Family Tree Friday: Navigating federal records about ethnic groups–come prepared!

If you had the opportunity to attend NARA’s 6th Annual Genealogy Fair last month, visitors were treated to a variety of lectures on the theme of “The World of Genealogy.”  The theme highlighted the ethnic diversity that is documented in specific federal records, whether they are newspapers published by Japanese-Americans through the War Relocation Authority during World War II, ship manifests for immigrants of Caribbean-African descent, or service records of Hispanic volunteers to fought for the U.S. Army during the Mexican War.  The fair was a great success, with a record-breaking attendance!  But before the dust completely settles (at least until next year’s event!) it seems appropriate to say one last word about the general nature of doing ethnic research with federal records.

The main point to understand is that the federal government generally did not organize or consolidate records along ethnic lines, with two main exceptions.  Records relating to African Americans are associated with the Freedmen’s Bureau, while those for Native Americans are located in the Bureau of Indian Affairs.  No such agencies existed for other ethnic groups, and so related information is generally disseminated throughout all federal records.  So, you need to have some idea where to look to find specific records.  For example, if you want information about Hispanic soldiers in the Second Seminole War in 1835-42, you will need to know where Hispanics were living in the mid-nineteenth century U.S. to identify the state regiments in which they served.  A little bit of homework, therefore, may be necessary before you visit NARA, so you come prepared with the right questions to ask!  It’s a subtle point that should be kept in mind to make your research experience as efficient as possible!

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