New archival collections at your favorite repository may be the long-awaited key to solving your family history mysteries! But how can you keep up with what’s new at archives and libraries? Professional archivist Melissa Barker shares her favorite tips.
Not long ago, Lisa Louise Cooke read my article on what’s new at the Utah State Archives. She asked me how I keep up with new archival collections at my favorite repositories.
New Archival Collections May Be Just What We Need
Many of us can say that our ancestors were living in a certain area and their records should be located at certain local archives, libraries, or genealogical or historical societies. Maybe we have even done research there in the past, either by visiting the facility, contacting them by phone or email, or using their records online. Records, photographs, ephemera, and artifacts are constantly being discovered and made available in all of our wonderful archives. Many of these records may not make it to microfilm or online, but they are so rich with family information. (Don’t know where to look? Click here to learn how to find archives and libraries near your ancestor’s locale.)
But trying to keep up with all the new records that are being processed in archives, libraries, and genealogical societies can make your head spin! So how are genealogists supposed to stay current?
3 Ways to Keep Up with New Archival Collections
1. Check the archives website. See if they have announced new records collections that are available for research (many archives do). The archives may even have a blog or newsletter that you can subscribe to, which will give you the latest news right at your fingertips. Not only will the archives announce new records that are available but they will even let their patrons know what has been recently donated to the archives and which records are currently being processed.
2. See if the archive has a social media presence. Archives like to post photos of new discoveries and records collections that are ready for the researcher. I know at the Houston County, TN. Archives I like to scan and post images of great documents or artifacts to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. (Like the post pictured here that I shared recently.)
LISA’S TIP: Remember to use Google search terms to find your favorite archive’s website and social media homes! A quick search such as National Archives Pinterest might be faster than trying to find it on the actual social media site. That search brings up tempting boards for National Archives in both the US and the UK:
3. When visiting an archive, ask: “What’s new?” Talk to archivists about records collections that have recently been processed and made available for research. This is a great way to find more information and records about your ancestors. As an archivist who processes records on a daily basis that are not online or even microfilmed, I get excited about sharing what I find with the genealogy community.
Until next time, this is The Archive Lady, remember it’s not all online, so contact or visit an archive today!
Learn More about Using Archival Collections
Listen to me on the free Genealogy Gems Podcast! This year the podcast is celebrating its 10th-year anniversary. Tune in to hear more inspiring stories and tips to help your family history research. Listen on your computer or on your mobile device through the Genealogy Gems app. Click here to learn more.
Every week we blog about new genealogy records online. Which ones could be the key to busting your genealogy brick walls? New this week? Vital records for Delaware, South Dakota, Illinois and Texas. Italy civil registrations. Newspapers from Indianapolis, Louisville KY and San Bernadino CA. Immigrant passenger lists for Mississippi ports.
DELAWARE VITAL RECORDS. Over a million images of vital records from Delaware (1650-1974!) have been added to a 3-million strong collection you can browse at FamilySearch. Images of birth, marriage and death records for the city of Wilmington, Delaware are also newly browsable on FamilySearch. These date mostly to 1881. Birth records end in 1919; marriages and deaths in 1954.
ILLINOIS BIRTH CERTIFICATES. Over 370,000 births from Cook County, Illinois (home to Chicago) are now indexed at FamilySearch. These span 1878-1938; more records will be added on an ongoing basis.
ITALY CIVIL REGISTRATION. FamilySearch continues to churn out newly-digitized Italy civil registrations to its free site. They’re not indexed yet, but these are newly browsable: Arezzo (back to the 1300s!), Bergamo, Cremona, Enna, Imperia (San Remo) and nearly a million images for Pescara. Birth, marriage and death records may all contain important genealogical information.
U.S. NEWSPAPERS. Newspaper.com subscribers now have access to over 200,000 pages (1868-1922) from The Courier-Journal (Louisville, KY), over 107,000 pages (1907-1922) from The Indianapolis Star (IN) and 1.3 million pages (1894-1998) from The San Bernadino County Sun (CA)
U.S. IMMIGRATION–MISSISSIPPI PORTS. Indexed images of passenger arrival records at the ports of Gulfport (1904-1964) and Pascagoula (1903-1935, 1955-1964) are now available to Ancestry subscribers. According to the database description, “they typically include the name of the vessel and arrival date, ports of departure and arrival (as well as future destinations on a ship’s itinerary), dates of departure and arrival, shipmaster, full name, age, gender, physical description, military rank (if any), occupation, birthplace, citizen of what country, and residence. For military transports, you may find the next of kin, relationships, and address listed as well. Later manifests may include visa or passport numbers.”
SOUTH DAKOTA BIRTHS AND MARRIAGES. Nearly 700,000 indexed records comprise this new FamilySearch collection. The collection spans 1843-2014.
TEXAS MARRIAGES. About 1.3 million indexed records and related images have been added to a Texas county marriage records collection at FamilySearch.
Please help us spread the word about these new genealogy records online! Thank you! You are a gem!
Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) are 20th and 21st U.S. military records for conflicts such as WWI, WWII, and beyond. OMPFs are packed with great genealogy clues, but millions were destroyed by a 1973 fire. Here’s how to find what records still remain, and what you might find if your relative’s OMPF went up in flames.
What are Official Military Personnel Files?
If your ancestor served in the U.S. military during the 20th or 21st century, related service records are called Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs), or sometimes “201 files,” named after the brown file folder that holds them. These are available for each of the military branches: Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard. They are generally held at the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis, Missouri. (Exceptions for veterans discharged since 1995 may be at other government offices.)
According to the National Archives, Official Military Personnel Files are “primarily an administrative record, containing information about the subject’s service history such as: date and type of enlistment/appointment; duty stations and assignments; training, qualifications, performance; awards and decorations received; disciplinary actions; insurance; emergency data; administrative remarks; date and type of separation/discharge/retirement; and other personnel actions.” The level of detail in complete files make them invaluable genealogical records.
How to Access Official Military Personnel Files
On July 12, 1973, a disastrous fire ravaged the building where the OMPFs were housed. Between 16 and 18 million personnel files were destroyed or damaged; these affected names alphabetically after James E. Hubbard. It was a serious loss for two particular branches of the military:
- Army Personnel discharged 1912-1960: 80% Loss (4 in every 5 files).
- Air Force Personnel discharged 1947-1964: 75% Loss (3 in every 4 files). (Remember: the Air Force wasn’t officially organized until September 14, 1947. Before this date Air Force records were part of the United States Army Air Corps, then part of the U.S. Army.)
The Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard records were largely unaffected by the fire.
Surviving OMPFs and reconstructed records relating to destroyed files are considered to be archival (or open to researchers without restrictions) 62 years after the date of discharge. This is a rolling date, so discharge dates of 1955 and earlier are open to the public. In 2018, that date will change to 1956, and so on. More recent records are considered non-archival and subject to restrictions; only the veteran or next-of-kin have full access to the files.
You can access Official Military Personnel Files in three ways:
1. Go to St. Louis in person. Appointments are recommended, as research space is limited. Click here for information about requesting an appointment, the availability of records, copy fees, and hours of operation.
2. Employ an independent researcher. Click here for the National Archives’ list of researchers.
3. Request records by mail. Here’s a link to the online portal for requesting these records; here’s a direct link to the PDF format of Standard Form 180, which you can print and mail in.
My grandfather’s OMPF: What survived?
I didn’t fully grasp how many records were lost in the fire in 1973 until I ordered a record of one of my family members. When my grandfather Richard Keller was a small child, he received postcards from his great Uncle Zerbe Howard: I remember him. He died when I was 10 years old. Zerbe served during World War I and was a resident of Lebanon, PA.
I have in my possession the 2 postcards sent my grandfather that listed his name, rank, and military unit. I ordered his file which took several months, and when it arrived I expected it to be full of information. Unfortunately, his file was completely destroyed.
The only reconstructed records located were three pages recording him on a final payment roll with other men from his unit. Here’s an image of that record, which seems so sparse compared to what that original OMPF may have contained:
This final payment roll from Camp Dix, New Jersey is dated from April 1918 to May of 1919. It reveals that the soldiers on this roll were discharged on this date, that they were entitled to travel allowance and foreign service bonus pay of $60 and what their individual payments were. Zerbe even appears to have signed the record in his own scrawling handwriting. While it may be discouraging to have such limited information available due to the 1973 fire, it’s still worth pulling records such as these to track your military ancestors.
The National Personnel Record Center now has other records available to researchers to help fill in some of the gaps. For example, the Army filed Morning Reports, organized by unit. I also found local records in Pennsylvania that were not in the hands of the federal government. Listen to the free Genealogy Gems Podcast or come back to this blog for future tips on researching your 20th-century U.S. relatives’ military service.
Looking for 19th century US military records?
If your ancestor served in the military during the 1800s or earlier, you’ll want to look for his Compiled Military Service Records at the National Archives in Washington, DC. The exact dates for each military branch vary in years accordingly. Click here to learn more about those.
For more ongoing training in tracing your military ancestors, tune in to the free Genealogy Gems Podcastand listen for my segment, “Military Minutes.”
According to Apple, iTunes crossed a huge milestone this year: 1 Billion Podcast Subscriptions! An incredible number considering that podcasting did not exist before 2005.
Podcasts continue to grow in popularity, and we have certainly seen that growth here at Genealogy Gems. The Genealogy Gems Podcast is fast approaching 1.5 million episode downloads. Here are more stats you might find interesting:
While most Genealogy Gems Podcast listeners live in the U.S., this map shows that genealogists around the world are tuning in:
Here are regions broken down by those downloading the most episodes:
Most of you are listening via iTunes (both online and loaded on to your favorite mobile device) and through the Genealogy Gems Podcast Mobile app:
Here’s a fun infographic we put together that you can share with your friends and on your blog: