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A receipt for that little house on the prairie

Today’s post comes from Cody White, archivist at the National Archives at Denver.

Today marks the 178th anniversary of Charles Ingalls’s birth!

A simple farmer born in Cuba, New York, Ingalls would have likely languished in obscurity had not his second-born daughter Laura taken her childhood recollections and parried them into a timeless and award-winning series of children’s books.

In this page from a register of homestead receipts from the Dakota Territory, we see the line entry for the Ingalls homestead in DeSmet, South Dakota, the family’s final stop in a long series of homes that stretched across present-day Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, and Minnesota.

“Register of Final Homestead Receipts, December 9, 1871-May 21, 1891,” NARA identifier 2579455, RG 049 Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Entry 97.

“Register of Final Homestead Receipts, December 9, 1871-May 21, 1891,” NARA identifier 7385822, RG 049 Records of the Bureau of Land Management, Entry 97.

 

Several years after proving up on his claim, Ingalls moved into town where he worked a variety of jobs before passing away in 1902. The DeSmet News ended his obituary with this description: “As a citizen he held high esteem, being honest and upright in his dealings and associations with his fellows. As a friend and neighbor he was always kind and courteous, and a faithful and loving husband and father.”

For those fans of Little House on the Prairie, Pa’s DeSmet homestead is a tourist attraction today, still featuring the original cabin Charles Ingalls built for his family over 120 years ago.

The National Archives also holds the papers of Laura Ingalls Wilder and her daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, at the Hoover Presidential Library.


Sleepover at the National Archives!

sleepover

You can’t snuggle with the Constitution, but you can sleep next to it! This sleepover in the Rotunda is open to children ages 8-12, accompanied by an adult. Registration fees are $125 per person (discounted to $100 per person for Foundation members).

Participants get to meet author Brad Meltzer, who will set the way for an evening of historical missions and discovery. Learn to decode Civil War ciphers, write with a quill pen, dress up in period clothing, and play with historic toys and games from our patent collection.

Children will also get to meet journalist and author Cokie Roberts, and interact with historical characters Abraham Lincoln and Amelia Earhart. The evening wraps up with a selection of Oscar-nominated short films in the William G. McGowan Theater.

Participants will receive the first two books in Brad Meltzer’s brand new children’s series, I am Abraham Lincoln and I am Amelia Earhart. Written by Meltzer and illustrated by Christopher Eliopoulos, each book tells the real-life story of an ordinary person who changed the world.

Schedule

7 p.m.         Check-in & Orientation
8 p.m.         Museum Exploration and Activities
9:30 p.m.   Movie Shorts from the Oscars
11 p.m.        Lights Out
7:30 a.m.    Breakfast, Shopping, and Trivia
9 a.m.          Departure

For more information go to the Foundation’s sleepover page. To register, download the Sleepover Registration packet, and send the completed forms to sleepover@archivesfoundation.org.


Top 14 Moments at the National Archives in 2013

Wow–what a year! Our editorial panel tried to limit this list to ten, but eventually we gave up and picked 14 instead. (For more great National Archives moments, check on out the Top 10 Innovative Moments of 2013.)

We also want to send a big thank you to the staff members of the National Archives across the nation, who worked so hard to make these moments possible. And a huge thank you to our partners, sponsors, researchers, visitors, and social media followers who share in our love of history. We are grateful to be able to make your history accessible to you in so many ways in 2013!

FOURTEEN

40th Anniversary of the Fire in the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis

If you have served in the U.S. military, your file is part of the holdings in the National Archives in St. Louis. Each year, staff respond to one million requests for direct military benefits and entitlements from veterans and their next of kin. In the Research Room, staff pulled more than 41,000 military personnel records.

And Preservation Programs in St. Louis responded to more than 200 daily requests for burned Army and Air Force records. The fire that swept through the sixth floor of the National Personnel Records Center on July 12, 1973, damaged and destroyed millions of documents. Each record is treated with care as staff find the information needed for veterans and their families. It is a long, arduous process, but the work is meaningful for the archivists, archives technicians, and preservationists who  still work on these documents forty years after the disastrous fire.

Donna Judd examines damaged documents at her work station.

Donna Judd examines damaged documents from 1973 fire at her work station.

THIRTEEN

Washington’s Personal Copy of the Acts of the First Congress

During George Washington’s first year in office, Congress ordered 600 copies of the Acts of Congress to be printed and distributed to Federal and state government officials. The book compiled the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and other legislation passed by the first session of Congress. Washington’s personal copy contains his handwritten notes in the margins.

Only three copies of this book are known to have survived. After his two terms in office, Washington brought the book home to Mount Vernon. It stayed in the Washington family until 1876. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association secured the book at an auction, bringing it back to Washington’s home.

In 2013, Washington’s Acts of Congress reached a nationwide audience when it was displayed at the 13 Presidential Libraries of through a partnership with Mount Vernon.

George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress. His signature appears inside. Printed by Frances Childs and John Swaine and bound by Thomas Allen in 1789. Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

George Washington’s personal copy of the Acts of Congress. His signature appears inside. Printed by Frances Childs and John Swaine and bound by Thomas Allen in 1789. Courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

 

 TWELVE

Completing the Nixon White House Tapes

On August 21, 2013, the Nixon Presidential Library opened the final installment of 94 Nixon White House tapes, covering the period from April 9 to July 12, 1973. The tapes cover discussions ranging from implementation of the Vietnam peace settlement and the return of prisoners of war to wage and price controls, campaign finance reform, and Watergate.

Researchers and the general public can now access this information online and at the Nixon Presidential Library. Sample clips are available on the Nixon Library’s YouTube Channel. The Tapes Team looks forward to  digital preservation, re-review of withheld material, and enhanced digital access to the tapes and their finding aids in the future.

This item is a tape recorder that was operated by President Richard Nixon's White House secretary Rosemary Woods as part of the Nixon White House taping system. Wood used this recorder to create the tape of June 20, 1970, containing the infamous "18 1/2 minute gap."

A tape recorder that was operated by President Richard Nixon’s White House secretary Rosemary Wood as part of the Nixon White House taping system. Wood used this recorder to create the tape of June 20, 1970, containing the infamous “18 1/2 minute gap.”

 

ELEVEN

50th Anniversary of the March of Washington

On August 10, 1963, Hearst Metrotone News was tasked with filming the upcoming “The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom” for USIA. Over the course of three days, James Blue and his team shot more than 11 hours of material, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. The footage was eventually edited down to 33 minutes.

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the landmark civil rights march, staff in the Motion Picture Preservation Lab completed a full digital restoration of the film. This digital version was screened for audiences in the William G. McGowan Theater, and was posted to YouTube.

We also welcomed special guest Edith Lee-Payne, who attended the march as a young girl. Her iconic photograph was the featured document for August in the Rotunda.

A still from the film "The March."

A still from the film “The March.”

 

TEN

Director Steven Spielberg at the National Archives

 In November, the Foundation for the National Archives presented director Steven Spielberg with its 2013 Records of Achievement Award for bringing our nation’s story to life on the big screen. Ken Burns spoke with Steven Spielberg onstage about history, storytelling, and the National Archives. “I am deeply honored,” Spielberg said, “to have been selected to receive this great recognition from the institution that preserves American history, which is a subject near and dear to my heart.”

Look closely at Spielberg and you’ll see that he’s wearing the little orange National Archives visitor tag clipped to his tux!

The best part of the night? When Spielberg mentioned our very own archivist Kate Mollan, who worked on research for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln. She’s even listed in the movie credits!

Three men who love history! From left to right: Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, director Steven Spielberg, and filmmaker Ken Burns.

Three men who love history! From left to right: Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero, director Steven Spielberg, and filmmaker Ken Burns.

 

NINE

Virtual Genealogy Fair

The annual Genealogy Fair draws thousands of visitors to the National Archives for two days of genealogy-focused lectures, vendors, and research opportunities. But when sequestration meant the Fair had to be cancelled, National Archives staff looked for an easy and cost-effective way to bring the Fair to the genealogists. They held a successful virtual Fair on Ustream instead.

A comment from a follower on Twitter!

A comment from a follower on Twitter!

 

EIGHT

Fiftieth Anniversary of President Kennedy’s Assassination

This somber anniversary was marked by the exhibit “A Nation Remembers” at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, as well as a new web site anidealiveson.org, where citizens can share how President Kennedy inspired them. To allow anyone in the world to join in a ceremony of remembrance, the Library hosted a special live webcast of a musical tribute in honor of the memory of President Kennedy. There was no physical audience, just the backdrop of the sea that the President loved so much.

Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

Courtesy of the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library.

 

SEVEN

The Iraqi Jewish Archive

In June of 2003, the National Archives Preservation Programs received a call for help from Iraq. And so Doris Hamburg and Mary-Lynn Ritzenthaler boarded a C-130 cargo plane and flew to Baghdad. American soldiers had found tens of thousands of Jewish documents and books while searching in the flooded basement of Saddam Hussein’s intelligence headquarters. The historic material was soaking wet. Over the next several years, the documents would be cleaned, rehoused in custom-built boxes, stabilized, cataloged, and digitized. Experts in Jewish history, Iraqi and Jewish history, the Iraqi Jewish community, and Jewish rare books lent their skills and knowledge.

The exhibit “Discovery and Recovery: The Iraqi Jewish Archive” will be on display until January 5, 2014. You can also see the digitized documents online in a new, permanent website.

Water-damaged books and documents inside a freezer truck in Baghdad.

Water-damaged books and documents inside a freezer truck in Baghdad.

 

SIX

150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

For three days, hundreds of people waited outside in a long line for their chance to see this fragile document, which was on display from December 30, 2012, to January 1, 2013.  At midnight on December 31, 2012, inside the Rotunda of the National Archives, the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was celebrated with ceremony, joy, and song. You can read reactions from the public in this Storify post.

An honor guard of reenactors (B Company, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, US Colored Troops) stands watch over the Emancipation Proclamation during the special display on January 1, 2013 (Photo by Charles Fazio)

An honor guard of re-enactors (B Company, 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment, US Colored Troops) stands watch over the Emancipation Proclamation during the special display. (Photo by Charles Fazio)

 

FIVE

The Re-Dedication of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library

In 1939, President Roosevelt donated his personal and Presidential papers to the Federal Government, marking the beginning of the modern Presidential Library system that is part of the National Archives. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, was the first Presidential library built in the United States. Roosevelt led its conception and building, and he is the only President to have used his library while in office. The official FDR Library dedication was a small, quiet affair, with close friends and family attending the ceremony.

Exactly 72 years after President Roosevelt first dedicated the library, any interested person could attend the re-dedication in June of 2013 by watching the ceremony live online.

What’s the newly renovated Library like? Read the New York Times review of the exhibits.

The Carolyn D. Palmer sculptures of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were delivered and mounted in their new home in the renovated lobby of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. These beautiful new sculptures — designed for and donated to the Library — can be touched by the public and will help the Roosevelt Library fulfill its commitment to accessibility for all its visitors.

The Carolyn D. Palmer sculptures of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were delivered and mounted in their new home in the renovated lobby of the FDR Presidential Library and Museum. These beautiful new sculptures—designed for and donated to the Library—can be touched by the public and will help the Roosevelt Library fulfill its commitment to accessibility for all its visitors.

 

FOUR

Independence Day 2013

Each Fourth of July, come rain or shine or humidity, the National Archives throws a party on the front steps of the National Archives Building to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The highlight for many of our new and returning guests is the chance to boo and huzzah in response to the dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence by re-enactors. Music was provided this year by the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps and the United States Air Force Band, and the Continental Color Guard Team of the 3rd United States Old Guard presented the colors.

Fourth of July at the National Archives is presented in partnership with the Foundation for the National Archives and is made possible in part by the generous support of lead sponsor John Hancock Financial and Dykema.

Fourth of July at the National Archives. (Photo by Chuck Fazio)

Fourth of July at the National Archives. (Photo by Chuck Fazio)

 

THREE

Founding Fathers Are Now Online

For the past 50 years, teams of editors have been copying documents from historical collections scattered around the world that serve as a record of the Founding Era. They have transcribed hundreds of thousands of documents—letters, diaries, ledgers, and the first drafts of history—and have researched and provided annotation and context to deepen our understanding of these documents. Founders Online is a new website at the National Archives that will allow people to search these documents, and read just what the Founders wrote and discussed during the first draft of the American democracy.

This revolutionary new site was created through a partnership between the University of Virginia Press and the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (the grantmaking arm of the National Archives). The Founding Fathers included in this project are John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.

Search the writings of the Founding Fathers in one place

Search the writings of the Founding Fathers in one place

 

TWO

Opening of the George W. Bush Library

 The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum holds more than 70 million pages of textual records, 43,000 artifacts, 200 million emails (totaling roughly 1 billion pages), and 4 million digital photographs (the largest holding of electronic records of any of our Presidential libraries). For National Archives staff, the task of collecting this material, cataloging and processing it, and making it available to the public began on January 20, 2009, four years before the official opening. You can read more about how it all came together in this blog post.

The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, accepts custody of the George W. Bush Library on April 24, 2013.

The Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero, accepts custody of the George W. Bush Library on April 24, 2013.

 

ONE

The Opening of the new Orientation Plaza and the David M. Rubenstein Gallery

And finally, our top moment of 2013! The new visitor orientation plaza and the David M. Rubenstein Gallery gallery opened to the public on December 11.The gallery and exhibit were made possible by a $13.5 million gift from David M. Rubenstein to the Foundation for the National Archives, as well as funding from Congress.  The opening represents the culmination of years of work of many of our National Archives staff from many different departments: exhibits, events, facilities, security, communications, legal, facilities, preservation, digitization labs, Research Service archivists, and more.

The new plaza features new and better signage, a renovated gift shop, a new movie introducing the archives, and a tromp l’oeil mural in the ceiling to prompt visitors to go upstairs to the Rotunda to see the Constitution.

But the most eye-catching part might be the new permanent exhibit “Records of Rights.” From inside the darkened doorway, the 1297 Magna Carta beckons visitors to come inside and explore the original and facsimile  documents—and even an innovative 17-foot interactive table—to discover how Americans throughout our history have debated issues such as citizenship, free speech, voting rights, and equal opportunity.

America’s founding documents—the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights—are icons of human liberty. But the ideals enshrined in those documents did not initially apply to all Americans. They were, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” The new “Records of Rights” exhibit allows visitors to explore how generations of Americans have sought to ensure this promise is kept.

Come and visit to see for yourself, read this review, or explore the exhibit online.

The 1297 Magna Carta, on loan from David M. Rubenstein, at the entrance of the new "Records of Rights" exhibit.

The 1297 Magna Carta, on loan from David M. Rubenstein, at the entrance of the new “Records of Rights” exhibit.


One table, 300 documents to explore

When the David M. Rubenstein Gallery opened to the public on December 11, visitors found that the focal point of the Records of Rights exhibit isn’t a static document, but a 17-foot-long interactive table containing hundreds of digital documents.

garland boys

The interactive table is fascinating for visitors of all ages!

“From the beginnings of concept development, our team wanted a central element for the exhibit,” curator Alice Kamps explained. “An interactive table seemed like a great way to bring interaction in and among our visitors. Once that platform was established, we had to figure out what we wanted it to do.”

Work on the table began about two years ago. The engineering and software aspect was handled by D&P Inc. and Second Story Interactive Studios. “I think it’s really cool!” Kamps said enthusiastically. “The design is beautiful. The table reacts to the visitor’s presence through motion-sensing cameras. And it allows visitors to express their emotional reactions to the documents with other visitors.”

Visitors can pick positive, negative, and neutral emotion terms to represent how they felt about the document they are viewing. Then, they “push” the document towards the center of the table, where it will appear on a series of monitors on the walls flanking the table. A pop-up will be displayed in the other screens, inviting other viewers to explore the documents, too.

Not only did the team need to get the technology to work, but they also had to populate it with content. One obvious challenge the curators faced was that their subject matter was very broad. “It basically spans our entire history, as well as all the different types of civil rights,” Kamps said. “We wanted the table to be a place where people could learn about the struggles and rights beyond what is displayed in the exhibit.”

Washington, DC-area staff try out the interactive table at a staff preview of the Records of Rights exhibit in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery.

Staff try out the interactive table at a staff preview of the Records of Rights exhibit in the David M. Rubenstein Gallery.

More than 300 documents are represented on the table. Curators whittled the list down from the thousands they encountered in their research. The documents were then digitized and organized in a coherent manner. “We look for the most compelling stories, especially ones where ordinary Americans attempted to secure their rights, as well as looking for a good span representing different peoples and different rights.”

Kamps said the table enhances the exhibit by providing a place where visitors can come together and explore the issue of civil rights based on their own personal interests. “I hope they see that these struggles have affected all of us,” she said. Visitors can also experience the exhibit online at recordsofrights.org.

As for the exhibit as a whole, Kamps would like visitors to see that our history of rights hasn’t been a steady march to greater freedom. “There are times where rights were constricted, and times when it expanded,” she said. “Wasn’t it Thomas Jefferson who has been attributed as saying ‘Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty’? And it is. It really is.”

 

Curator Alice Kamps shows her son how to use the touchscreen on the interactive table.

Curator Alice Kamps shows her son how to use the touchscreen on the interactive table.


Celebrating the life of an ancestor who was a “12 Years A Slave”

This past summer, Vera Williams attended her annual family reunion and Solomon Northup Day. The day honors her great-great-great grandfather, Solomon Northup, a free black man who was kidnapped and forced into slavery in 1841. When Northup escaped, he wrote a book about his experiences and—most shockingly for that era—took his kidnappers to trial. The book was recently made into the movie 12 Years A Slave.

Solomon Northup Day was founded by Rene Moore, a local citizen of Saratoga Springs, NY, and has been celebrated for the past 15 years. Williams has helped organize family attendance to the events and manages a Facebook page for Solomon Northup Family and Friends. Relatives come together from across the country—including Williams’s own mother, who was honored this year as Northup’s oldest living descendant.

William fholding a first edition of "12 Years a Slave," written by her great-great-great-grandfather Solomon Northup. Williams purchased the book from Lyrical Bookstore in Silver Springs where she was attending the 15-year celebration of Solomon Northup Day.

Williams, center, holding a first edition of 12 Years a Slave, written by her great-great-great-grandfather Solomon Northup. Williams purchased the book from Lyrical Bookstore in Saratoga Springs, NY, where she was attending Solomon Northup Day.Vera Williams has worked at the National Archives since 2010, but she had no idea that records documenting her family history were in her workplace.

This year, the attendees included film executives, actress Lupita Nyong’o, and other representatives from the movie 12 Years A Slave. Moore had contacted Fox Searchlight Pictures to tell them about the annual celebration, and in turn the film company reached out to Williams to let her know they were doing screenings around country.

Guests at the Solomon Northup Day celebration in July were shown a trailer of the movie and comments from various people associated with the film including director Steve McQueen. Williams had the opportunity to speak with Nyong’o about her experience playing a slave. “She teared up and said it was the hardest role she had ever played,” said Williams.

For Williams, the story of her ancestor has been part of her life since she was young; her mother was given a copy of the book by her grandmother. Even now, she thinks about what it must have been like for Northup as a free man in the North to suddenly become a slave in the South. Williams notes that it was very different to live in that time knowing about slavery, but believing it happened only to other people.

“We can all relate to being 30 something, doing what we want, when we want—it is called freedom,” said Williams. “Solomon Northup had that freedom and the American Dream. He was a free man with a family and home, he was self employed. Then to have that freedom taken away—how you endure and become the person you need to be to survive?” she wonders.

Some of Northup’s experience is documented in Williams’s own workplace, the National Archives. Northup and his family appear in the 1840 Federal census under the category “Free Colored Persons.” One year later, Northup—now called Platt Hamilton—is listed in the slave manifest for the brig Orleans.

Brig Orleans

The slave manifest for the brig Orleans includes Solomon Northup, listed as Plat Hamilton (#33).

Although she joined the National Archives four years ago, she only recently became interested in the records. As an IT specialist, she was “thinking more systems not content,” she notes. But there may be more documentation of Williams’s own story still to be found in the National Archives. The men who kidnapped Northup were brought to trial, but the case was dismissed, as blacks were not allowed to sue whites in the 1850s. With the help of fellow staff members, Williams is now hunting for these court records. Little is known about the end of Northup’s life—he disappeared, leaving only speculation about his death and burial.

Other mysteries remain. Williams is descended from Alonzo Northup, one of Solomon’s three children, but her family does not know much about the other two children, Elizabeth and Margret. “It’s one of my goals to find out what I can about them and share the information with the family,” says Williams.