United States Colored Troops (USCT) Service Records Digitization Project

Here’s the latest from the National Archives:

National Archives Marks 150th Anniversary of U.S. Colored Troops

Sic semper tyrannis - 22th Regt. U.S. Colored Troops, 1864. Bowser, David Bustill, 1820-1900 , artist

Sic semper tyrannis – 22th Regt. U.S. Colored Troops, 1864. Bowser, David Bustill, 1820-1900 , artist

Washington, DC. . . Marking (the) 150th anniversary of its creation, the National Archives announces the completion of the United States Colored Troops (USCT) Service Records Digitization Project, in partnership with Fold3.  For the first time, this collection – nearly four million images of historic documents with detailed information on former slaves – is available online to anyone, anywhere.

On May 22, 1863, the War Department issued General Orders 143, establishing a Bureau of Colored Troops in the Adjutant General’s Office to recruit and organize African American soldiers to fight for the Union Army.  These service records – including those of the men of the famed 54th Massachusetts Infantry featured in the movie Glory – are a treasure trove for genealogists and a rich source of documentation on the black experience in America during the Civil War.

Researchers may be surprised to find that the USCT military service records hold not only muster rolls but also a huge array of personal papers that can include enlistment papers, correspondence, orders, prisoner-of-war memorandums, casualty reports, and final statements.  Starting in October 1863, slave owners could enlist their slaves and receive up to $300 upon filing a “manumission” or deed of ownership.  Unique to some of the records of the USCT are these deeds of manumission and bills of sale.  For genealogists, these records may offer the only source of documentation of an enslaved ancestor in the absence of other vital records.

For the first time, these valuable historical records are available online, thanks to Fold3, and to National Archives staff and volunteers who spent years preparing, preserving, microfilming, and digitizing them.  The collection is available free of charge to non-subscribers on www.fold3.com/category_268 today through May 31, and can be accessed for free at any time on computers at National Archives research facilities nationwide.

In total, the USCT consisted of seven cavalry regiments; 13 artillery regiments plus one independent battery; 144 infantry units; two Brigade Bands; and other miscellaneous smaller units.  Records are arranged by regiment and then alphabetically by surname of the soldier.

The USCT fought in 39 major engagements and more than 400 other ones.  Sixteen African American soldiers received the Medal of Honor.  The last USCT regiment was mustered out of Federal service in December 1867.

One soldier chronicled in the records is Edmund Delaney, a slave who served in Company E of the 117th USCT Infantry.  Delaney was 25 years old when he enlisted in August 1864.  His owner, Harvey C. Graves of Georgetown, Kentucky, filed a compensation claim for Delaney’s military service in December 1866, stating that Delaney was “purchased at private sale when he was quite a small boy.”  Graves attached to his “proof of ownership” a rare photo of Delaney, and letters Delaney had written to him while serving in Brownsville, Texas.

Another soldier’s file reads like an ultimate page turner and details the tragic story of Fortune Wright, a free black man before the Civil War who served in the 96th USCT Infantry.  Read USCT project manager Jackie Budell’s fascinating Prologue “Pieces of History” blog post.

More information:

Female Census Enumerators? Check Out These Backstories!

There’s a story behind every census record. In fact, there are as many stories as there are names on each census page. This is true not just for people being enumerated, but also for the census-takers themselves.

A female census taker interviews a mother and child for the 1950 US Census. Image courtesy of the US Census Bureau, found at Flickr Creative Commons, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/.

A female census taker interviews a mother and child for the 1950 US Census. Image courtesy of the US Census Bureau, found at Flickr Creative Commons, https://www.flickr.com/photos/uscensusbureau/5020542240/in/photostream/.

I was reminded of this by Joanne, author of the Researching Relatives blog. She wrote in response to a blog post I wrote about a census taker a few months ago:

genealogy gems podcast mailbox“Thank you for inspiring me with one of your posts from October. I never paid attention to the census takers until I read your post, and then I went back and looked at some random pages and found two female census enumerators.”

Of course I went right to her blog. She says she looked through random census entries about her relatives without finding anything special. Then, “In the 1930 census, the enumerator was Anna M. Allen and, in 1940, it was Bessie Dorgan. I’m guessing that female census takers weren’t that unusual, but it still caught me by surprise. So like Lisa, I wanted to find out more.” She put her research skills to work and learned more about these women and their roles as providers for their family. Click here to read more about her discovery.

 

Do you blog about your family history? Have you ever blogged about a discovery made in response to a tip you got from Genealogy Gems? I’d love to hear about it! Learn more about blogging your family history in my FREE Family History Made Easy podcast, episodes 38-42. Learn how-tos and get inspired by the stories of others who are sharing their family history discoveries online!

WPA Records for Genealogy: Historical Record Surveys, Local Histories and More

Have you used WPA records for genealogy? Their Historical Record Surveys and local and oral histories may help you in your family history research. Existing records and locations vary widely. Here are tips to help you in your search.

WPA records for genealogy

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, employees of the Works Progress Administration (WPA, also known as the Works Projects Administration) created new resources for U.S. genealogical research. It’s possible you’ve even consulted some of these without being aware of their WPA origins. After all, the projects and their formats varied. They didn’t always prominently credit the WPA and some were printed long afterward. We’re going to shine the spotlight on WPA-era local histories, oral histories and statewide Historical Record Surveys.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Local Histories

In Annie Barrows’ novel The Truth According to Us, Layla Beck heads to the small fictional town of Macedonia, West Virginia to write a local history as a WPA assignment. Drama ensues, both in Layla’s personal life and as she tries to learn local stories, which everyone reports a little differently. (We featured this book in the Genealogy Gems Book Club.)

Actually, local histories were written as WPA projects. Their scope, topics, and formats varied, depending on the unique background and resources of each region and how active WPA workers were in each state and county. For example, WPA historical materials in Morrison County, Minnesota include “histories on townships, cities, churches, schools, businesses, the military, and miscellaneous county history topics,” which have since been collected and reprinted by the county historical society. Many historical projects included photographs, such as this one for the city of New Orleans.

WPA Records for Genealogy: Oral Histories

WPA workers also captured oral histories of individuals, too. Many were collected in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers’ Project, 1936 to 1940, now online at the Library of Congress. According to the collection description, “The documents chronicle vivid life stories of Americans who lived at the turn of the century and include tales of meeting Billy the Kid, surviving the 1871 Chicago fire, pioneer journeys out West, factory work, and the immigrant experience. The documents often describe the informant’s physical appearance, family, education, income, occupation, political views, religion and mores.”

Other important WPA oral histories are narratives of former slaves and their families. You can browse an enormous collection of these online at the Library of Congress. These aren’t the ideal eyewitness accounts we wish for, as they were gathered so long after the end of slavery, from many who were young children at the time. Also, many researchers believe interviewees may not have spoken candidly, especially to white interviewers who may have known them personally.

It’s a long shot to find an ancestor mentioned by name in WPA oral histories. In some instances, pseudonyms were even used for names and places. But, you can still learn a lot from others’ descriptions of daily life and unusual events your ancestors may have experienced.

WPA oral history transcription

From one of the slave narratives mentioned in this article.

Historical Record Surveys

The Historical Record Surveys created by the WPA are among the most genealogically-valuable of their projects. “Under the auspices of the WPA, workers went to archives, historical societies, public and university libraries, and compiled inventories of manuscript collections,” writes Bryan Mulcahy in an online report. “They went to courthouses, town halls, offices in large cities, and vital statistics offices and inventoried records. Besides compiling indexes, they also transcribed some of the records they found.”

Today, many of their efforts still exist. They include indexes to cemeteries, newspapers, and naturalization records, as well as inventories of courthouse records, church records, and other manuscript collections in various archives or libraries. Of course, some records may have been moved or destroyed since inventories were created, but knowing what records existed around 1940 and what they were called may help you locate surviving collections. Some indexes, such as those of cemetery tombstone inscriptions, may actually be more valuable since they captured information from tombstones that may no longer exist or be legible.

A blank WPA Historical Records Survey church records inventory form. Image courtesy of the State Archives of Florida. Click this image to find it online at Florida Memory.

One great example is the Historical Records Survey for the state of Oregon, described as “the most comprehensive documentary project of Oregon history and related records of its time.” It includes historical essays, document transcriptions, interviews, research notes, photographs, pamphlets and more. According to its collection description, “The territorial and pioneer periods of the mid-to-late nineteenth century receive the greatest attention, with an emphasis on the growth of state government and infrastructure, business and agriculture, transportation, education, biography, and relations between social groups. Native Americans figure prominently in this collection.”

Finding WPA Records for Genealogy Online

Some WPA projects were carried out on a federal level and others by state agencies. They were never centrally published or collected. Today, surviving original files and published volumes are scattered across the country. Some can be found in the National Archives, many in state libraries or societies, and many more available at local repositories.

A Google search such as historical records surveys and the name of the state and/or county is a great way to start your search for WPA records for genealogy research. Some results will lead right to the kinds of resources you want, such as this guide to WPA records in archives in the Pacific Northwest. Others, such as this one for the Iowa Historical Records Survey published in The American Archivist, are mostly a history of the effort. However, they do contain several useful bibliographic citations to records that were created. Add the name of the county to your search and you may find more targeted results, such as this library catalog entry for the inventory of the Jasper County archives. Click here to learn more about Google searches for genealogy records you want to find.

Remember, though, that many WPA publications and collections aren’t identified as such. Don’t fixate on needing to find WPA listed in the title. Just concentrate your efforts on finding the local and oral histories, photos, historical record indexes and inventories, and other resources that may be out there. When you find one created during the Great Depression, you’ll know it may have been done by the WPA.

Love what you’re reading and want to learn more? Go deeper into genealogy “gems” like these in Lisa Louise Cooke’s Genealogy Gems Podcasts. Lisa produces a free internationally-renowned monthly podcast that’s had over 2.5 million downloads! Additionally, Genealogy Gems Premium website members also have access to her full archive of monthly Premium podcast epidodes: check out a full description of these here including Episode 2 on WPA records for genealogy.

We Dig These Gems! New Genealogy Records Online

We dig these gems new genealogy records onlineHere’s this week’s roundup of new genealogy records online: Australia, France, New Zealand and, in the U.S., records for AK, CO, IL, IN, MA, MD, ME, NH, NY, PA and WI.

AUSTRALIA – NORTHERN TERRITORY – PROBATE. Ancestry.com has a new probate index (1911-1994) for Northern Territory, Australia. The collection includes images of an index “organized first by year range, then alphabetically by surname and given name.”

FRANCE – MILITARY. FamilySearch.org has published a new online index to military conscription records for Saône-et-Loire (1867-1940). Privacy restrictions apply to those born less than 120 years ago.

NEW ZEALAND – PROBATE. More than 350,000 browsable records (and over 10,000 indexed records) have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of New Zealand probate records (1843-1998). Original records are sourced from Archives New Zealand offices in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Dunedin.

US – VARIOUS – MARINE. Over 315,000 records are part of a new Ancestry.com collection of applications for seaman’s protection certificates, (1916-1940).

US – VARIOUS – MARRIAGE. Findmypast.com announced the addition of around 10 million additional U.S. marriage records to its growing online collection. According to a press release, “This second installment includes significant additions from Indiana, New York, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Maine.” Nearly a million of these are new to online publication and, at least for now, exclusive to Findmypast. (The collection is part of a FamilySearch partnership.)

US – VARIOUS – PROBATE. Ancestry.com has updated its collections of wills and probate records for Wisconsin, Maryland and Colorado. Coverage by time period and county varies.

US – ARKANSAS – CIVIL WAR. About 172,000 indexed records have been added to a free FamilySearch collection of Arkansas Ex-Confederate Pension Records (1891-1939).

US – MASSACHUSETTS – TOWN CLERK RECORDS. FamilySearch has added nearly half a million indexed names to its free online collection, Massachusetts Town Clerk Vital and Town Records 1626-2001. A new related collection of Massachusetts town records is also available on FamilySearch.

US – NEW HAMPSHIRE. Over 100,000 indexed records have been added to a free FamilySearch.org collection of New Hampshire Birth Certificates (1901-1909). According to the collection description, “Records consist of index cards that give the town and date of the event and often much more information.”

sign up newsletterNew genealogy records appear online by the millions every week. Keep current by subscribing to the free weekly Genealogy Gems email newsletter. The newsletter comes with a free e-book by Lisa Louise Cooke on Google search strategies you can use to find MORE genealogy records online that you need. Simply enter your email address in the box at the top of this webpage where it says “Sign up.”

 

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