Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Visit to Washington, DC. - Family, Friends, Learning & Laughter - Part 4

    Tuesday was the first day we would have some free time to do some research at the Archives and so I had prepared some record pull requests that I was able to get in for the first pull at 10 am.  When you have records where you are looking at original documents and not microfilm, books, etc., there are set times where you can have those records pulled which can take about an hour to get back, but they will hold for a few days for you to look at when you can.  I knew that I most likely wouldn't have time to look at them that day, but would look forward to seeing them later.

When class started up later that morning we were treated to another visit by Claire Bettag for two sessions in a row. 
   The first covered Federal Land Records in general.  She taught us that, "Many of NARA's land records are valuable to genealogists - among them, the Land Entry Papers, which document the first transfer of title of public land to private ownership, Surrendered Bounty-land
Warrants, and Private Land Claims."   She then reviewed which states are the "public-land" states whose records would be included versus those considered "state-land" states not included in federal records.   We learned about the processes involved and how the various land was recorded and tracked through various changes in laws, how the parcels were divided and the types of case files involved.  There was a lot to take in, but we weren't done yet.
    Next came a session on Bounty-Land Records where "from 1788 to 1855 Congress authorized land bounties to reward veterans for military service or to attract enlistments. Those initiatives produced records preserved at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) that can be valuable for genealogists."  These two records groups - Bounty-land applications submitted to the government by veterans wishing to obtain veterans' benefits, and surrendered bounty-land warrants - exchanged at land offices for land, were the topic of discussion for the next hour.  I think most of us were ready for lunch to give our brains some time to process it all. Whew!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

A Visit to Washington, DC. - Family, Friends, Learning & Laughter - Part 3

    Oh no, Monday isn't done yet.  Before we ended our class time at the Archives, we had a lecture by Sabrina Petersen of (no relation that we know of, but of course that almost goes without saying when Patronymic surnames are involved).
    It is always good to hear from those that work for a site like  They always teach me something new about how to use the site and what things are there.  Her focus was to provide us tips and tricks for accessing Federal Records at the site.  She also gave us the chance for some questions and answers as well as the opportunity to vent about the way some of the things work on the site.  It was very informative and enjoyable.  Her team is working on several special projects that sound really fascinating. 
    It was then time to meet up with my wife and sister for the optional evening session at the Library of Congress (LOC or LC for those of you keeping up with the abbreviations). They were coming along to hang out in the library while I was in class and that way we could all experience the Main Reading Room at the same time.  My sister had seen it from the galleries that you visit on the tour, but had never entered the room itself on the main level.  We managed to figure out where we needed to go to get the library cards required to be allowed in the reading rooms and then we went into the room.  It is hard to describe the feeling as we entered the room.
Library of Congress Reading Room 2
(Photo credit: Flickr/Erik Chan)
    Here is how part of it is described at the following site -

    "Eight giant marble columns each support 10-foot-high allegorical female figures in plaster representing characteristic features of civilized life and thought: Religion, Commerce, History, Art, Philosophy, Poetry, Law and Science.
    The 16 bronze statues set upon the balustrades of the galleries pay homage to men whose lives symbolized the thought and activity represented by the plaster statues."

    I simply said, WOW!!  In hushed tones of course. We were in a library after all.  What an absolutely amazing space. I told my wife and sister that I didn't know how anyone could do any reading or research in the room because you'd constantly get distracted looking at all the details all around the room.
    Sadly though, we had to drag ourselves from the room to get a quick bite to eat before I headed to a class in a much less interesting conference room with James P. Sweany, head of the Local History and Genealogy Reading Room in the Library of Congress.
    The class itself, however, was extremely interesting as he proceeded to give us a feel for what types of materials are contained in the LOC collections.   He also give us some insight on the materials found in his reading room and a brief overview of the website specific to that room.
See -
   We then had a brief chance to go to the Genealogy Reading Room and check it out in person.  I quickly gathered up various free research guides that were available to patrons and browsed the stacks as I told myself - I have to come back when I have more time!
     Whew! that's it for Monday.  Stay tuned for more fun...

Saturday, July 23, 2011

A Visit to Washington, DC. - Family, Friends, Learning & Laughter - Part 2

    Our story continues... As class was set to begin early Monday morning (July 11th),  we headed into the city where my brother-in-law dropped my sister and me off at the US National Archives.  She headed off to work and I headed in to begin my adventure. 
    Arriving at the classroon, we were warmly welcomed by the Institute's Director, Patricia (Patty) O'Brien Shawker and Assistant Director, Marty Hiatt.  We then took our seats, introducing ourselves to our table-mates and learning a little bit about one another as we waited for those who hadn't had the chance to get their Researcher Cards before the week began.
    Then we were off and running! We spent time learning about how to use the archive collections, finding aids, guides, and the abbreviations used by all in the Archives (they love their abbreviations! FYI).
   Next we had a wonderful lecture by Constance Potter, an archivist at the main branch of the US National Archives (Archives I).  Her class was all about the upcoming release of the 1940 US Federal Census in April 2012.  She talked about the fields that we will find on that census and what they will mean to us a researchers.  It was extremely informative and I realized I would have to get ready to update my class on censuses to include details about this new record set that will become available next year.
(see for more details)
    After a break for lunch we took a tour of the building, learning about the various areas and what helps or records we would find there. We also received instructions on the items allowed or not allowed in the various rooms to help prevent any issues with damage or theft of the materials (accidental or otherwise).
   Next we had a presentation by Dr. Thomas H. Shawker (Patty's husband and fellow researcher) who briefed us on the Still Picture Branch at Archives II (which we would visit later in the week).  This collection contains nearly 8 million photographs and graphics - from over 170 departments, agencies, bureaus, plus donated & purchased material.  The quantity and type of images in the collection is unbelievable. They could add so much to a family history narrative.
(see for more info)
    Claire Bettag gave the next lecture, entitled "NARA at Your Fingertips".  NARA of course being one of those many abbreviations, standing for National Archives and Records Administration.  She went into great depth helping us understand what the archives contain, how they are organized and why they are different from a library. She also gave us more detail about how to access and use the records both from home or at the archives themselves.
To be continued....

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Visit to Washington, DC. - Family, Friends, Learning & Laughter - Part 1

     I can't begin to tell you how busy this summer has been. Hence the crazy amount of time since my last post.
    One of the things that I have been working towards and just recently completed, is a visit to Washington, DC. to attend the National Institute on Genealogical Research. 
    Another major benefit of being in DC was getting to spend time with my sister and brother-in-law who live nearby and provided my wife and me with lodging, good food and fun.  Of course they also took some time to act as tour guides taking us to see some of the local historical sites as time permitted.
    I don't know how long this may take to write about and so I will break it up into multiple parts as I share our experiences over the next several posts.
   On our first full day in DC - after sleeping in to get over time zone differences - we took our first bus and Metro ride downtown to meet my sister for lunch. We also got a quick tour of her office building right next to the Navy Memorial and across from the National Archives.  This made it very convenient to head to the Archives after lunch to get my official Researcher Card for the upcoming week.
Knowing that we had limited time to see many of the museums in the area, we decided that the Smithsonian National Museum of American History would be one not to miss.
    And right we were!  What an amazing place! Everything from the National Anthem inspiring Star-Spangled Banner (1814) and Thomas Edison's Light Bulb (1879) to the Inaugural Gowns of the First Ladies, and Julia Child's Kitchen. Bon Apetit!
    At one point in our wanderings we came around the corner above the lobby to see a group unfurling a giant flag and the gathering crowd singing the National Anthem.  Many were misty-eyed - God Bless America!
    For me, one of the most fascinating exhibits was called  
Within These Walls.  Here is the description from the museums website - "At the center of this gallery is a partially reconstructed house that stood for 200 years at 16 Elm Street in Ipswich, Massachusetts, about 30 miles north of Boston.
    The house and the exhibition that surrounds it tell the stories of five families who lived there over the years and made history in their kitchens and parlors, through everyday choices and personal acts of courage and sacrifice.
    Through their lives, the exhibition explores some of the important ways ordinary people have been part of the great changes and events in American history." See more at this link.
Stay tuned for more adventures....