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Tag: Pieces of History

A Civil War Widow’s Story

Intriguing discoveries are made all the time in the National Archives. This tintype of a woman and child doesn’t look like the typical federal record, let alone one associated with military records. But it was found in one of the 1.28 million Civil War Widows Certificate Approved Pension Case Files. Since 2007, a team of volunteers has been working on a project to digitize these records and make them available online, and from time to time, unexpected treasures turn up.

The file of one widow, Adelia M. Fish, holds quite a story. Her first husband, Joseph Springer served as a private in Company A, Seventh Michigan Cavalry, and died at Andersonville Prison in October 1864. She had four children under the age of 16 when she applied for her pension in June 1865.

In July 1872 Adelia married Jason B. Webb, and she was dropped from the pension rolls. Webb left their home in Battle Creek, MI, in the fall of 1872, and Adelia never saw him or heard from him again. Presuming him dead, she married a third time to Washington A. Fish in 1883. Adelia had no children by either Webb or Fish.

After Fish died on August 11, 1915, Adelia, now 77, applied for restoration to the pension rolls based on her first husband Springer’s service.

Because Webb had disappeared and was … [ Read all ]

Hats off to Bess Truman!

Here at Prologue: Pieces of History, we have Facial Hair Friday. On the Harry S. Truman Library’s Facebook page, they celebrate Millinery Monday! When I was very little, I loved poking through my mother’s old hatboxes stored in the basement. Alas, the era of wearing hats for every occasion had passed, but she had saved her favorites.

Bess Truman apparently did the same thing. The Truman Library has several of her hats and many more photographs of her in hats at various stages of her life. Scrolling through the Truman Library’s page is a good substitute for exploring my mother’s hatboxes. Not only do you get to see some remarkable chapeaux, but you also get to see the very stylish young Bess Wallace (and others) wearing the hats.

Because Millinery Monday covers the span of Bess Truman’s life, we get to see how hat styles changed from the start of the 20th century through its late decades. We also get to see a part of the library’s collection that is not usually seen by the public. On the National Archives Facebook page, click through our list of “Favorite Pages” to find out more about the Presidential libraries, regional archives, and other units that are all part of the National Archives and Records Administration. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.

Besides looking through the old hatboxes … [ Read all ]

Exploring the polar regions

As frigid temperatures cover much of the country, and many areas are still dealing with record amounts of snow, my thoughts turn to the polar explorers of the early 20th century. They didn’t have Goretex jackets with superwarm linings, satellite communications, or portable computers. Our “Pieces of History” blog takes its name from a regular feature on the last page of the print version of Prologue, and today I’m sharing a vintage print ”Piece” about an unusual artifact found in the polar archives collection at the National Archives.

* * *

“The Pole at last!!!” With these words Robert E. Peary began his diary entry for April 6, 1909. His team, he believed, had become the first to reach the top of the world, a dream he had pursued for 20 years. In those years, Peary made eight expeditions to the Arctic region, three specifically to reach the Pole. As Peary’s papers make clear, supplying such expeditions was a tremendous task. Clothing, tents, food, cooking utensils—everything needed to survive Arctic temperatures for months—had to be packed in on foot and by dog sledge. The explorers also required scientific instruments so they could make observations, determine their locations, and gather data to record their progress.

Along with a sextant, telescope, and artificial horizon, the Peary Family Collection in the National Archives includes the explorer’s theodolite. A … [ Read all ]

Top Ten Pieces of History for 2010

Since April 2010, we’ve brought you more than 100 Pieces of History. Nothing too small, too strange, or too obscure has escaped the spotlight of our blog or the scalpel of your clever comments.

And we are still discovering new pieces of history every day here at the National Archives! But before we go forward into the 2011, let’s take a look back at some of the posts that our readers (and us, the writers) liked best.

TEN: Admittedly, Horace Greeley does not have the most massive chin whiskers of our Facial Hair Fridays stars, but the word “neard” has been introduced into our vocabulary. The world will never be the same.

NINE: With the “Discovering the Civil War” exhibit in full swing, it turns out there is a lot we didn’t know about the Civil War. Ten things, in fact.

EIGHT: Though the Constitution might have preventing her from voting, it did not prohibit Jeanette Rankin from joining the House of Representatives.

SEVEN: Time and space collide when William Shatner is Norton P. Chipman!

SIX: West Virginia–is it actually a state in the Constitutional sense?

FIVE:  The people of Alaska wake up new American citizens and eleven days in the future.

FOUR: Is that a moleskine in your pocket or a mole skin in your file?

THREE:  What’s in your wallet? The Secret Service wants to know.… [ Read all ]

Mole in place at the Archives

Researching in original records often provides the researcher with surprises. Usually the surprise takes the form of an unknown letter, a reference to your topic in an unexpected place, or a lead that directs you to a new set of records to mine. Once in a great while, the surprise is something no one could have imagined.

In late 2005, an Archives staff member was pulling a file from the Civil War Widows Certificate Approved Pension Case Files for a researcher. The file seemed unusually bulky, so he opened it. Inside the folder, tucked between sheets of a letter was one of the most unusual items found in the records of the National Archives: the preserved skin of a mole.

Now, moles make appearances in archival records all the time—but they’re usually undercover spies mentioned in intelligence or diplomatic reports. This 19th-century insectivore came from the literal underground, and one ill-fated day he found himself in the tent of a Union soldier.

The soldier, James J. Van Liew, didn’t care to share his tent with this uninvited guest and captured it. As (a joke? a love token?), Van Liew sent the skin to his wife, Charity. She kept it for years but lost his original letter.

In July 1900, Charity applied to the government for a widow’s pension. In these applications, the widow had to … [ Read all ]