I squealed in the research room of the National Archives. Yes, squealed. Stood up, bounced on my toes, waved my hands, and went, “Eeepppp!” Nobody turned around, stared, or said a thing to me. I guess this must be a regular occurrence. Before I get to the reason I yelped, I should let you know a little about how I got there.
Through careful planning, and in conjunction with my mother-in-law’s visit, I was able to spend two days at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. I was giddy, excited, and scared, all at one time. So many questions, so many possible answers, and they were just a few files away. I had my bearings within an hour, but there were still moments of: oh, wow, look at all that information!
After passing though security and getting my research card, I dug right in on requesting records. I prepped for the trip by printing out the index images for the Civil War Veterans I wanted to look at, as well as printing out as much information as I could on the two ancestors from the War of 1812 I wanted to find. The librarians were extremely patient and very nice. They kindly helped me, answered my questions, and didn’t laugh when I dropped the microfilm roll and watched it roll down the aisle.
This trip I did a shotgun approach on my relatives. I chose nine records from my family and my husband’s family to begin poking around. My husband reminded me that if I have to go back we can arrange the time and not to get too frantic; it is only an hour, or four, away depending on I-95 traffic. Out of the nine files I requested to see, one was returned. That still left me with eight files to look at, and two of them were several inches thick!
It is going to take me a while to get through all of this information. I took digital images of each page in each file: up near 1,000 images in total. Before I took the pictures, I visually scanned each document for information. Each one held amazing clues to my ancestor’s lives. For example: death causes, names of family members, dates of births and deaths, places they lived, and the real reason my husband’s second-great-grandfather changed his name.
The one file request that was returned to me was for Frances Marion Bline. I had the card and wrote down the numbers, but still they couldn’t find him. Lucky for me, I asked for help from a staff member who was just as bugged as I was by not being able to find my ancestor’s record. After a call to his boss, resulting in her taking trip into the stacks, I got some not-so-good news. His rejected pension application file was destroyed sometime in the past before the decision was made to keep all rejected applications. I was bummed, but you know, not everything can go perfectly, right?
Oh, and I bet you want to know why I squealed? I found a copy of a tin-type for Harry Coad, my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather; yes, the rare photograph that turns up periodically in the pension files. My mother-in-law was there with me when I found it, and I thought she was going to squeal too. It was like my very own “Who Do You Think You Are?” moment! More on dear ole’ Harry coming up in a future post.
Photo from the Library of Congress
Family Tree Firsts is an ongoing blog series featuring newbie genealogist Shannon Bennett of Locust Grove, Va.