From the National Archives Catalog

Commemorating Memorial Day

On May 27, 2019, our nation observes Memorial Day. Initially referred to as Decoration Day, Memorial Day was observed by many communities after the Civil War, when the nation suffered more than 620,000 military deaths, roughly 2 percent of the total population at the time. John A. Logan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Grand Army of Republic, chose May 30, 1868, as a day to decorate the graves of Union troops across the nation. From this beginning, Memorial Day is now designated as an annual day of remembrance to honor all those who have died in service to the United States during peace and war.

In observance of Memorial Day, we are looking more closely at a newly digitized series of records from the Cartographic Branch at the National Archives: Initial Burial Plats for World War I American Soldiers.

This series consists of blueprints of survey maps and field drawings created by the 29th Army Corps of Engineers for the Graves Registration Service during World War I. The maps detail locations of scattered and isolated soldier grave sites. Each grave is identified by the soldier’s name, rank, serial number, and unit, if known. The plats also show surrounding landmarks, buildings, and other markers that could be used to identify the location of the burial.

The survey dates to 1919 and is arranged into four Plat Books labeled A, B, C, and D.

Do you want to help make these records name searchable in our Catalog? Look for names of soldiers within each burial plat, and tag the image with the names you see. Every name you add helps make the record searchable by soldier’s name. Get started now!

These records and more are held by the Cartographic Branch at the National Archives. Learn more about these records and the activities of the Graves Registration Service during World War I on Brandi Oswald’s post on the The Unwritten Record blog.

The American Soldier in WWII

The American Soldier in World War II digital project was launched a year ago in commemoration of V-E, Victory-in-Europe, Day, on May 8, 2018. This joint venture of Virginia Tech, the National Archives, the Social Science Research Council, and the University of Virginia aims to digitize and make freely available a large, unique collection of World War II records, including about 65,000 pages of uncensored commentaries written by soldiers about their military service and wartime experiences, which are held in RG 165: Records of the War Department General and Special Staffs, 1860 – 1952.

These anonymous reflections were collected during the war by the US Army Research Branch. Volunteers on the crowdsourcing platform have now transcribed in triplicate over half of the soldiers’ reflections—that is just under of 104,000 individual annotations. Consider helping finish the second half. Visit the American Soldier in World War II on Zooniverse.

News from the National Archives Catalog

What’s in a name? Help make naturalization records name searchable

What’s in a name? Quite a lot, it turns out, if you are searching for a petition for naturalization and do not know the court of naturalization or petition number. And if you’re in the midst of family or historical research, you’re probably already looking for these records (or you soon will be!). Even though petitions for naturalization filed prior to October 1906 typically contain less information than those filed after that date, these records can be an invaluable resource and remain some of our most requested records at the National Archives at New York City.

This series of Petitions for Naturalization, newly added to the Catalog, contains copies of naturalization records for individuals who filed in Federal, state and local courts in New York from 1790 through 1906. As a general rule, the National Archives does not hold naturalization records created in State or local courts. However, because this series of records is comprised of copies of the originals, our New York office maintains petitions for naturalization filed through Federal, state, and local courts in New York City for the years 1794-1906.

Still not convinced you need to track down these records? Well, that’s where the Catalog comes in! This significant part of our naturalization collection was recently added to the Catalog. The entire series of petitions for naturalization filed through Federal, state, and local courts in New York City prior to October 1906 (over 598 records!) are available in the Catalog in their entirely–the whole record! The records contain the petitioner’s name, age, place of birth, occupation, date and place of emigration, as well as date and place of arrival in the United States.

These records are not yet searchable by name in our Catalog, but that’s where you come in! Help us make these records more searchable by tagging the records with the petitioner’s name, or go a step further and transcribe the entire record.

On the petition for naturalization. Look for the names of the petitioners within the record and type the names you see in the Tag field. This now makes the record searchable by name!

Look for names of petitioners within the naturalization records.Tag the names so they’re searchable. No need to transcribe the entire page (but we won’t stop you!).

Tag it! Introducing the National Archives Facebook Chatbot

What do you get when you have an bold strategic goal to have one million records enhanced by citizen archivists in the National Archives Catalog and an idea to try something new on a social site? You create a Facebook Messenger Chatbot, of course!

You’ve already tagged records in the Catalog, now here is a fun new way to help make records more accessible. And it’s easy to participate. From your phone or desktop, navigate to the National Archives Facebook page. (Give us a follow! We post about lots of cool finds and interesting events!) To start chatting with the bot, tap on the Send Message button, and type “hi” in the text box.

The chatbot will open, and give you the option to tag a document or ask a question. When you choose tag a document, the bot will serve you a record from the Catalog, and you can tag the document as typed, handwritten, or both. This helps us sort the documents by difficulty, which can then help citizen archivists transcribe the records in the Catalog.

You can keep tagging and sorting documents, but you can also use the bot to answer your questions about visiting the National Archives and starting your research, learn some archives trivia, or see an interesting photo from our Catalog (like these awesome track workers in 1943!).

Our chatbot makes participating in citizen archivist activities easy and available on a platform you might already be using. So stop by our Facebook page, say “hi” and let’s get tagging!

Learn more on our NARAtions blog.  And review other National Archives Catalog Newsletters by clicking HERE.

“Pension File Discoveries” from the 8/9/18 National Archives Newsletter

Pension file discoveries

We are fascinated by the remarkable stories found within military pension files. They often contain valuable details about family history, as told through military veterans themselves, or through their widows and dependents who provided evidence of their relationship to a soldier

Today we share a couple of the interesting stories recently found within pension files while scanning in the Innovation Hub in Washington DC…

“Approved Pension File for Bettie Sugar, Widow of 1st Sergeant Sugar George (alias George Sugar), Company H, 1st Indian Home Guards (C-2496362)”  

Widows of veterans often applied for pensions, and sometimes proving you were the legitimate spouse could be complicated. For the pension of George Sugar (aka Sugar George), his widow Bettie Sugar had to first prove she was divorced from her first husband.

She married a man named Peter Smith, also enslaved. After the war and emancipation, they continued living together for a few years, until Peter apparently left and married someone else.

Some years later, Bettie married George Sugar. When George died around the turn of the century, Bettie filed for his pension. The Pension Office inquired if she had divorced her first husband, making her George Sugar’s legal widow.  However, she didn’t have a legal divorce while living in the Creek Nation. She explained, “I never got a divorce from Peter Smith but when he married again I thought I had the right to marry again.” The Bureau of Pensions agreed: if a marriage was legal according to the law of the land where the person married, it was good enough for the Pension Office. The same rule applied to divorces. Also of note in this file is a copy of Bettie Sugar’s assets. She inherited from her husband seventy head of cattle, nine horses, 160 acres of land and $12,500 in cash.

“Private Lewis Martin, Company E of the 29th Regiment of the US Colored Troops”

In this file, Private Lewis Martin’s official Certificate of Disability for Discharge includes an image of Martin, seated, showing the two amputated limbs he’d received in battle at the  Siege of Petersburg on July 30th 1864. Photographs are a rare find in pension files. Martin was plagued by pain from his amputation sites as well as where shots had grazed his shoulder and temple, but did go on to marry Mary Jones after the war in 1869. His file documents requests for an increase in his pension, which raised from an original pension of $20 to $50 per month over the decades. He dropped off the Pension Office’s rolls in 1895.