Another in an occasional series, focusing on the lives and work of former staff of

    the National Archives and Records Administration.

                                  ______________________________________________

 

    Records relating to one's military service have been coming into the custody of

    the National Archives and Records Administration since the agency was established.

 

    Retrieved from a garage in Washington, DC, and carefully flattened with the help of

    workers from the Works Progress Administration, veterans' pension records were an

    early focus of the National Archives' preservation and reference activities.

 

                               64-NAD-143 Pension Files in Garage, 1936.jpg

                                   64-NAD-143, from NAID 518148

                                          Veterans' Bureau records, in garage at

                                   1214 New Hampshire Ave., NW, May 16, 1936

 

 

                64-PR-26-2 - Worker Unfolding Pension Records, ca. 1939.jpg

                   64-PR-26-2, in NAID 18524352

                  WPA worker preparing pension records for flattening, ca. 1939

 

   The sheer size and scope of these records compelled the Archives to establish an

   operating unit devoted solely to the administration and preservation of these records.

 

   And that's where Tom Owen comes in.

   Mr. Owen?

 

                        NA Building - Owen, Thomas M., Jr..jpg

                             NAID 12091385

 

   Well, you might say I was meant to come work for the National Archives.

   This kind of work is our family business.

 

          Alabama Dept. of Archives and History, from Encyclopedia of Alabama.jpg

    Alabama Department of Archives and History (ADAH) | Encyclopedia of Alabama

 

 

    You see, my father established the Department of Archives and History

    for the state of Alabama. It was the first state archives in the country to be

    supported with public funds, back in 1901.

 

                               Thomas McAdory Owen, Sr..jpg

                                          Thomas McAdory Owen, Sr.

                                                    (1866-1920)

                               Thomas M. Owen | Encyclopedia of Alabama

 

 

     I helped out in the archives, and eventually became the assistant director.

     My mother took over as director when my father died.

 

     But I had also felt the call to military service.

     I enlisted in the Alabama National Guard; our state organization eventually

     served as part of Douglas MacArthur's 42nd Division in France. 

 

     Here I am with my parents and my wife, Mabel, around 1918.

 

                         Thomas Owen with Parents and First Wife, ca. 1918.jpg

                   Caption for Owen Family Photo, ca. 1918.jpg

              Thomas McAdory Owen, Jr (1894 - 1948) - Find A Grave Photos

 

     I stayed active in the Guard for the rest of my life.

     In 1933 I became the historian for the national organization.

 

          Owen Listed as Historian for American Legion Convention, 1933 - from U.S. Congressional Serial Set, No. 14956, 2005.jpg

                   U.S. Congressional Serial Set, no. 14596, p. XIII, 2005

 

 

                  American Legion Letterhead with Notary Seal, 1938 - RG 64, A1 2A, file Frank T. VanHook, folder no. 3, box 3.jpg

                     file "VanHook, Frank T., folder 3" in NAID 3720066

 

     After the war, I came back and helped run the State Archives for a while.

     Then I directed the federal records surveys for Alabama for the

    Civil Works Administration and the Federal Emergency Relief Administration.

 

    Records of the Work Projects Administration [WPA] | National Archives

 

     And in the spring of '35, I was hired by the National Archives.

    Its first order of business was to survey all of the federal records

    squirreled away in Washington, DC.

 

                  Announcement of DC Records Survey, 1935, page 1 - RG 64, A1 34, file Memoranda and Press Releases of the Archivist 1935-1936.jpg

                 Announcement of DC Records Survey, 1935, page 2 - RG 64, A1 34, file Memoranda and Press Releases of the Archivist 1935-1936.jpg

             file "Memoranda and Press Releases of the Archivist, 1935-1936"

                                            in NAID 4478137

 

    It was my job to ride herd on the corps of examiners who were poring over

    all of the collections of government records scattered about the capital.

    Here are the instructions I issued them:

 

                Instructions to Examiners for DC Records Surveys, June 28, 1935 - RG 64, A1 34, file Div. of Accessions Memoranda 1935-1936 Arthur Leavitt, box 1.jpg

                     file "Division of Accessions Memoranda 1935-1936"

                                            in NAID 4478137

 

 

     We sent out our staff photographers to document what they found.

     You simply could not imagine the conditions in which these

     records had been discovered.

 

                 64-NAD-84 - cropped and rotated.jpg

                      64-NAD-84, in NAID 518148

                           U.S. Shipping Board Organization records,

             in Haley Garage, 21st and Virginia Ave., September 10, 1935

 

 

    During this time, I also wrote an article about the National Archives

    for the Legion's magazine.

 

       Owen Article - A Legion Dream Comes True, Am. Legion Magazine, March 1937 - page 1.jpg  Owen Article - A Legion Dream Comes True, Am. Legion Magazine, March 1937 - page 2.jpg

               The American Legion Monthly [Volume 22, No. 3 (March 1937)]

 

    In case you're interested, here's a listing of my career up to 1937,

    when this entry appeared in our publication Register of the National Archives:

 

              Owen Listing in the Register of the National Archives, 1937.jpg

            

     By the end of 1937, the records survey work was winding down, and new

     operating units were being set up to handle the flow of records coming

     to the Archives. With the new year, I was assigned to head up one of them.

 

                     RG 64, A1 9 - Memo A-71 Intra-Organization Changes, Jan. 3, 1938.jpg

 

     Later that year, my division got a new, more informative name.

 

                     RG 64, A1 9 - Memo A-77 Intra-Organizational Changes, June 1, 1938 - page 1 - header cropped.jpg

                     RG 64, A1 9 - Memo A-77 Intra-Organizational Changes, June 1, 1938 - page 1 - Owen cropped.jpg

                       both from NAID 3890958

 

     Reference service on the pension files was a large part of the work

    of our division. During the war, we needed more shelf space for

    the multitude of records that agencies were retiring, so we hit upon

    a new way to file the pensions.

 

    Initially we just had to lay them flat on the shelves.

 

                            RG 64, P 112, file Records - Preservation - Flat Filing - Flat Files in Stack S-1804, Aug. 1942.jpg

                                       Flat files in Stack S-1804, August 1942

 

     We tried shelving them another way. And it was a big success.

 

                      RG 64, P 112, file Records - Preservation - Flat Filing - Memo to Staff re Change to Vertical Filing.jpg

 

                        RG 64, P 112, file Records - Preservation - Flat Filing - Vertical Files in Stack S-2003, Aug. 1942.jpg

                                      Vertical files in Stack S-2003, August 1942

 

                    all from file "Records - Preservation - Flat Filing", in NAID 12209376

 

 

    Of course, when those new cardboard containers from Remington Rand

    finally arrived, we moved the files into them.

 

        64-NA-370 Using New Cardboard Boxes for Project, 1942.jpg

          64-NA-370 (NAID 12168986)

                       Archivist Bess Glenn, right, with staff during packing project

                  in the Division of Navy Department Archives, National Archives, 1942

 

                                     Original Dark Green Archival Box, 1940s.jpg

 

   

    Well, it was quite a career, I surely can say. I think that the most meaningful

    thing for me has been working on behalf of all of my fellow veterans and their families.

 

                          RG 64, P 67, file 1948 - Star Obit for Thomas Owen, Dec..jpg

                                 file "1948" in NAID 7582964

 

               Thomas Owen Gravestone, Greenwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama.jpg

                                 Greenwood Cemetery, Montgomery, Alabama