Posted in National Archives, Research tips

  How to File a FOIA request with the National Archives

File clerk at the FBI
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was passed in 1966, and allows anyone to request records from U.S. federal government agencies.  To obtain information from local or state governments a request must be made according to state public records laws.

What does this mean for a genealogist?  Well, think about the ways your ancestors might have interacted with federal government agencies throughout their lives as employees, citizens, or aliens, and then go for it. Did they work for a railroad or the WPA? Were they part of the CCC? Were they an alien living on U.S. soil during WWII? Did they have an FBI file? You’d be surprised where a file on your ancestor might show up.  Not all requests for federal records require an FOIA form.  Some you can simply order through the National Archives, so look into it before you make the effort.

NARA’s website has a research guide explaining how to use FOIA for genealogy records, but it is only the tip of the iceberg as far as the kinds of agencies your ancestor might have interacted with.  You might find that the Guide to Federal Records, an online list of official federal Record Groups, triggers some ideas for you.  Also, here is the link to a 2010 article in Family Tree Magazine titled, “Under Surveillance”  which explores ways a genealogist might use FOIA.

To get you started, the National Archives recently posted a handy video on FOIA, so I am sharing it here:

Posted in National Archives, Native Americans, Research tips

Native American Research Out West

“Navajo Medicine Man”, Edward S. Curtis [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/42/Navajo_medicine_man.jpg
I guess this post could be more aptly named, “Native American Research at your nearest National Archives regional facility,” but would you have have dosed off? I nearly did just writing it.

I have mentioned in other blog posts my love for the National Archives website, and today I noticed they have really pumped up the section on Native American research, so I thought I would give you an idea of what you might find.  I hope you will want to venture farther and explore the links there, as there are some fascinating records to be found.  And if you don’t have any Native American ancestry, don’t stop reading here!

If your ancestors made their way Out West, the chances are very high their lives intersected with the native population (land ownership issues, water rights, commerce, schools, employment, etc.), and this generated records. Some of the most valuable genealogical records I have for my non-native Arizona and New Mexico ancestors come from records held by the BIA, or Bureau of Indian Affairs, or Record Group 75 at NARA (the National Archives). Continue reading “Native American Research Out West”

Posted in Forts, Indian Wars, Library of Congress, Maps, Military, National Archives

Hold the Fort! …or at least stick around and learn a little more about it

Out West, early on, it was lawless and rugged and full of guys who wanted land, gold, and water rights, and sometimes did not get along with the Native Americans who came first.  So Out West is also where forts and the United States Army Cavalry could be found.  Maybe your ancestor lived near a fort, or maybe he lived in one as a soldier.

Fort Laramie, Wyoming
Fort Laramie, Wyoming

Walters Art Museum {{Commons:File:Alfred Jacob Miller – Fort Laramie – Walters 37194049.jpg}} at Wikimedia Commons

You will probably be surprised to know how many forts actually existed in the 19th century Out West.  I don’t have an exact number, but I have some resources that will help you track them down, and also find the records created by the U.S. Army at those forts. Continue reading “Hold the Fort! …or at least stick around and learn a little more about it”

Posted in Archives and Libraries, Civil War, Family History Library, Indian Wars, Mexican War, Military, National Archives, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Websites, World War 1, World War 2

Looking for military records? You are gonna like this!

military 1

Want to find your ancestor in military records? Here is an efficient way to identify all military records on FamilySearch, and to narrow your search by collection. It is then easy to search within a single collection.

On the FamilySearch home screen click “Search” and then “Records” in the dropdown menu.

FamilySearch Military 1

Do NOT enter a name to search, but instead click on “Browse All Published Collections.” Continue reading “Looking for military records? You are gonna like this!”

Posted in Artifacts, eVetRecs, Military, National Archives, National Personnel Records Center, Research tips, World War 1

“Burned” WWI Personnel File for Allen Lee Millard Gooch

Using the online eVetRecs at the National Archives website http://www.archives.gov/veterans/ I ordered a World War I service record for my grandfather, Allen Lee Millard Gooch.  I knew my chances of getting a file were slim because in 1973 a fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri, destroyed 16-18 million Official Military Personnel Files (OMPF), including 80% of personnel discharged 1 Nov 1912-1 Jan 1960.

Indeed, I received a reply to my request that said my requested records were part of the 1973 fire.  I was sad.  Then, amazingly, I received a thick packet with much, or possibly all, of my grandfather’s file with copies of the “burned” records!  Here is a page:

This record–an “Application for Certificate in Lieu of Lost or Destroyed Discharge Certificate”–proves that you never know just where you will find some of the best information.  This record provides us with:

  1. Full name
  2. Place/date of enlistment and discharge
  3. Military unit
  4. Physical description
  5. City and State of birth
  6. Approximate birth year
  7. Probable residence after discharge
  8. Occupation
  9. Signature

This is only one of many pages in this record, and the others are equally interesting.  I may post some more soon.

This record also proves you should never give up just because you are told a repository burned.  Yes, the records burned, but hey—not entirely!!  Let’s hear it for the 42 fire districts that responded to the alarm and battled the blaze for 2 days.

BONUS

I received an unexpected bonus one day when a box containing replacement medals for my grandfather’s WWI service arrived in the mail:  A Purple Heart, a WWI Victory Medal, and a medal for his participation in the battles of Meuse-Argonne and St. Mihiel.  What a treasure!  I will post photos soon.

To learn more about the Military service records and Official Military Personnel Files go to http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/about-service-records.html

Pre-WWI military records can be ordered here:

http://www.archives.gov/veterans/military-service-records/pre-ww-1-records.html