Circle the National Archives on Google+ and Hangout with the AOTUS!

The National Archives is glad to announce that you may now connect with us on Google+!  Come on over and follow us for exciting posts about news, exhibits, research, genealogy tips, resources, citizen archivist updates and so much more.

Google+ is an online social community that aims to make sharing on the web more like sharing in real life.  With over a million users already, Google+ allows users to participate in events, video chat in a hangout, and subscribe to circles with information that is most interesting to them.  The National Archives is ready to start sharing with you, and we’d love to offer you circles to join that will streamline the content we are posting.  To see information in your news feed about a specific circle, all you need to do is click on the cover photo, and +1 the circle you’d like to join.

Are you interested in public programs and events in DC or from around the country?  Would you just like information about research, like record releases, genealogy events, or citizen archivist initiatives?  Or are you really looking for information for teachers to use in their lesson plans and classrooms?  Let us know on Google+! 

We’re excited about Google+ all over the National Archives, and that includes the Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero.  In fact, he’s so excited, he will be hosting our very first hangout!  Do you have a question for the Archivist that you’re dying for him to answer?  Here’s your chance to be heard!  Send your questions to the Archivist through Google+, Facebook, Twitter, or the blogs, and include the #AskAOTUS hashtag.  We’ll compile the questions and pass them on to the Archivist, who will answer as many as he can during the hangout.  If you can’t think of a question before the hangout, join us anyway, and continue to tweet us your questions with the #AskAOTUS hashtag throughout the session.  Ask him anything from what his favorite records are to what a day in his office is like.  Or maybe you are interested in what book he’s reading or his favorite museum in DC (besides the National Archives, of course!).   We’ll keep you posted on the date and time of the hangout, so circle the National Archives on Google+ for our latest updates!



Posted in Events, Questions, Social Media (Web 2.0) | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Rolling into Court

As Halloween approaches, our thoughts turn to candy — and court cases.  A sweet combination of both can be found in Record Group 21, the U.S. District Court, the Northern District of Illinois, Chicago.  Civil case number 47C1770 was filed in 1947, when the Life Savers Corporation sued the Curtiss Candy Company for trademark infringement.

In 1947, Life Savers parent company filed suit claiming Curtiss violated Trade-Mark Reg. 355,158, which is a Life Savers candy wrapper design.  In the “Complaint,” Life Savers Corporation said its “exclusive right in its trade-mark and distinctive package design and color scheme each exceeds the sum of Three Thousand Dollars ($3,000), exclusive of interest and costs, and the acts of defendant herein complained of have damaged plaintiff in excess of said amount and if not restrained, will greatly impair, if not destroy said value.”

Life Saver patent

Life Savers Corporation Patent Application, October 1937

Life Savers wanted to protect its brand, which celebrates its centennial this year; Pep O Mint was first introduced in Ohio in 1912.  Wint O Green followed in 1918, and the five-flavor roll, the primary product in the case, came out in 1935.

The Curtiss Candy Company, too, had been around for a long time when the suit was filed.  Curtiss was founded in Chicago in 1916.  Known most famously for Baby Ruth and Butterfinger candy bars, Curtiss began making rolled hard candies, varying its product line.

The “Memorandum Opinion” states the main issue with the case.  The style and colors of the packaging were so similar that Life Savers claimed there would be “actual confusion of goods between the products of the plaintiff and defendant.”  Curtiss, however, said its own label was “distinctive and totally different,” and “great pains and much care have been taken to avoid any possible confusion.”

Curtiss Candy 1947

Curtiss Assorted Fruit Drops wrapper, 1947


The court realized that the profit margin on a “simple disk-like piece of hard candy of different colors and flavors” was large, so it was not surprised that a “simple sugar concoction” would have many others entering the market.  However, it understood that Life Savers, as one of the leaders in that business, wanted to “maintain its position.”

There was an analysis of the wrappers, including the positioning of two blue squares with “Curtiss Assorted Fruit Drops” and three “Life Savers Five Flavors” printed across the entire roll “as to be visible and prominent in whatever position that package may lie….”  However, the court was inundated with witness testimony acknowledging “there has been some actual confusion of goods.”

Life Savers package 1947

Life Savers wrapper, 1947

Depositions of witnesses were taken in different cities to show that consumers were so used to simply reaching for the multi-colored packaging of Life Savers that Curtiss would be able to take advantage of this with its own colored label.  One witness, Lillian Poshkus of St. Louis, when asked about her candy purchase, answered, “I just go right up to the counter and I see the different colored package and I pick that up, put it on the counter and pay for it.”  Several others answered similarly.

But the court considered more than just the colors.  For instance, the diameters and dimensions of all the packages were identical.  Moreover, buying mints is typically an impulse purchase, so consumers are not inclined to take such “care and caution in the selection of goods” as they would take to buy clothes or shoes, the judge said.

“It is probable that a great majority of purchasers do not care particularly what they get so long as they get a package of mints, and it is just as probable that the confusion can be attributed to the size and shapes of the various packages as to the exact wording and coloring of the labels,” the opinion stated.

Indeed, that was one of Curtiss’s claims, saying the “Defendant has not adopted the registered trademark of Plaintiff nor any ‘colorable imitation’ of any registered mark.”  Further the position of the defendant said the “striped effect produced by the picture or representation of the contents of a package is a functional device equally available…and widely used by manufacturers of candy of this type.”

Even in 1948, when the defendant filed its brief, an issue came up that continues to affect the contemporary marketplace.  Curtiss used examples from testimony where some witnesses refer to generic small candy drops as Life Savers.  “Typical of marks of this kind are the marks Frigidaire for the household mechanical refrigerator, Vaseline for petroleum jelly, Kodak for small cameras, Aspirin for the familiar headache remedy, etc.  The term Life Savers itself may have suffered this deterioration because of a developing usage of this word by consumers to mean any small round candies, regardless of the brand.”

Curtiss concluded that Life Savers was attempting “to prevent anybody from putting out assorted fruit drops in a multi-colored label.  If successful, Plaintiff will thus insure that all people who want assorted fruit drops will of necessity be compelled to purchase those of the Plaintiff,” and endowing it “with a monopoly of assorted fruit drops.”

U.S. District Court Judge Elwyn Shaw dismissed the complaint, concluding, “I believe that the defendant has taken every reasonable means to prevent confusion of goods, and unless Life Savers Corporation is to be given a patent on all colored and candy mints it must be held that the trade-mark is not infringed.”

The case was then appealed by the plaintiff, and went to the Seventh Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, Chicago, shortly after the civil case was completed in 1949.  It supported the lower court decision, again siding in favor of the Curtiss Candy Company.  Nevertheless, Life Savers’ value was not destroyed as the complaint alleged.  Although its ownership has changed hands over the years and they are now made by Wrigley, a division of Mars, Incorporated, the round disk candies with the holes have remained afloat.

Posted in NARA Coast to Coast, Research | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

How does NARA avoid conflicts of interest on Wikipedia?

Last week, a bit of controversy erupted surrounding Wikipedia, after claims surfaced of contributors with paid consultancies editing with a conflict of interest after having been paid to use their Wikipedia savvy to promote their clients. While it is not my intention to get into the particulars of that case here—feel free to read more on your own—or to begin a discussion about the reliability of Wikipedia, one important result of the controversy is that there has been a fair amount of discussion on Wikipedia and in the media about external organizations partnering with Wikipedia (as we are) and the concept of Wikipedians in Residence (of which I am one).

David Ferriero speaks at Wikimania, the annual conference of Wikipedians. (Photo by PierreSelim / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA)

I think this is a good opportunity to discuss how the National Archives approaches the sticky issue of conflict of interest when it comes to our own partnership with Wikipedia. First, as a bit of background, we have been building a relationship with Wikipedia for more than a year now. We believe that the community of volunteers on Wikipedia share many of our values and that the project is an exciting vehicle for making NARA content more accessible. Work with Wikipedia is in line with the National Archives’ initiative to increase its web and social media presence to reach users where they currently are. In October  2011 alone, the total page views of all Wikipedia articles with images of National Archives documents was over 70 million (roughly 6 times the annual traffic to We do also value the work of Wikipedia’s editors, who are helping to improve the information in articles, transcribe our documents, and otherwise contribute to our work, but I am emphasizing the value of Wikipedia’s visibility in order to be as frank as possible. Much like marketers and public relations firms, NARA (like other cultural institutions) cares about working with Wikipedia primarily because of the amount of traffic its pages get. As David Ferriero recently put it, “The Archives is involved with Wikipedia because that’s where the people are.”

It is important for us to act in ways that will bring more exposure to our work, and that makes Wikipedia an important tool for us. Obviously, this approach can be problematic when it comes to advertisers trying to influence the content of articles, and, it is true, even universities and museums have been known to try to make more favorable articles for themselves. Wikipedians are rightly wary of spammers and reputation peddlers, who would subvert not only the content of the encyclopedia, but also undermine public trust in Wikipedia—which is the most ubiquitous information source in the world.

The difference is this: we rely on Wikipedia to help us in our archival work, not to promote NARA itself. NARA’s work on Wikipedia is not a project of our public affairs department, but of the Open Government division. In the information age, that archival work includes innovating new methods for democratizing access to public records. If that means contributing a historically significant image from our collections of Joan Baez at the March on Washington to her Wikipedia article, that serves both our mission of preserving and making accessible our nation’s records as well as Wikipedia’s mission of freely sharing the sum of all knowledge. That also means that staff (primarily myself) may edit Wikipedia articles in the course of their work for NARA. Hopefully the difference between contributing to the Joan Baez article and editing an article on one of the presidential libraries is plain; the latter is a conflict of interest, while the former is actually a topic where we are involved as subject matter experts. That is not to say that it wouldn’t be possible for a cultural institution to use Wikipedia for self-promotion; however, we consciously choose to foster a Wikipedia–NARA relationship that is mutually beneficial, rather than self-interested.

Cultural institutions and Wikipedia may be natural allies when it comes to increasing access to information, but the principles of ethical Wikipedia participation are not necessarily obvious. Several months ago, we developed internal guidelines for staff participating on Wikipedia, which lay out high-level principles, like this one: “NARA seeks to always engage with Wikipedia as a full, participating member of the online community rather than owning any corner of it.” There are also more practical instructions: “National Archives staff members participate in Wikipedia on an equal footing with all other editors using individual, rather than departmental, accounts.” Each individual editor is instructed to disclose their affiliation with NARA on their Wikipedia account pages before editing, as well. And they are warned to avoid making substantive changes to Wikipedia articles about the organization. If we have complaints about how we are portrayed, we will contact the Wikipedia community through article discussion pages or another forum and trust in the editorial process to resolve the issue. NARA’s official policy document on Rules of Behavior for Using Web 2.0 and Social Media Web Sites also applies to staff interactions on Wikipedia.

I am acutely aware that the success of our Wikipedia project, and of the broader effort to integrate Wikipedia with cultural institutions, hinges on maintaining the goodwill of the community of Wikipedia editors. I think it is a good idea for all institutions working with Wikipedia to develop guidelines for staff, and publish them. It’s important for staff to have guidance when they begin a new venture like Wikipedia, but it’s also important to assure Wikipedia that we intend to participate in their project in good faith and on their terms. Accordingly, I have posted the full text of our guidelines on Wikipedia, and I welcome feedback on them here or on Wikipedia. This is not an official policy as of yet, though we are in the process of developing a Wikipedia policy to go along with our other social media policies and these guidelines are the current draft.

Posted in Open Government, Social Media (Web 2.0), Wikipedian in Residence | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Next DC-Area Researchers Meeting on September 28, 2012

Researchers are invited to the next researcher meeting on Friday, September 28, 2012 to meet with Research Services Executive Bill Mayer.  The meeting will be held at the National Archives at College Park  (Archives II) at 1:00 PM in lecture rooms B and C.  See you there!

Posted in DC-area Researchers, Research | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Record Collecting

Today’s post comes from Pascal Massinon, 2012 National Archives Legislative Archives Fellow.  Stay tuned to NARAtions as Pascal provides updates on his research and experience at the National Archives.

Dry fingers, dusty hands, and dirty knees. Common ailments for record collectors scouring through “new arrivals” bins and passed over shelves for rare used LPs. Historians don’t always favor vinyl, but many of us are compulsive record collectors of one kind or another. Hoarders all, we’re on the lookout for elusive documents, long-lost insights, and words that haven’t been read since they were first put to paper.

The obsessiveness required to hunt down both rare LPs and historical documents hit home when I joined archivist Kate Mollan into the stacks at the National Archives. Needles in haystacks come to mind, since the vast quantity of records produced by Congress makes clear cataloguing nearly impossible. According to last year’s Annual Report, the Records of the U.S. Senate take up almost 80,000 cubic feet of space, and in 2011 alone, the Senate sent another 2,523 cubic feet of new records. Whereas collections at the Library of Congress, presidential libraries, or University special collections can be described down to the folder or document level, the contents of the National Archives’ holdings, especially for materials from 20 to 30 years ago, are near mysteries.

National Archives stacks

A view of the stacks at the National Archives

To give you a sense of the heroic work performed by archivists to find materials for researchers, the finding aids that Kate found suggested that there were over 200 boxes of materials related to the Senate Commerce Committee from the 97th to 104th Congresses. Looking for anything on the hearings held by the Communications Subcommittee related to Digital Audio Tape in the late 1980s and early 1990s? Well, you might just have to open every one of those boxes to see what’s in their folders. All told, we might have opened nearly 300 boxes to find two folders worth of DAT documents.

One of the more striking lessons to learn in archival research is just how futile it is to strive for comprehensiveness in the amassing of your personal archive. I’m not sure historians always want to talk about it, but there’s always luck and happenstance involved when trying to track down materials, and for every bit of good fortune, bad luck can’t be far behind. Boxes can be mislabeled, documents can be filed incorrectly, a letter might finish after the first page, or a tantalizing document that’s part of a longer series might only appear on its own.

But the ideal of completeness lingers, the search for archival nuggets remains obsessive, and so the photocopies and photographs take up more and more space in filing cabinets and hard drives, waiting to be processed into coherent ideas and narratives. As much as we might yearn for readily accessible complete discographies, there’s no comprehensive iTunes Store or Spotify for historical documents yet (though they are coming, with the increasing digitization of government publications, historical newspapers, and the like), so the search happens in finding aids, the archival stacks, and the dusty boxes. Forgive my romanticism, but I’d hardly want it to be any other way…

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Learn about the Constitution on iTunes U

Today’s post comes from Stephanie Greenhut, Education Technology Specialist, in the Education and Public Programs division.

It’s almost Constitution Day! This September 17th marks 225 years since the signing of the United States Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. At the National Archives we’re commemorating the occasion throughout September with special programs, online media, and learning materials.

If you’re interested in brushing up on your knowledge of the Constitution, try our brand new United States Constitution course on iTunes U.

In it you’ll discover our multi-touch book for iPad – Exploring the United States Constitution – as well as blog posts, articles, videos, documents, and activities in the DocsTeach App for iPad. The course can be accessed for free with the iTunes App for iPad or from

You will learn about the Constitutional Convention, drafting and ratifying the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the three branches of our Federal government, and how the National Archives is preserving our Constitution.

You will see the legislative, executive, and judicial branches in action in Exploring the United States Constitution. In this book we’ve compiled a selection of writings published over the last three decades by our education staff. Each chapter features one or more of the billions of records in the holdings of the National Archives and connects it to the role of one of the branches of government as laid out in the Constitution.

For instance, the resolution proposing the 26th amendment that extended the vote to 18-year-olds demonstrates Congress’ job of initiating amendments, according to Article I of the Constitution. Congressman Abraham Lincoln’s “spot resolutions” challenged President Polk and called into question his actions undertaken as “Commander in Chief,” the role of the President according to Article II. And Supreme Court cases, exemplified in a letter about a book ban, resulted in the doctrine that “free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre,” and showcase the role of the judicial branch based on Article III. These are just three of 22 chapters all about the functions of our government according to the Constitution.

For information about special events and public programs at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC, to access teaching and learning resources, and to connect with the National Archives through social media, visit our Constitution Day page.

Posted in Education, Events, Social Media (Web 2.0) | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Family Tree Friday: Census Bureau exhibit at the 1926 U.S. Sesquicentennial Exhibition, Part I

Today’s post comes from guest blogger Doug Remley, who is a student research room technician in Research Services (RD-DC) at the National Archives Building in Washington, DC.  Doug offers a history lesson on how the Census Bureau celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.  Future posts will include some of the unique findings from the census schedules that were a part of the 1926 exhibit.  Some of these findings are stories of general interest, while others may be helpful to genealogists researching their families today.

In 1926, the United States celebrated the 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence with a world’s fair in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Not only was the Sesquicentennial Exhibition a celebration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the birth of our country; it was also a celebration of the great changes that had occurred in the world since the Centennial Celebration that had been held in Philadelphia in 1876.

Like other world’s fairs, the planners of the exhibition invited industrialists, manufacturers, and inventors, as well as governments from all over the world to come to Philadelphia and set up exhibits displaying recent changes in technology in America and around the world. A joint resolution in the U.S. Congress provided the funding for the participation of the U.S. Government departments and agencies. This resolution authorized government agencies to prepare for the Exhibition Association “such exhibits as it might be in the interest of the United States Government to display.” Congress appropriated $1,186,500 for the selection, purchase, preparation, transportation, arrangement, safekeeping, exhibition, and return of Government exhibits.

Almost every government department participated. Each department was allotted an exhibit space and each agency under that department was given a portion of that space. Government agencies worked hard to create informative as well as visually appealing exhibits in the hopes of winning one of the coveted medals awarded for exceptional displays at the exhibition.

The U.S. Census Bureau, part of the Commerce Department, was an old pro when it came to creating exhibits at world’s fairs. In fact, as part of their sesquicentennial exhibit, the Census Bureau displayed a medal that had been awarded in San Francisco at the Panama-Pacific International Exhibition in 1915.

Using the decennial census, the Census Bureau exhibit showed the public the changes in the makeup of the United States over the last 150 years. The exhibit displayed numerous charts, maps, and graphs that showed everything from the centers of population and the expansion of large U.S. cities to a chart contrasting the differences in death rates from typhoid fever and automobile accidents.

At the center of the display was a counter that showed the estimated population of the U.S. at that moment. The number went up by one person every 20 seconds. At the time the photograph was taken in the second half of 1926, the population of the U.S. was estimated to be 117,589,970.

Six glass cases filled with examples of census books and pages covered each decennial census from 1790 to 1920. The Census Bureau chose to display pages showing the enumeration of famous people, especially U.S. Presidents and famous statesmen as well as interesting notations found by Census Bureau employees. In the cases of many famous people, notations were even made in the margins by the enumerator to accentuate that there was someone famous located on that page.

In honor of the anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the Census Bureau exhibit prominently displayed schedules from the first census taken in 1790 that enumerated signers John Hancock (Boston), Samuel Adams (Boston), Thomas Jefferson (Philadelphia), Edmund Randolph (Philadelphia), and Edmund Rutledge (Charleston).

In the 1800 census in Quincy, Massachusetts, John Adams Esq. is enumerated at the top of the first page with “President of the United States” in large lettering below it. While this might seem normal, the 1800 census did not ask about a person’s occupation. Since the 1790 census for Virginia was destroyed by fire in the War of 1812, this 1800 census is the first surviving census enumerating a sitting president.

Also on display at the exhibit were census schedules showing three of the most famous senators of the mid-1800s John C. Calhoun (1840 South Carolina), Daniel Webster (1850 Massachusetts), and Henry Clay (1850 Kentucky), as well as presidents Abraham Lincoln (1860), Theodore Roosevelt (1870), and Rutherford B. Hayes (1880).

One of the most interesting schedules was the 1860 enumeration of the White House. James Buchanan is enumerated at the beginning of the listing of the “President’s House.” On the following five pages, the entire foreign delegations of seven different countries are listed. This was the only time that foreign ministers and their delegations were listed as a part of the White House when it was enumerated.

The Census Bureau exhibit was a huge success at the Sesquicentennial Exhibition. When the awards were tabulated from official papers received from the Executive Jury of Awards, the Census Bureau was awarded with a gold medal based on its exhibit. The Census Bureau also helped the Department of Commerce as a whole bring home the grand prize.

Posted in Family Tree Fridays, Genealogy / Family History, Research | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Mixtapes in Da Nang

Today’s post comes from Pascal Massinon, recipient of the 2012 National Archives Legislative Archives Fellowship. Pascal is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at the University of Michigan, and will be using records at the National Archives to research his dissertation topic, “Home Taping: Participant Listeners and the Political Culture of Home Recording in the U.S.” Stay tuned to NARAtions as Pascal provides updates on his research and fellowship experience at the National Archives.

Sparse finding aids often require a more hands-on approach to the sprawling collections at the National Archives in downtown Washington, so legislative archivist Kate Mollan wanted me to join her in the maze of air-conditioned stacks. We were trying to track down some materials produced by the Office of Technology Assessment in the 1980s relevant to my dissertation project, “Home Taping: Participant Listeners and the Political Culture of Home Recording in the U.S.” “By the way,” she said, “the Historian at the Center for Legislative Archives, who’s been helping with the Fellowship you applied for, would like to meet you.”

Fast-forward two weeks, and after a long game of cat and mouse with Center Historian Richard McCulley, I was startled to be sitting in the office of David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States (AOTUS, in the acronymed parlance of DC). The Archivist told anecdotes about Marines stationed in Da Nang that received treasured reel-to-reel tapes from friends and loved ones back home. One woman, he remembered, sent her boyfriend a mixtape of songs featuring her name (was it Mary? I knew I should have taken notes…) so that he wouldn’t forget her while in Vietnam. When you write about the politics of home recording, you hear tape-related stories from all kinds of folks, and this was a great one to put in my back pocket for the future. But the Archivist didn’t just invite me to his office to share his tale of the mixtape. No, this surprise visit ended with the wonderful news that I’d be named the recipient of this year’s National Archives Legislative Archives Fellowship!

The next day, the staff at Center for Legislative Archives welcomed me to the fold by bringing me to a baseball game on a sweltering DC afternoon. The Nationals couldn’t figure out R.A. Dickey’s knuckleball (they wouldn’t be the first this year) and the Mets hit Gio Gonzalez pretty hard, but we still had a great time even as the Nats looked more like the Montreal Expos of yore than the leaders of the NL East that they’ve been this season.

Pascal (first row on the left) and National Archives staff members attend a Washington Nationals baseball game

Through the course of the fellowship, I’ll be using this blog to write about my experiences in the archives, share some research thoughts, post documents, and talk about some of the other archival trips I’ll be taking in the coming months. I’ve already done a bit of research in the National Archives, and I’m looking forward to sharing some of the stuff I’ve found so far. Stay tuned.

Posted in National Archives Fellowship, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Have Your Say! We need your input on Digital Strategy

On May 23, 2012, the White House released the Digital Government Strategy, which outlines how all federal agencies will work to make information and services easily accessible on the internet, anytime, anywhere, and on any device. President Barack Obama said,

“Ultimately, this Strategy will ensure that agencies use emerging technologies to serve the public as effectively as possible. As a government, and as a trusted provider of services, we must never forget who our customers are – the American people.”

At the National Archives, we are working to make our data and information available to you.

Weigh in and let us know what you’d like us to focus on.
We’ve developed two lists. The first list is for proposed services to optimize for mobile use, so you can better access these services via a smartphone, tablet, or another mobile device. The second list is for systems to enable via Web Services like APIs, so that the data will be more accessible, especially for developers to reuse. Candidates were selected based on the possibility of implementation by May 2013. Please also let us know what additional candidates you would like to see optimized for mobile or enabled via APIs in the future.

In the comments below, please let us know what you would like to prioritized and specific recommendations for what will be most useful to you. If you prefer, you can email your recommendations to

To learn more about the agency’s implementation of the Digital Government Strategy, please visit and

Proposed Mobile Candidates:

  • Mobile optimize
  • Develop a mobile application based on the Daily Compilation of Presidential Documents.
  • Mobile optimize
  • Mobile optimize the Online Public Access resource, the online public portal for National Archives records.
  • Make additional National Archives records available through Wikipedia, which is mobile optimized and available through mobile apps.
  • Make additional National Archives records available through Flickr, which is mobile optimized and available through mobile apps.
  • Make improvements to Today’s Document mobile application.
  • Make improvements to the mobile application for DocsTeach, an online educational resource featuring National Archives records.
Proposed API Candidates: 
  • Integration of API into and its API. This integration would provide greater access to public comments and supporting documents in, and improve process for submitting public comments from to
  • Expand the API to include the “Public Inspection Desk.”
  • Develop an API for FDsys through the Office of Federal Register – Government Printing Office Partnership.
  • Develop an API for the Online Public Access resource, the online public portal for National Archives records.
  • Make additional National Archives records available through Wikipedia,  which is accessible through the MediaWiki API.
  • Make additional National Archives records available through Flickr, which is accessible through the Flickr API.

Put em in the suggestion box!

Posted in Redesign, DC-area Researchers, Digital Government Strategy, Digitization, Education, Genealogy / Family History, Miscellaneous, Online Research, Open Government, Wikipedian in Residence | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Family Tree Friday: War of 1812 certificates of discharge

In this post I’d like to highlight a particular set of records that probably don’t get as much attention as they deserve: certificates of discharge for Regular Army soldiers from the War of 1812.  The most likely reason for the slight attention these wonderful records receive is likely the fact that only a small portion exist.  Typically, when terms of service ended, soldiers in both the Regular Army and the state militias received an official discharge certificate to document their formal separation from the Army; these documents became the veteran’s personal property and, over time, probably a cherished memento of his military service. The War Department rarely kept file copies of these records during the early 19th century, and so the original certificates usually remained in private hands–with one notable exception.

After the war, many of these 1812 veterans applied to the War Department to collect back pay; in the process they returned their discharge certificates as proof of service.  And so, the original discharge certificates and other related records for approximately 2,200 Regular Army soldiers from the War of 1812 eventually came to the National Archives, mixed together with other War Department pay records that comprised the textual series “Post Revolutionary War Papers, 1784-1815″ (Entry 19) in the Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1780’s-1917.  Eventually, the discharge certificates were removed and reproduced on microfilm in National Archives Publication M1856, Discharge Certificates and Miscellaneous Records Relating to the Discharge of Soldiers from the Regular Army, 1792-1815.

Certificates of discharge provide a variety of useful information about the soldier, showing when he was released from service on a particular day and often indicating the reason for separation (in addition to expiration of service, soldiers were often discharged for injuries or ill health). They also typically include the dates of the soldier’s enlistment and discharge, the company and regiment in which he served, an inventory of clothing provided to him, and the period for which he was due pay upon discharge. To prevent fraudulent use in the event the record was lost or stolen from the veteran, the certificates also provide what would now be considered PII (personally identifable information): place of birth, age, a physical description (height, complexion, hair and eye color), and civilian occupation.

Discharge certificate for Pvt. John Waring, 2nd U.S. Light Dragoons.

Along with the original certificates, the microfilmed records include three other types of documents: descriptive lists, certificates of death, and pay vouchers.  The descriptive lists, handwritten in both narrative paragraphs and in chart form, provided the same information as the discharge, including an inventory of clothing an military accoutrements issued to the soldier.  Some provide extra details not found elsewhere, such as descriptions of physical injuries or character of service.  For those soldiers who died during their term of service,  the regiment often issued a formal certificate of death in place of a discharge, which noted the specific circumstances surrounding the soldier’s demise.  The pay vouchers, of course, documented the amount of pay due upon discharge, as well as reimbursements for rations and other subsistence paid out-of-pocket (including forage for horses and clothing for personal servants hired by officers).

Although they document only a small portion of the men who served in the Regular Army during the War of 1812, the certificates of discharge and related records are a valuable resource that should not be overlooked.   For a more detailed discussion of these records, there is a Prologue article available on the National Archives web site.  Take a moment to check them out!

Posted in Family Tree Fridays, Genealogy / Family History, Research | 2 Comments