In a previous blog post, my colleague Katherine talked about vital statistics that sometimes show up in federal records. I thought it might be worthwhile to point out that, under specific circumstances, vital records were also intentionally created by the government, particularly the U.S. military. In our vast collection of records relating to 19th-century military forts–all part of Record Group 393, Records of United States Army Continental Commands (1821-1920)–there appear a number of registers compiled by post chaplains who documented major life events–births, marriages, and deaths–that occurred at specific forts. Army post chaplains, of course, were on hand to oversee the spiritual well-being of the fort personnel, and in that capacity they performed all necessary religious ceremonies, including baptisms, weddings, and funerals. In some remote frontier locations, they were the only ordained personnel available, and so their records sometimes included information about civilians from neighboring communities as well.
In RG 393, registers of births, marriages, and deaths are available for almost two dozen military forts, ranging in location from Alabama in the east, to California, Arizona, and Washington State along the Pacific coast. Some of the more well-known posts that have chaplain books include Fort Leavenworth, Kansas (ARC ID 1012583), Fort Hays, Kansas (ARC ID 894833), Fort Snelling, Minnesota (ARC ID 1184593), Fort Custer Montana (ARC ID 657852), and Fort Union, New Mexico (ARC ID 301919). You can find descriptions of chaplain books in the Archival Research Catalog by searching the terms births, marriages, or deaths.