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01-Oct-2001
October Newsletter


      Carol Sanderson, Editor
      Charles Hansen, Technical Advisor


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THE FEDERAL ARCHIVES - by Carol Sanderson

          There is another tool in hunting one's ancestors. That is the use of the National Archives in the Washington D.C. area or the National Regional Archives. A web site that will give you a listing of all of these and their hours is found below. Also is included one that goes directly to their page(s) concerned with genealogy. Take time to explore these. There is a great deal of information there.

NARA - National Archives and Records Administration:       http://www.nara.gov/
NARA - Genealogy Page:       http://www.nara.gov/genealogy

          This should, with some searching tell you what sort of things you will find at the facilities but also what you can search online.

          Now to something that I wrote that will show examples of what I used in researching one of my grandfathers. If you look closely, you will see that vital records (available, usually at town offices but could be at the state level), census records, and family tradition were also used in the story below.

The Elusive Files

          My maternal grandfather died when I was about three. My grandmother, his wife, used to visit us at least once every year. I don't remember asking questions about him so all I knew was what my mother had volunteered at one time when someone probably my brother asked about him.

          She told us about her Dad taking her and her siblings to watch the start of the Boston Marathon. This must have been shortly after they started having it in the early 1900s.

          I also remember her saying that he had been in the Civil War at a very young age. Years went by and my grandmother died and later my Mom. I was working on the genealogy for my husbands side of the family and on my father's line. It was that way as a cousin was working her mother's line and I knew I could get information from her. I waited too long....she died before I could get it. On asking her husband about her work and notes, he told me they had been thrown away. That meant I had to start from square one.

          I used the census to try to find something about him other than the fact that he was a veteran of the Civil War. I found some things that only raised more questions. Some of these... were why was my grandmother and some of her children not listed on the 1920 census where he was, why was she not living with him and where was she living at that time?

          I used the volumes of "The Soldiers and Sailors of the Civil War from Massachusetts." Guess what...I couldn't find him. Strange, I knew he had been in that war. Grandmother and mother had said so.

          One day I was discussing this with a cousin. She said that I was having trouble finding him as he had enlisted under another name.

          "Oh," said I. "Do you know what name he used?" She said that she did and told me. I went back to the volumes and sure enough there he was. We talked again about that family and had some disagreement on the number of children our grandparents had.

          Well, I decided to solve that one so headed for the town where our aunts and uncles were born. I wanted birth and death certificates for some of them. Also those of my grandparents.

          A visit to the town clerk's office in the town where they lived and I had some more information.but not enough. The clerk told me that his death certificate was in a nearby town. I went there and yes I got the death certificate. The clerk there made a passing remark that indicated my grandmother wasn't living with him at the time of death although she was the informant. Why were they not living together and why did she not know anything about her mother and father-in-law? Much of the information I wanted wasn't there although the name of the cemetery was.

          I dragged a protesting husband with me to the cemetery and hunted for the grave. An aunt years before had told me where the family was buried and described where the family plot was. After asking at the caretaker's office, we found the plot. The only stone was a marker for twin uncles who had died as young children. No help there.

          Wilfred? Henry? You are more elusive than I would like.

          It was as if he were challenging me to find him and to unravel the puzzle. Well, sir, I will try to do just that!

          I felt that at least part of the answer lay with his pension papers. I sent for a copy of them from the National Archives. No luck. I was told they weren't there and to try another repository in St. Louis, MO this time. I wrote them. The answer was still no and to try another. All of this which with the slowness of our government processes took a couple of years.

          I forgot about it for the time being and went on with other lines. Two years later, I was back in Massachusetts at the Regional National Archives. I had worked all afternoon with some success on another line and time.

          As I was leaving one of the archivists whom I had got to know over the ten years we had lived in the area asked how I was doing and had I found the pension file. I said I hadn't and he asked for a repeat of my tale. When I mentioned that my grandmother had received a widow's pension, he said, ˝We have those papers here on the other side of the building! Go over there and ask to see Mr. ____."

          I went, found the person he wanted me to talk with and another person who was also interested. They questioned the locator number on the card I had copied three years before. I showed them the photocopy of it and then was told..."That has been active in recent times." My grandmother had died in 1955 and it was still too recent to be open to public access. Like their not publishing the census records for 72 years for privacy reasons.

          These men gave me the name of another person to call. I did that the next day. After a short conversation he said, "You are looking for Willfred/Henry ____?"

          "Yes," I replied and was asked to give him a few minutes with his computer. He came back and said he had found the card with the information I had and would I let him have two or three weeks to check it out. It had already been four years what were two or three weeks more.

          At the end of the three weeks I was getting antsy and had just said that if I didn't hear in two days time, I was going to call him. The telephone rang about two hours later. He had news. He said he had found the papers and that they were being sent to him. What did I want in them? My reply was that I would like a copy of everything that the file contained. A week later, I received an envelope, a thick one, in the mail. There was the long sought after file!

          What did I learn? That he had been married before and that his first wife died before he married my grandmother. I had a physical description of him.

          I also found out why the alias. Bounty money he was to receive for enlisting was at the root of it. He didn't want his dad or a brother to know that he received it. Because he had used one, he had to prove that he was Wilfred and not really Henry. There were affidavits in the file from neighbors and relatives who had know him all his life. Wow! I still have a hard time believing it. It does prove, though, that persistence pays off.

          I found from the vital records that they did, in fact, have sixteen children as I had told my cousin. Funny thing...I noticed that when he reported the births over the years that he used, Wilfred, Henry, Henry C or Wilfred H. Must be that he couldn't decide who he was!


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