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2021 Genealogy Series

For more information, visit: National Archives Genealogy Series

Tuesday, May 4, at 1:00 p.m. ET

Preserving and Digitizing Personal Photo Albums and Scrapbooks

  • Presenters: Sara Holmes & Noah Durham
  • Skill level: All
  • Handout: coming soon!
  • YouTube
Preserving photo albums and scrapbooks can be especially challenging, often because they are bound and contain a variety of problematic materials. This session addresses how to work with the poor quality materials commonly found in personal scrapbooks and albums, how to maintain the integrity of the arrangement, and how to store photo albums and scrapbooks appropriately. Pro tips for home users include ways to digitize albums, organize electronic files, and preserve them as electronic records. Examples come from both National Archives and personal collections.

Wednesday, May 12, at 1:00 p.m. ET

Finding Genealogy Resources and Tools on

  • Presenter: Sarah Swanson
  • Skill level: All
  • Handout: coming soon!
  • YouTube

This presentation will provide an overview of what’s available for genealogists on the website, and demonstrate how to navigate to its many resources and tools, including the National Archives Catalog, the Access to Archival Databases (AAD) system, the Microfilm Catalog, topic pages, articles, reports, and blogs. We’ll explore the Genealogy portal page, and also see how the website is organized, which will enable you to do even more expansive searches for information.

Wednesday, May 19, at 1:00 p.m. ET

Tips and Tools for Engaging Family with Your Research Finds

  • Presenters: Missy McNatt & Dorothy Dougherty
  • Skill level: Beginner
  • Handout: coming soon!
  • YouTube

As the family historian, you have amassed information and records that will one day pass to the next family historian. How do you share your findings with others? How to engage young family members involved with all your hard research may be another story. Education staff members Missy McNatt and Dorothy Dougherty will demonstrate fun and engaging ways to connect research to your family, including younger family members. This lecture will highlight activities related to our most popular genealogy records, such as Immigrant Ship Arrivals, U.S. Census Records, Naturalization records, and Military and Pension files. The presenters will also demonstrate new ways to share your research finds online, using social media tools.

Tuesday, June 1, at 1:00 p.m. ET

From Here to There: Researching Office of Indian Affairs Employees

  • Presenters: Cara Lebonick & Cody White
  • Skill level: Experienced (all are welcome!)
  • Handout: coming soon!
  • YouTube

Researching ancestors who worked for Federal agencies is a popular topic at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). This presentation will tie together the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Official Personnel Files (OPF) held in St. Louis with agency records located in various NARA field sites. The session will open with what can be found in the OPFs and how to request them. Cara Moore Lebonick will conduct a deep dive into several OPF's of Native women employed by the BIA. Cody White will then explore how further information can be found in the regional records of the BIA. Together Cara and Cody will show how the holdings across the National Archives can provide a more complete genealogical story.

Tuesday, June 8, at 1:00 p.m. ET

Civil War Union Noncombatant Personnel: Teamsters, Laundresses, Nurses, Sutlers, and More

  • Presenter: Claire Kluskens
  • Skill level: Experienced (all are welcome!)
  • Handout: coming soon!
  • YouTube

The National Archives Building in Washington, DC contains many records about noncombatant civilians connected with the Union Army during the American Civil War. However, the records are underutilized because there is no comprehensive index, no “one” place to look, and require time-consuming research into obscure records. Digitization is slowly changing that, however! This lecture will provide suggestions for research with emphasis on online materials that can help you get started.

Tuesday, June 15, at 1:00 p.m. ET

Merchant Marine Records at the National Archives at St. Louis

  • Presenter: Theresa Fitzgerald
  • Skill level: All
  • Handout: coming soon!
  • YouTube

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recently accessioned the core collection of Merchant Marine Licensing Files, which are now open to the public for the first time at the National Archives at St. Louis. Theresa Fitzgerald will discuss these holdings as well as our auxiliary collections of Merchant Marine records that are complex and closely connected.


Live captioning will be available online with StreamText. If you require an alternative or additional accommodation for the event, please email

For more information, visit: National Archives Genealogy Series


Past Genealogy Fairs:

National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair, October 23, 2019

National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair - October 24, 2018

When conducting research on claims filed by U.S. nationals against foreign governments, one should look into records of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States (FCSC), which are located in Record Group 299 at the National Archives at College Park, MD.

The Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States is an independent agency within the Department of Justice that was established in 1954 to take over the functions previously carried out by the War Claims Commission and International Claims Commission.

  • The War Claims Commission was created as a temporary agency by the War Claims Act of 1948 to settle claims of former U.S. World War II prisoners of war and civilian internees captured, or in hiding to avoid capture, in places like the Philippines, and, in the case of prisoners of war, in Germany and other Axis countries. From 1949 to April 1, 1954, approximately $134 million was paid to claimants as a result of determinations by the War Claims Commission.


  • The International Claims Commission was established within the U.S. Department of State in 1949 to adjudicate claims involving the Yugoslav government, but was subsequently authorized to also handle similar claims between the United States and other foreign governments. By April 1, 1954, it had settled 531 claims.

A quasi-judicial agency, the FCSC determines the validity and monetary value of claims by U. S. nationals for loss or damage of property, or personal injury, in foreign countries. The claims it addresses fall either under specific jurisdiction conferred by Congress or in accordance with international claims settlement agreements. The funds for payment come out of congressional appropriations, international claims settlements, or liquidation of foreign assets in the United States by the Department of Justice or the Department of the Treasury. Decisions of the Commission with respect to claims are final and conclusive on all questions of law and fact, and are not subject to review by any official of the United States, or by any court. 

While the FCSC continues to adjudicate claims to this day, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) only has in its holdings the records of completed international and war-related claims programs against several countries. The main body of FCSC records in Record Group (RG) 299 consists of claims files arranged numerically. There are some indexes to the claims programs also arranged numerically. There is also some background material, such as correspondence and memoranda, relating to the organization and administration of the claims programs. At the National Archives at College Park, we have records of the completed programs including (in alphabetical order):  Bulgarian, Chinese, Czech, East German, Ethiopian, General War Claims, Hungarian, Italian, Micronesian, Panamanian, PolishRomanian, Soviet, Vietnamese, and Yugoslav.

Claims files typically contain claims forms; letters; affidavits; requests for confirmation of naturalization; confirmations of naturalization; registration forms; information on ownership and current status and use of the property; documentation on the value of the property usually issued by banks and courts of the countries the property is located in; and proposed and final decisions on the claims. Some of the claims files may also contain sworn statements; detailed inventories of the property; photographs of the property; reports; memoranda; copies of certificates of birth, death, and marriage; extracts from land records; letters from and to the U.S. Department of State; letters from and to the Office of Military Government for Germany (U.S.); and letters from and to members of Congress regarding specific claims. The claims files contain materials in different languages including German, Polish, Russian, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, French, Greek, Italian, Albanian, Spanish, and others. While most of the claims records in our holdings are fully available for research, records in a few series that were recently accessioned must be reviewed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for personal privacy information before being served to researchers.

FCSC Claim Form. W-6103. General War Claims, 1962-1995. Record Group 299. NAID 5956280.

The largest series among the claims files is the General War Claims totaling 717 linear feet of records. It was administered under the authority of Title II of the War Claims Act of 1948. It consists of claims arranged numerically W-1 through W-22968 that were filed by nationals of the United States for loss or destruction of, or physical damage to, property located in certain specified areas of Europe and the Pacific and for certain deaths and personal injuries resulting from military operations during World War II. Some claims files consist of a few pages, while others contain hundreds or even thousands of pages of documentation. The claimed lost or destroyed property ranges from factory buildings, equipment, machinery, residential buildings, apartments, cars, horses, furniture, rugs, linens, dining sets, jewelry, paintings, books, bank accounts and loans, cash, royalties, and patent manufacturing licenses to rights to intellectual property such as musical pieces or publications.

In 2011, when I was first creating a processing plan for RG 299, I realized that we had no way to assist researchers in locating these records by name of claimant, as we did not have a name index in our holdings. The researchers had to first contact the FCSC and request a name search and claim number associated with that name. Then they would contact the National Archives and ask for that specific claim file. I reached out to the FCSC and requested that the indexes be transferred to NARA so that we could facilitate access. The FCSC agreed and we accessioned the indexes to most of the claims programs in our holdings. We subsequently digitized the indexes and linked specific National Archives Catalog descriptions to the digital images of the corresponding indexes. The indexes are listed in each description in our Catalog under Online Resources and may be viewed and downloaded through the Catalog. In addition, we created container lists for the claims files series. By using the name index to get the claim number, then locating the claim on the box list, researchers can determine the exact box they would like to request at the National Archives at College Park before they arrive. In this way, a large portion of the preliminary research can now be done at home before a researcher visits our research room. Once you arrive at NARA, the only additional piece of information you will need in order to fill out the pull slips is the physical location of the box.

The records of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States can be a great source for family research as they provide vital information about individuals and their whereabouts at a given time. These files also illustrate the judicial process for post-World War II international claims within the United States.

National Archives staff member Claire Kluskens will participate in a panel discussion as part of Howard University Television’s preview of Season 6 of “Finding Your Roots” by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., on Thursday, 15 October 2020, at 6:30 p.m. This online event is free but you must register at

October 23, 2019 - Save the date!

Seventh Annual Virtual Genealogy Fair

2019 Virtual Genealogy FairEvery year, the National Archives hosts a virtual Genealogy Fair via live webcast on YouTube. The sessions offer family history research tools on Federal records for all skill levels. Thousands of family historians participate in the live event.

As a virtual attendee, you can:

  • Attend free of charge and registration!
  • Watch the entire day on YouTube.
  • Sign up for chat during the live event. In advance, create an account on YouTube.
  • Participate with the presenters and other family historians during the live event.
  • Join us – from wherever and whenever.
  • Watch individual sessions and download the materials at your convenience -- live or after the event.


Topics include:

  • Exploring History Hub for Genealogists and Researchers
  • Preserving Personal Collections
  • Immigrant Records: More Than Just Ship Passenger Arrival Lists
  • Researching Your World War I Sailor and Marine
  • Discovering and Researching Bureau of Indian Affairs School Records
  • The Homestead Act: Land Records of Your Ancestors

Complete schedule and more information at:

1. Begin with yourself. Organize your knowledge. Fill out a five-generation ancestral chart and a family group sheet for each ancestral couple. Organize and study any family papers you have.


2. Talk about your project with your relatives. They may know information about your ancestors that you don’t know.


3. Begin your census research with the 1940 census and work your way backwards. Find all members of the extended family for a complete picture of the family. The more you know about the whole family, the easier it will be to work yourself around “brick walls.”


4. Use the clues you find in one record to help you locate other records. For example, the 1920 census might indicate your immigrant ancestor arrived in the U.S. in 1901 and naturalized in 1907. Those are good clues–but don’t expect them to be 100% accurate.


5. Census, military service, military pension, immigration, naturalization, and land records are some of the most useful Federal Records for genealogical research. Other Federal records may be useful to you depending on what relationships your ancestors had with various federal agencies. Read more on the National Archives website,


6. Birth and death records have been kept by state bureaus of vital statistics since “about” 1900. (The year that state registration began varies by state.) Contact the state archives or appropriate state agency. Birth and death records before 1900 may have been kept at county records offices.


7. Marriage, divorce, land, mortgage, tax, voter registration, and other records were kept by county records offices. Contact the appropriate office or state or county archives.


8. Libraries have local history and genealogy collections. You’ll find published records of all types, compiled genealogies, and local newspapers on microfilm.


9. Learn… then learn more…. Read books and online articles on how to do genealogical research. Join genealogical societies (national, state, and local, both where you live and where your ancestors lived). Attend your local genealogy society meetings and classes.


10. The name may not be spelled in various records as you expect it to be spelled. Be flexible. For example, Hayford might be Heyford, Hafford, Haford, Hefford, Heford, and so forth. Remember that immigrants’ first names may be in their native language, for example: John might be Jan, Ivan, Iwan, Johannes, Johann, and so forth, depending on his native language–or the native language of the person creating the record.


11. Many people had the same or similar names so don’t assume that the person is your ancestor. Distinguish between same-named people based on all the clues from all the records you find. Does it make sense? If your ancestor “always” lived in Baltimore, he probably didn’t become naturalized in Nebraska….


originally compiled by Claire Kluskens (2014)



October 24, 2018 - Save the date!

Sixth Annual Virtual Genealogy Fair

2018 Virtual Genealogy FairEvery year, the National Archives hosts a virtual Genealogy Fair via live webcast on YouTube. The sessions offer family history research tools on Federal records for all skill levels. Thousands of family historians participate in the live event.

As a virtual attendee, you can:

  • Attend free of charge and registration!
  • Watch the entire day on YouTube.
  • Sign up for chat during the live event. In advance, create an account on YouTube.
  • Participate with the presenters and other family historians during the live event.
  • Join us – from wherever and whenever.
  • Watch individual sessions and download the materials at your convenience -- live or after the event.


Complete schedule and more information at:

On Wednesday October 25, the National Archives will host the fifth virtual Genealogy Fair via webcast.  The entire schedule is available at National Archives Virtual Genealogy Fair.  In Session 5, at 2:00pm, staff from the Electronic Records Division, John LeGloahec and Jana Leighton, will present on "Locating the Relocated: Deciphering Electronic Records on Japanese Americans Interned During World War II.


During this presentation, John and Jana will provide guidance on how to search National Archives Access to Archival Databases (AAD) as well as how to find information on digitized textual records in the National Archives Catalog. We will also demonstrate how to use the information in both systems to get a more complete picture of our holdings of Japanese American internee records.


John LeGloahec will explore how to use the Records About Japanese Americans Relocated During World War II, available through AAD. This set of records has become a popular genealogical tool that identifies Japanese Americans interned in several War Relocation Authority camps. Jana Leighton will discuss genealogical information and the availability of records for download from the National Archives Catalog located within two series of Record Group 210: Records of the War Relocation Authority.


On October 15, "Today's Document from the National Archives" was a photo from the Granada Relocation Center in Amache, Colorado, which was closed on October 15, 1945.  Jana and John hope that you will tune in to hear about the Records of the WRA and the impact on Japanese Americans during World War II.

October 10 was Electronic Records Day (1010 - data is all made up of zeroes and ones, get it?) and two reference staff members from the Electronic Records Division posted a blog post on the "Pieces of History" blog.  We hope that you enjoy it.


John LeGloahec: I joined the National Archives in June of 2006 as an archives specialist in the Electronic Records Division, working on processing the electronic records of the federal government.

One day, I received a message from a researcher asking about some of our records, the Gorgas Hospital Mortuary Records (National Archives Identifier 570981). I spoke with a member of the reference staff, and she told me to go ahead and answer it. I was immediately bit with the reference bug. Within a few years, I had started spending half my time working on reference requests.

A technician changes the tape on a data processing machine at Gorgas Army Hospital, 5/9/1983. (National Archives Identifier 6374580)


Emily Graves: I joined the National Archives in December 2016 in my current role, as an archives technician in the reference section of the Electronic Records Division.

I’ve always had a love for electronic records since my first days of graduate school. It’s easy to confuse “electronic” and “digital” as synonyms, but in reality, electronic media has been around for a long time. In fact, the federal government has been generating electronic records since the first agencies made use of early computer prototypes in the 1950s. As a result, the range of electronic records in the custody of NARA is quite rich and varied. As someone working with access and reference, it’s always fun to watch researchers realize this and see all the valuable information our records can yield.

John LeGloahec: After I had been at the Archives for about four years, I became a full-time member of the reference team. I started out answering the “routine” requests: “I’m looking for my service records,” “my father was killed in Vietnam,” etc.  I soon graduated to the more complex requests, dealing with specific data files in the custody of the Electronic Records Division.

NARA’s Access to Archival Databases—the first stop for many electronic records researchers. (

Emily Graves: As a newcomer, a lot of what I’ve had to learn is the lay of the land—what systems are our records going into to preserve them? To provide access? To track them? Part of my job is to be able to use and understand these systems, which have grown up in the landscape over the course of years and are all inter-related.

For example, I had a researcher inquire about the Area Resource Files from the Department of Health and Human Services, which contain county-based information on a variety of health-related variables. The researcher wanted to know how far back in time the variables went—and this turned out not to be an easy question! After confirming the dates in the National Archives Catalog, I had to use two other finding aids, as well as look at the paper documentation, to confirm that only some the variables had data that went all the way back to the 1940s.

John LeGloahec: The next step in my evolution as a reference archivist was to begin assisting researchers with reproduction orders, wherein researchers would request that copies be made of specific files in our custody.

During this time, we also began to see a spike in requests regarding the records of the Home Mortgage Disclosure Act (National Archives Identifier 2456161).  The housing bubble had recently burst, and researchers were looking for answers in the historical record of previous mortgage applications.

Over the next few years, the Division fulfilled several orders for the HMDA data files.  Around the same time, the National Archives Catalog was being revised and files were being uploaded directly into the catalog for researchers to download directly—the Division worked on making these files available for download—lessening the number of orders that Division had to fulfill.

The ordering process has also evolved during my time with the Division.  Where we would normally get between 30 to 50 orders for files, the number has declined with the advent of files available directly from the Catalog.  In addition, within the past few years, the National Archives created an “e-delivery system” where files are uploaded directly into the “cloud” for researchers to access via a secure link.  This has greatly assisted researchers who cannot easily travel to the National Archives, specifically international researchers (and we don’t have to fill out those exhaustive customs forms any longer!).

The National Archives Catalog home page (

Emily Graves: In a lot ways, reference for electronic records is like a treasure hunt. Sometimes the answer is obscured in the history of the records, the documentation accompanying the records, or sometimes it’s obscured in the data itself. We have a lot of tools to get to the X on the map, and learning how to use those tools most effectively is how I’ve begun in this position.

John LeGloahec: As a full-time member of the Electronic Records Reference Branch, my work still revolves around answering reference requests, but I spend a lot of my time working on preparing files for the National Archives Catalog, either through a “metadata prep” process or through the “auto-upload” process, where files (primarily .pdf files) are batch ingested into the catalog for direct download.

I use to say that I wouldn’t be happy working with electronic records—but now that I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years, I really enjoy my work and am always learning something new.  Sometimes the process just needs some tweaking—there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel, but sometimes you need to put new tires on that wheel.

On Thursday March 23 at 2:00pm, John LeGloahec, a staff member from the Electronic Records Division, will offer a Know Your records presentation on "Dead Men (and Women) Sometimes do tell Tales: “Death Records from the Numerical Identification System” for Genealogical Research."  The presentation will be broadcast from the William G. McGowan Theater in the National Archives building in Washington DC and also available on the NARA YouTube channel.


The Numerical Identification Files, or NUMIDENT (National Archives Identifier 12004494), were transferred to the National Archives from the Social Security Administration and were made available for searching on NARA's Access to Archival Databases (AAD), because they are helpful to genealogists as these files contain names, birth, and death dates of deceased social security holders.  The NUMIDENT files are separated into three sets of records:

  • Death Records (National Archives Identifier 23845618)
  • Application (SS-5) Files (National Archives Identifier 23845613)
  • Claim Files (National Archives Identifier 23852747)

There is overlap between the three sets, in that a record for an individual may appear in one, two, or all three sets of records. The series contains records for every social security number (SSN) assigned to individuals with a verified death or who would have been over 110 years old by December 31, 2007. There are 49,459,293 death records in NUMIDENT covering the time period 1936 through 2007. When the records were transferred to the National Archives, there were twenty separate files, which were merged into nine files arranged by last name. At this time, only the Death Records are available for searching on AAD, but we are in the process of making the other two sets of records available in the near future.

32-3462a.gifIf you are interested in why Lyndon Johnson isn't in the NUMIDENT Death Records, but Gerald Ford is - or find out if Elvis is really dead, tune in Thursday March 23 for this KYR Presentation!B1865-20_a.jpg

     On its face, it seems like a good idea: devise a system that consolidates different spellings

     of names to facilitate ease of searching.


     Here is the National Archives' take on it: Soundex System | National Archives


     Did you know the system was patented?


                                     Patent 1,261,167 for Soundex System, 1918.bmp



     Here is a circa 1954 brochure from Remington-Rand, touting its Soundex system:


           Know a Man Named Burke, from Soundex Catalog - RG 64, P 169, file Policy - Referral of Letters to INS.jpg


           Pages from Soundex Catalog - RG 64, P 169, file Policy - Referral of Letters to INS.jpg


     The Immigration and Naturalization Service used the Soundex;

     here is its catalog (also from the brochure)


         INS Office with Soundex System, from Catalog - RG 64, P 169, file Policy - Referral of Letters to INS.jpg:

           from RG 64, P 169, file "Policy - Referral of Letters to INS, 1954" (in NAID 23812735)



    So how do you like using the Soundex?

   The ubiquitous microfilm reel: National Archives facilities nationwide are chock full of 'em!


                                   NARA Microfilm Box and Reel Popping Out.jpg


   Where did they all come from? Well, here's the story:


   Our infant agency immediately saw the possibilities for this technology. A division for photographic

   reproduction of records was one of the first priorities when the National Archives was established,

   and microfilming was going to be a big part of its job from the get-go.


                    RG 64, P 67, file 1936 - Washington Star, March 1, 1936 Article.jpg

                       NAID 7582964, file "1936"


                                         64-NA-189 Microfilm Camera, 1937.jpg                 

                                             NAID 12168564

                                          Copying of issues of The Washington Post with microfilm camera,

                                                     Division of Photographic Archives and Research, 1937



    Dr. Vernon D. Tate was appointed Chief of the Division of Photographic Archives and Research.

    In addition to his duties at the Archives, he traveled widely, evangelizing on the benefits of microphotography:

    reducing storage for bulky paper documents and promoting wider use of the records via their conveniently

    pint-sized proxies.


                                       64-NA-485B Vernon D. Tate, 1946 - Cropped.JPG

                                          NAID 18519945

                                                                       Dr. Vernon D. Tate, 1946



   The work of the division was featured in an article in the July 1938 issue of the new magazine Popular Photography:


           Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 16.jpg  Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 17.jpg


                                                               Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 91.jpg  Uncle Sam's Photo Diary, p. 92.jpg

                       NAID 7582964, file "1938"



   At the Archives, staff were making use of microfilm copies in their work. In this 1940 photo,

   Mary Vance Wilson of the Division of Research and Publications is copying information from a reel.


                            64-NA-362 Copying Info from Microfilm, 1940.JPG

                              NAID 12168960



   As World War II descended, the military services were establishing and expanding their microfilming programs.

   Perhaps the best-known of these was V-Mail.


                           111-SC-164865 - V-Mail Tableau.jpg

                              111-SC-164865, from NAID 530707



   During the war, Dr. Tate transferred to the Department of the Navy to help get its microphotography program

   off the ways.


                            64-NA-387 Microfilming Project of the Navy Dept. 1942.jpg

                               NAID 12169006

                                Workers examining microfilm for defects in the Navy's Microphotographic Section.

                                      John E. Lown, assistant chief of the section (in bow tie), looks on. 1942



   Meanwhile, the National Archives had established the File Microcopy program in 1940, by which select records

   of high research value would be microfilmed and sold to institutions and the public. This transformed into the

   Microfilm Publications program in the early 1950s, which continues to the present day.



                     NAID 18519863



                 RG 64, P 74 - List of File Microcopies, 1950 - Cover.jpg   NARA Microfilm Publication M1920.jpg



    Here is an illustration of just how much space could be saved with microfilming. All of the oversize glass negatives

    pictured here were copied onto the reel that Ms. Cahoon is holding:


                           64-NA-2203 Fannie Cahoon with Microfilm, 1963 - compressed.jpg

                             NAID 12170484

                                                       Fannie Cahoon with Microfilm in Photo Lab, 1963



    But as great as microfilm is, it still has its problems.

    Raise your hand if you've ever said "I can't read it; it's too faded!"


                                       RG 64, P 79, file General Reference - Complaint About 1830 Census Microfilm, 1957.jpg

                                          NAID 7788317, file "General Reference"



    And don't you love it when some nincompoop has wound the reel backwards? Grrr....


    And it deteriorates.


   But now there is stable polyester base film that will last decades, if not longer. And just in time to digitize it!


   But wait, are you up for going microfiche-ing, too?


                       NARA Microfiche for RG 75, fiche 2.jpg


    Yeah, me neither.




    Here is information on how to  Request and Order Reproductions. from the National Archives.

As the National Capital region continues to dig out from two feet (or thereabouts) of snow, it's a good time to reflect on the genealogical uses of Record Group 27, Records of the Weather Bureau.


Our farm family ancestors kept close watch of the weather and it certainly affected their economic well-being much more than it does us city dwellers. Today, only 2% of the U.S. population are farm families; in 1790, they comprised at least 90%.


While the Weather Bureau was not established until 1890, the federal government's interest in collecting weather information dates back to the 1810s, when army hospital, post, and regimental surgeons were directed to keep diaries of the weather. These duties were transferred in 1870 to officers reporting to the Chief Signal Officer. Meanwhile, from 1847 to 1870, the Smithsonian Institution collected data from voluntary observers throughout the country. All of these observations are available on National Archives Microfilm Publication T907, Climatological Records of the Weather Bureau, 1819-1892 (562 rolls), which is not online.


Information about weather can be useful background information that puts flesh on the bones of those ancestors. What was the weather like on the day your ancestor was born? Married? Died? Or at some other point his or her life? You may not find an answer for your precise location, but a nearby one might be close enough. One of my grandfathers was born in November 1888, but his birth was not recorded until the spring of 1889. One suspects weather had something to do with it - even though the winter of 1888-89 was not as epic as that of January-March 1888


Our retired colleagues, Constance Potter and Kenneth Heger, used to give a lecture called "Stormy Weather" that was all about the genealogical uses of weather information from federal records. Connie presents some of that information in De Smet, Dakota Territory, Little Town in the National Archives, Part 2.


The year 1816 was known as "1800 and Froze to Death" (as well as "The Year without any Summer" and other appellations). It was a year when there was frost or snow in nearly every month, and farmers planted crops two and three times only to see them die. Many farm families from the northern United States moved west in 1817 in hopes of a better future.


in 2005, Hurricane Katrina displaced thousands from New Orleans, Louisiana, with many never to return.


Weather matters.


In addition to T907, other useful federal records are:


Nonfederal sources of information include articles in newspapers in the area where your ancestors lived. For example, the Columbus, Ohio, Statesman of February 15, 1842 reprinted a news item from the Cleveland Herald that described a "Terrible Tornado" in Mayfield, Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and Kirtland, Lake County, Ohio, that caused considerable damage. More than 30 people with their losses ("house unroofed," "barn unroofed," "barn demolished," etc.) are mentioned. Local newspapers may be available on microfilm at local public libraries, or in online databases such as and


May the sun always shine on your genealogical research!

Note this only applies to Washington, DC which until Home Rule on December 24, 1973, was a part of the Federal Government. But you can use some of the methods for your own locale.


Neighborhood genealogy.

For the purposes of this blog post I'm saying that it is like a family genealogy, but instead of looking for family members in the past, it is looking for neighbors from the past.


The Census

The US Census is one of the best tools looking for individuals, and the 1880 to the 1940 censuses (censi?) have addresses so you can say where somewhere lived linking them to a building or house. On a census page you can see households and neighbors, as the census goes from house to house to house, or apartment unit to the next apartment unit. A great number of houses in DC were built before or around 1900, so there is a good chance of finding several decades of information.

The National Archives has microfilm for the District of Columbia census, but using an on line resource is a zillion times easier. At the downtown Archives I facility there are computer terminals where the public can access Ancestry or Fold3 for free. Or you can have your own subscription to those paid services or maybe use a library that might have a subscription.

But first you need to know where to look. Here again computers to the rescue saving time. Someone has created an Enumeration District Finder. Plug "enumeration district finder" into your favorite search engine and you should come to Dr. Stephen Morse's site. To look at my own neighborhood it was made up of several enumeration districts (EDs), so this tool was very handy. Once you have your EDs, you can use them to find the neighbors on microfilm or with one of the on-line subscription services.


City Directories

Sadly the US Census only captures one moment, 10 years apart. That's great if someone moved in the neighborhood in 1899 and moved out 20-30 years later. But DC is an urban place where people come, stay for a couple of years and move. This is what I love about cities, the hustle and bustle, people trying to make their way and their mark. Those movers and shakers who move may be captured in the city directory.

In this case the real thing is superior to the online version. At Archives I, in the back of the Central Research Room and Library there are Boyd's Directories (call # F 192 .5 .B6). There are several volumes but if you start with the year 1914 and work your way to 1970 you can find the section in the book that lists residents by street address. With this you can find names for every occupied house on your street, provided your street existed in 1914 or whatever year you are looking at. Only a household head is mentioned, but you can cross reference the name with searching the on-line subscription services' census to find out more.


Real Estate Tax Books

Sometimes people live in the house they own. Not always but sometimes and though landlords did not necessarily live among their tenants, it is interesting to learn who were the landlords of the neighborhood. From the census you can tell which households were renters and which were owners and you can track the owners in 3 year increments with tax records. There are also some family dramas that may play out in the land records when used with census and directories. What does it mean if at 1234 J St NW John Smith is the head of his family in the 1910 census, and in the 1920 census the Johnsons are at that address? But when checking the tax records you see John Smith is the owner  of 1234 J St NW in the 1911, 1914, and later tax volumes until 1923. That's something you may want to ask or not depending on what other changes were going on in the neighborhood.

The General Assessment Books 1814-1879 (RG 351 PI-186 46), General Assessments, 1883-1903 (RG 351, P 28A), and General Land Assessment Files, 1902-1938 (RG 351 P1)  have the names of the owners for land in the District of Columbia. Since they are arranged by square and plats, you're going to need a map before you grab your NARA researcher card head down to Archives I to take a look at these volumes.



Yes, the National Archives does have real estate maps to help you locate squares and lots, at Archives II in College Park in RG 351. However, there are far easier and quicker ways to find squares and plats that do not require going to Maryland.

The easiest for an individual address' square and lot is to go to the Government of the District of Columbia's Office of Tax and Revenue's website and look in their Real Property Assessment Database. However, they don't have plats and the modern square and lot numbers don't always correspond to older squares and lots, particularly if a lot's boundaries has changed.

Still easy is the DC Public Library's DC DIG site which has its Washingtonia Map Collection online. So far they have digitized real estate maps from 1874 to 1892, and plan to digitize more.

Another resource for on-line maps is the Library of Congress' Geography and Map Reading Room page. Search their Online Map Collections for "Baist"  you may locate several of Baist's real estate atlases ranging from 1903 to 1913. If you hunt you may find the Sanborn Fire Maps, the maps from 1888 to 1916 for Washington are available online.


Hopefully these resources can help you connect with your neighbors from the past and give you a better sense of your neighborhood's history.