,” McGraw said. “Furthermore, these records not only give insight into genealogy, but many of them are used decades and decades later for essential benefits, entitlements, and the like.”

In addition to their lectures, the St. Louis staff managed an information table to provide more detailed information on records. Staff used this as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions and provide a better understanding of the National Archives at St. Louis.

“It is important for NARA to take part in this conference as we hold a treasure trove of records that will assist any genealogist or researcher that wants to learn more about their family’s military background,” Fitzgerald said.

Staff spoke to visitors about the scope of the records at St. Louis and explained the records request process. A lot of visitors were unaware St. Louis had so many record series aside from military personnel folders. Some visitors did not know that the National Archives even existed in St. Louis!

“Visitors seemed quite thankful and excited for the information they garnered,” Mattingly said. “I believe that it is a bit difficult to understand the scope of our holdings as well as the information available (or restricted) to the public.”

Staff also received many questions about the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.

“We constantly informed people that, no, not all the records were burned in the fire, or not all the World War II Army records were burned in the fire,” Labinsky said. “We explained how auxiliary records can be used to recreate a veteran’s military service if a record had been destroyed in the fire.”

McGraw remarked that the National Archives staff were the unofficial rock stars of the conference. “Many commented to me at the booth how much they enjoyed NARA being there and how valuable the information we provided to them was to their research,” he said. “This was from the full spectrum of perspectives, including individual family researchers, to large, corporate organizations involved in genealogy, software, tools and the like.”

National Archives staff felt they benefited from participating in the conference as well. Staff enjoyed seeing that their presence at the conference was appreciated. The best part, staff agreed, was engaging with attendees and seeing them get excited about using National Archives records in their own research.

“Seeing someone learn something they didn’t know or helping them solve a complex problem is very rewarding,” McGraw said. “Helping someone to piece together the past to show eligibility for something and seeing their sometimes emotional reaction is absolutely priceless and drives me to do more and more.”

Building Bridges between the Worlds of the Deaf and Hearing, Archives and Knowledge

Danica Rice is an archives technician at the National Archives at Seattle. The National Archives is participating in #DisabilityStories as part of the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. 

I have always seen myself as a bridge between two worlds, that of the Deaf and that of the Hearing. There are many purposes for bridges, but one is to connect and string two things, in this case two worlds, together.

My world is the Deaf, and has been since I was 18 months old. However, I’ve always been blessed with the ability to hear a good deal, speak reasonably clearly, and understand many nuances of the Hearing world. Make no mistake, the world of the Hearing and that of the Deaf are very different ones, but in some respects, much the same.

Danica Rice at work at the National Archives in Seattle.

Danica Rice at work at the National Archives in Seattle.

When I was growing up, I loved to read, and it became a lifeline of sorts for me, as I used it to explore new worlds, new ideas, new intellects. When I was feeling the very natural difficulties of being left out due to my hearing, reading became my escape.

When I was very young, my father took me to one of those old used bookstores, where books were squeezed in every available space, some on top of others, with rows upon rows of beautiful spines. I will never forget the day my dad pulled out a particularly aged volume and opened it to its center, explaining to me that old books have their own smell. Many a weekend and afternoons after school were spent in a wondrous bookstore  (Bartlett Street Books in Medford, Oregon), owned by a kindhearted man named Ken Corliss, who had a shock of white hair and matching bushy mustache.

Words and images go hand in hand for me, as my language (ASL) is a very visual one, but the fact that I read so much, at such an early age, and still do, means that I have a unique perspective on what it means to be Deaf in a world full of words.  Because of this, my passion became to help people understand my life, my culture.

I’ve written two books, yet to be published, but writing novels hasn’t been enough for me when it comes to my desire to cross that cultural bridge. So I have always explored ways to help people, which fuels my passion for promoting acceptance and understanding. When I was in college in Rochester, New York, I was offered the opportunity to work in Southern Oregon University’s Lenn and Dixie Hannon Library as an unpaid intern. There, I realized that my love for books, reading, language, and knowledge were innately relevant to the library world. I had found my home.

The following summer, I knew without a doubt that I wanted another library job, and needed an internship that paid. Before long, I was speaking with the head of the Rare Book Department of Harvard University’s Houghton Library and accepting a temporary cataloger position with a focus on cataloging Emily Dickinson’s (yes, THAT Emily Dickinson) personal library. These were the books she personally owned and handled on a daily basis. I had to flip through each individual page of her books, searching for inscriptions, notations, or objects pressed between the pages. At one point I held her heavily marked Bible in my bare hands, and I could FEEL the history coursing through my veins.

In that moment, I knew. I was destined to work with rare books and archives in some manner, shape, or form.

Danica Rice outside the National Archives in Seattle.

Danica Rice outside the National Archives at Seattle.

I took quite a winding path from the completion of my bachelor’s degree before I finally settled long enough to sign up for my master’s program in Library and Information Science from San Jose State University. This is a completely online program, which suits my needs perfectly, as they provide captioning and transcripts for any auditory materials, which eliminates the need for interpreters or other tools that might be more cumbersome if I had enrolled in a “live” program.

Around this time, I was working for the Bureau of Reclamation, first in Yuma, Arizona, then in Boulder City, Nevada. While this was a vital stepping stone, I knew what my true dream job was, and that was to work for the National Archives.

I also knew that I wanted to return to my roots, the Pacific Northwest, where I was born and raised (in Southern Oregon). After many interviews, many rejections, and many false hopes, I was rewarded for my patience and given the gift of the position of archives technician, in Seattle, Washington, with the National Archives at Seattle, where I sit today.

Dreams really do come true.

Now I stand at this end of a bridge between many worlds—Deaf, Hearing, Archives, and Knowledge. I am doing everything I can to learn, and to build. My hope is that you will join me in learning and building these many worlds, as we all cross our mutual bridge, toward a shared Knowledge, in our choice of this noble profession, and perhaps best of all, in life as well.

Pirates: An Early Test for the New Country

Today’s post comes from Tom Eisinger, senior archivist at the Center for Legislative Archives in Washington, DC.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, first page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

When Richard O’Bryen, captain of the Philadelphia ship Dauphin, penned his July 12, 1790, letter to Thomas Jefferson, he had been a captive of the Barbary pirates in Algeria for almost five years.

This letter, and others, helped bring attention to an unexpected problem the Federal Government inherited from the government under the Articles of Confederation: pirates.

The new nation was faced with the questions: What could be done about the Barbary pirates? And what could be done for the American prisoners held for ransom in Algeria?

In the late 18th century, the Barbary pirates were a well-known problem in Europe. These pirates—who came from Morocco, Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunisia—captured vessels sailing in the Mediterranean Sea and held their crews for ransom.

To free a captured vessel, European nations were forced to pay the ransom. Some European nations signed treaties with the four Barbary nations and paid tribute for safe passage of their vessels.

The Barbary pirates were not an issue for the American colonies while they were under the protection of the British Empire or during the Revolutionary War while they were under the protection of France. However, those protections effectively ended in September 1783 when the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Revolutionary War and freeing the United States from British rule.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, last page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, last page, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

In October 1784, the Boston brig Betsey was captured by Moroccan pirates. On July 25, 1785, Algerian pirates captured the Boston schooner Maria. Less than a week later, the Algerians also captured Captain O’Bryen’s ship, the Dauphin. Americans had a rude awakening to their hopes of free trade throughout the world.

Morocco released the crew of the Betsey and concluded a peace treaty with the United States that the Confederation Congress ratified in July 1787.

Peace with Algiers, however, was much harder to achieve. The Dey (ruler) of Algiers refused to negotiate a peace treaty and demanded $59,496 in ransom to release the crews of the Maria and Dauphin. Since that amount of money was not available, the 21 captives remained enslaved in Algiers.

The Algerian situation highlighted the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation. The Confederation Congress did not have the money to build a navy that would protect American vessels, or pay any tribute or ransom to the Barbary States because they could not levy taxes. In fact, this was one of the motivating factors in creating the Constitution, ratified in 1788, which gave the new Federal Government significantly more power.

Even after the Constitution was ratified, the Federal Government did not address the situation with Algeria right away.

Captives and their family members were hardly quiet while they awaited action from the new government.

Richard O’Bryen's letter to Thomas Jefferson, page showing ransom rates, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Richard O’Bryen’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, page showing ransom rates, July 12, 1790. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

One of the more prolific writers was Captain O’Bryen. The document featured here was one such missive, penned by O’Bryen to Thomas Jefferson on July 12, 1790. Secretary of State Jefferson sent a copy of this and other letters to the First Federal Congress in order to keep Congress up to date on the situation with the captives in Algiers.

O’Bryen’s 11-page letter outlined both the plight of the remaining 14 captives and the status of current negotiations.

It also explained the price set for the captives’ release, which was a total of 17,225 sequins (each sequin was worth 8 shillings sterling at the time).

The price for O’Bryen and Isaac Stephens, the captain of the Maria, was set at 3,000 sequins apiece. O’Bryen closed the letter by expressing his faith that the government would immediately see the necessity of paying the price for its citizens’ freedom.

In this case his faith was misplaced and Congress didn’t approved a treaty with Algiers until September 1795. The final cost of the return of all 119 captives (other ships were captured after the Maria and Dauphin), and peace with Algiers was $642,000, plus $21,000 in annual tribute.

In addition, the United States provided four naval vessels to Algiers, including a 36-gun frigate.

President George Washington was unhappy with the arrangement, but realized the United States had little choice in the matter.

The long wait for freedom did nothing to dim Captain O’Bryen’s loyalty to his country. Upon his release in 1796, he was appointed consul general to Algiers, a position he held until 1803.

The Center for Legislative Archives is marking the 225th anniversary of the First Congress by sharing documents on Tumblr and Twitter; use #Congress225 to see all the postings.

Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Senate transmitting O'Bryen's letter, January 20, 1791. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

Thomas Jefferson’s message to the Senate transmitting O’Bryen’s letter, January 20, 1791. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

New Web Exhibit on Center Market

"Front View of 7th Street Entrance to Center Market" October, 1922. (National Archives Identifier 7851122)

“Front View of 7th Street Entrance to Center Market” October, 1922. (National Archives Identifier 7851122)

In 1797, President George Washington designated two acres in the heart of Washington City for use as a public marketplace. For the next 134 years, Center Market was a Washington D.C. landmark on Pennsylvania Avenue, until it was demolished in 1931 to make way for the National Archives Building.

The National Archives History Office has produced a new online exhibit on Center Market, which is available in the Google Cultural Institute.

Throughout its history, Center Market was loud and lively. The marketplace was filled with crowds of people and transportation of all kinds. Street vendors or “hucksters,” farmers, and market men sold fruits, vegetables, and live animals to city-dwelling Washingtonians. The market attracted middle-class ladies, community leaders, businessmen, and social reformers.

"Plan on the Center Market and the Washington Market Company", 1869. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

“Plan on the Center Market and the Washington Market Company,” 1869. (Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives)

In its earliest days, Center Market was no more than a collection of ramshackle wooden sheds. Bordered by the Washington Canal, the swampy land earned it the nickname “Marsh Market.”

Early Washingtonians recalled hunting wild ducks in the wetlands near the market and purchasing live fish right from the Canal.

As the city of Washington D.C. grew, so did complaints about the dirt and disorder of the public market.

A group of investors formed the private Washington Market Company in 1870 and hired prominent architect Adolf Cluss to design a modern and lavish new market facility fronting Pennsylvania Avenue.

The ornate Center Market building attracted thousands of customers a day. Streetcar lines from all corners of the city converged at the market.

Designed to appeal to middle-class marketers, the market building was thoroughly modern and hygienic. The facility boasted high ceilings with ventilated skylights, electric lighting, cold-storage vaults, and a spacious café.

"A Birds-Eye View of Part of the Fruits and Vegetable Section of Center Market," February 18, 1915. (National Archives Identifier 7851107)

“A Birds-Eye View of Part of the Fruits and Vegetable Section of Center Market,” February 18, 1915. (National Archives Identifier 7851107)

The interior of Center Market feature over 600 modern market stalls featuring elaborate displays and high quality goods such as cured meats, baked goods, and flower arrangements.

Center Market’s exterior was just as bustling and crowded as its interior. Farmers’ wagons, trucks, and automobiles lined the curb outside of the market selling fresh country produce.

For a nominal fee, street vendors, or “hucksters,” could sell wares outside of Center Market. Hucksters packed the streets around the market, hawking seasonal goods, greenery, and even preparing food at open-air restaurants.

Center Market returned to public ownership in 1921, managed by the Department of Agriculture. However, this arrangement was short-lived. The red brick Victorian market building was incompatible with the 1901 Senate Park (McMillan) Commission Plan’s vision of a unified city of white marble and monuments. Despite protests from the city and the community of Washington D.C., Center Market was demolished in 1931.

On May 17, 1931, the Sunday Star printed a eulogy to the market: “The great focus of interest, the one-time social center, place of endless entertainment, is gone and can never be restored…Another generation will have no concept of the significance of the site on which they stand.”

Center Market is no longer standing, but traces of its significance can be found in the photographs and documents stored in the National Archives.

To learn more about Center Market, visit the new “A Capital Market” exhibit on Google Cultural Institute.

To see more historical photos of Center Market visit our Flickr page.