Rescue Mission: 4-Step Plan for Preserving Family Bible Records

In your genealogy work, are you looking to give back to the community? Are you willing to pitch in and help preserve original family history records?

Why not help rescue old Family Bibles, by digitally scanning them and putting them online?

National and local genealogical societies, libraries, and individuals have all worked at this.

It’s time for us to do more to preserve our family records. We have all the modern tools—let’s do this.

Here is a genealogy preservation project that you can tackle yourself or accomplish as a group: a rescue effort that genealogical societies should start working on with renewed effort—today!

photo of a Family Bible

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Today’s families are often overwhelmed with caring for the accumulation of so many things gathered over a lifetime. Our elderly friends and relatives are leaving behind important family records as they downsize, move into assisted living, or pass away.

Modern families have to make quick decisions about which records and items are valuable and which can be given to Goodwill.

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Family Bibles can range from oversized, heavy tomes that are protected with large brass clasps, to slightly smaller versions—that can be nearly as heavy—and all are worn with age. Today’s families just might not be aware that these old copies of the “Good Book” likely contain more than the old gospel messages: each might contain a firsthand, handwritten account of their family’s genealogy.

Often these old Family Bibles have records from the 1700s to the 20th Century. Information that might not be easily found anywhere else.

Let’s get the word out and let everyone know just how valuable the family history information in these old Bibles really is.

4-Step Family Bible Rescue Mission Plan

1) Reach out through your clubs, churches and to your neighbors. Use social media, radio talk shows and events at your public library to promote your “rescue effort.”

2) Arrange with your local public library to host a “Scan It Night,” and encourage local residents to bring in their Family Bibles so that the information can be scanned, put online and preserved.

3) Scan the Family Bibles to create digital copies. Use your ingenuity to see what you can accomplish. Here’s one approach:

  • Scan the front and back of the two title pages found in most old Bibles: at the front and at the New Testament.
  • Scan all of the family registry pages, including the blank pages. That way future researchers will know you didn’t miss a page.
  • Then transcribe and type up the family information.

4) Put the digitized Family Bible records online to preserve them and make them easy to find.

  • Add the scanned pages to the online family tree sites—that way the information is permanently linked to the person.
  • Put the images on social media sites like Facebook, Pinterest, or Flickr.
  • Create your own blog and put this information online.
  • Assemble the images and your transcription in a Word document, save it as a PDF file, and upload it to the free site Scribd.com.

There are many approaches that you can take to make sure your family’s past is preserved for future generations. Find the best one for you.

These old family records need to be preserved.

Let’s each do what we can to make sure these old genealogy records are not lost.

Related Family Bible Articles

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Family Bibles for Genealogy Research: What to Look For

The Richmond Family Bible I bought on eBay recently arrived in the mail.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible

Photo: Richmond Family Bible. Source: Thomas Jay Kemp.

It was exactly as the seller had described it.

The eBay description had read:

Cover is well worn and torn.
A few pages are loose, most still intact.
Pages have spots throughout.
This is a family Bible which belonged to the William Richmond (1820-1871) family.
Bible has handwritten pages of marriages, births and deaths.
Also includes two typed pages detailing history written in the Bible as well as a brief family history dating back to 1040.

OK—I got what I paid for when I bought this family Bible. It was well packaged and arrived safely, so this eBay transaction worked very well. I have found and bought other long-lost family history items on eBay in the past and never had a problem with any of these online auctions.

Let’s get acquainted with this family Bible.

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The first thing you want to do is look at the title page and the verso (back) of the title page.

photo of the title page of the Richmond Family Bible

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

The title page clearly shows that this Bible was printed in New York in 1848 by the American Bible Society.

You need to also check the verso of the title page to see if there is additional copyright information printed there. Usually the verso repeats the year of publication, but sometimes there is different dating: imprint dates of publication or other clues as to when the book was actually printed.

The verso of the title page is blank in this Bible.

Your next step then is to examine the title page of the New Testament.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible, showing the title page of the New Testament

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

Looking at the title page for the New Testament we see that the publication information is the same as the Bible’s title page. And again in this case, the verso is blank.

You want to be sure to check the date of publication on both title pages. As publishers printed and assembled Bibles for distribution, they sometimes printed an extra supply of either the Old Testament or the New Testament—in order to bind and sell either part separately, or together as a large family Bible.

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Knowing the most recent publication date helps you to verify the information written in the Bible. Any information entered into the family registry pages for the decades before the Bible was printed would have been written in the Bible from memory, or perhaps copied from another family Bible or document. Entries made after the date of publication were likely made when the Bible was first purchased, or over time as each birth, marriage or death occurred.

photo of the Richmond Family Bible showing the family registry page

Source: Thomas Jay Kemp

For example: looking at the deaths recorded in the family registry, we want to examine the date of each person’s death and look to see if the handwriting style or color of the ink varies from entry to entry. These clues suggest which entries were all made at the same time and which entries were made at different times—indicating that they might have been made contemporary to the event.

In this family registry none of the entries were dated before 1848, the date the Bible was printed, making it likely that the entries were made around the time each event occurred.

Do you have an old family Bible as one of your heirlooms? Take it out and examine it closely, using the tips in this article, to see what family clues you can discover.

Related Family Bible Articles:

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Finding Family Heirlooms & Artifacts with eBay

It’s been years since I looked at eBay to find family heirlooms and artifacts. In the past, I have made some spectacular family history finds.

For example, I once found an old family letter written by Jonathan Huse (1767-1853) to his mother, and an 1813 sampler created by his daughter Sarah Araline Huse (1807-1825) when she was only 6 years old.

photo of a sampler by Sarah Araline Huse, 1813

Photo: sampler by Sarah Araline Huse, 1813. Source: Huse Family Papers.

Wow—if the family has lost track of some of its treasured heirlooms, eBay is a good place to find them again.

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My Recent eBay Family Find

Looking at eBay last week, I spotted this old family Bible first owned by William Richmond (1820-1871).

photo of a family Bible first owned by William Richmond

Photo: family Bible first owned by William Richmond. Source: eBay.

The eBay seller described this Bible as:

Cover is well worn and torn.
A few pages are loose, most still intact.
Pages have spots throughout.
This is a family Bible which belonged to the William Richmond (1820-1871) family.
Bible has handwritten pages of marriages, births and deaths.
Also includes two typed pages detailing history written in the Bible as well as a brief family history dating back to 1040.

OK—these details, along with close-up photos of some of the Bible’s pages shown in the seller’s eBay posting, were encouraging. I didn’t have “William P. Richmond (1820-1871)” in my family tree, but there is a Richmond line there—and based on the evidence provided by this online auction, it sure looked like he is a relative.

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Did this Heirloom Belong to My Ancestor?

I dug a little further on the large family tree sites FamilySearch and Ancestry, to see what more information they had on William Richmond and the other family members that were named in the close-up photos that the eBay seller had included in his posting.

These people were not included in either family tree site.

That really got my attention.

So—I didn’t have this family in my tree and it was not in the two large online tree sites. Hmm…

I poked a little further and decided this could be a good find for us—the family Bible of a previously undocumented family—that could be part of my family tree.

I was for many years the editor of the Richmond Family News Journal (1972-), a family history publication. So I had more than a passing interest in this Bible and the family records it contains. Even if this was not part of my Richmond line, I wanted the information because I like to document all Richmond family lines to assist everyone working on their family history.

So—I decided to buy this Bible on eBay.

My bid won and I received the news that the family Bible had already been shipped and that I should receive it soon.

To Be Continued…

When I do, I will report on what genealogy gems I find in the Bible in my upcoming posts.

Have you ever found old family heirlooms, documents and papers on eBay? If so, what types of artifacts have you found?

Please let us know.

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Frakturs & Family Bibles Can Provide Proof of Marriage

Introduction: Mary Harrell-Sesniak is a genealogist, author and editor with a strong technology background. In this guest blog post, Mary writes about using family Bible records and an interesting folk art called “frakturs” to document early family history.

I was recently asked to be part of a “Brick Wall” genealogical panel, whereby researchers submit a series of questions regarding their seemingly unsolvable ancestral proofs.

Many family researchers get stuck at dead-ends due to the loss of church and civil records, and don’t know where to turn next in pursuing their family history.

So if you can’t find an official genealogical proof document, what should you do? One good solution is to look for a family record, such as notes recorded in family Bibles. Another good genealogical resource is a fraktur, a type of folk art, mostly created to commemorate births, baptisms, and marriages.

Frakturs (or Fraktur Schrift) was originally an early type of black letter printing (or calligraphy) found in Germany. Later it expanded into a delightful type of decorative pictorial or manuscript art, popularized by Pennsylvania Mennonites at Ephrata, as described in this 1955 article from GenealogyBank’s historical newspaper archives.

The Art of 'Fractur' Made Pennsylvania Walls Bright, Boston Herald newspaper article 9 October 1955

Boston Herald (Boston, Massachusetts), 9 October 1955, page 38

Fraktur examples are often found in museums, and are advertised for high amounts on popular auction sites such as eBay. Numerous artifacts are in private collections, such as this framed fraktur which was given by one of my ancestors to her spouse in commemoration of their marriage.

photo of a marriage fraktur

Framed marriage fraktur

Beyond delving into family collections, how might one locate family Bibles and frakturs?

An easy method is to search military pension records. If a spouse survived her veteran husband and wished to collect a pension, proof of marriage was required.

Typically, a widow would submit a church record or a letter from a town clerk certifying a civil registration. In this example from 1840, James P. Terry of Somers, Tolland, Connecticut, certified the marriage of Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel on 25 October 1795.

marriage certification for Stephen Chapel and Lucy Russel 25 October 1795

Revolutionary War Pension File W.1888, page 10

However, if a civil or court record was unavailable (perhaps lost to fire or other disaster), the surviving family member might resort to submitting original pages from the family Bible or a fraktur.

A few of these proof-of-marriage document submissions were returned to the families—but many were not, and numerous examples still exist within the National Archives. Most are digitized (generally in black and white) within pension files, such as this one for Revolutionary War soldier John Tomlin and his wife Jane Chamblin.

marriage fraktur for John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin

Fraktur commemorating the births and marriage of John Tomlin and Jane Chamblin. Revolutionary War Pension File W.6302, page 18.

As descendants find their ancestors’ frakturs, they are often posted on websites. You can find these posted frakturs using my “visual” method.

How to Find Your Family’s Fraktur

1)      Open your favorite search engine (mine is Google).

2)      Search for “fraktur” or “Bible” followed by a keyword such as a surname, or a phrase such as “Revolutionary War.”

3)      Click on the “Images” tab at the top of the resulting search results page—and voilà: pages and pages of images of frakturs appear. Some will be links to books and references, but most will direct you to digitized images. (Note: if using Google Chrome, you can explore additional searching options under the “More” or “Search Tools” options.)

4)      Bookmark the images you are interested in for later reference, or add them to a Pinterest.com board. Pinterest is a “content sharing service that allows members to ‘pin’ images, videos and other objects to their pinboard.”

Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

screenshot of Google Images search results for “fraktur” and the surname “Tomlin”

Search results for family “Bible records”:

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records"

screenshot of Google Images search results for “Bible records”

You can search Pinterest for genealogy links, such as GenealogyBank’s Pinterest boards at

http://pinterest.com/genealogybank/, or my recently established Frakturs and Family Bible Records Pinterest board at http://pinterest.com/compmary/frakturs-and-family-bible-records/.

For more information on frakturs, visit the Ephrata Cloister website.

Using the Congressional Serial Set for Genealogical Research

Using the Congressional Serial Set for Genealogical Research
By Jeffery Hartley


(This article appeared in the Spring 2009 issue of Prologue. It has been excerpted and reprinted here with the permission of the author.

The Historical Documents section in GenealogyBank includes over 243,000 reports from the US Serial Set and the American State Papers).


Click here to search the American State Papers and US Congressional Serial Set in GenealogyBank.com

Genealogists use whatever sources are available to them in pursuit of their family history: diaries, family Bibles, census records, passenger arrival records, and other federal records. One set of materials that is often overlooked, however, is the Congressional Serial Set.

This large multivolume resource contains various congressional reports and documents from the beginning of the federal government, and its coverage is wide and varied. Women, African Americans, Native Americans, students, soldiers and sailors, pensioners, landowners, and inventors are all represented in some fashion. While a beginning genealogist would not use the Serial Set to begin a family history, it nevertheless can serve as a valuable tool and resource for someone helping to flesh out an ancestors life, especially where it coincided with the interests of the U.S. federal government.

Since its inception, the U.S. government has gathered information, held hearings, compiled reports, and published those findings in literally millions of pages, the majority of which have been published by the Government Printing Office (GPO).

These publications include annual reports of the various executive branch agencies, congressional hearings and documents, registers of employees, and telephone directories. Their topics cover a wide range, from the Ku Klux Klan to child labor practices to immigration to western exploration.

In 1817, the Serial Set was begun with the intent of being the official, collective, definitive publication documenting the activities of the federal government. Following the destruction of the Capitol in 1814 by the British, Congress became interested in publishing their records to make them more accessible and less vulnerable to loss.

In the early Federal period, printing of congressional documents had been haphazard, and the Serial Set was an effort designed to rectify that situation. Although initially there were no regulations concerning what should be included, several laws and regulations were promulgated over the years. The contents, therefore, vary depending on the year in question.

In 1831, 14 years after the Serial Set was begun, the printers Gales & Seaton proposed that a compilation of the documents from the first Congresses be printed. The secretary of the Senate and the clerk of the House were to direct the selection of those documents, 6,278 of which were published in 38 volumes between 1832 and 1861. This collection was known as the American State Papers.

Because it was a retrospective effort, these 38 volumes were arranged chronologically within 10 subject areas: Foreign Relations, Indian Affairs, Finance, Commerce & Navigation, Military Affairs, Naval Affairs, Post Office, Public Lands, Claims, and Miscellaneous.

Although not technically a part of the Serial Set, the volumes were certainly related, and therefore the volumes were designated with a leading zero so that these volumes would be shelved properly, i.e. before the volumes of the Serial Set. (1)

The Congressional Serial Set itself includes six distinct series: House and Senate journals (until 1953), House and Senate reports, House and Senate documents, Senate treaty documents, Senate executive reports, and miscellaneous reports. The journals provide information about the daily activities of each chamber. The House and Senate reports relate to public and private legislation under consideration during each session.

Documents generally relate to other investigations or subjects that have come to the attention of Congress. Nominations for office and military promotion appear in the Senate Executive Reports. Miscellaneous reports are just that­widely varied in subject matter and content. With the possible exception of the treaty documents, any of these can have some relevance for genealogists.

The documents and reports in the Serial Set are numbered sequentially within each Congress, no matter what their subject or origin. The documents were then collected into volumes, which were then given a sequential number within the Serial Set. The set currently stands at over 15,000 volumes, accounting for more than 325,000 individual documents and 11 million pages.

The Serial Set amounts to an incredible amount of documentation for the 19th century. Agency annual reports, reports on surveys and military expeditions, statistics and other investigations all appear and thoroughly document the activities of the federal government.

In 1907, however, the Public Printing and Binding Act provided guidelines for what should be included, resulting in many of these types of reports no longer being included as they were also issued separately by the individual agencies. The number of copies was also trimmed. With that stroke, the value of the Serial Set was lessened, but it nevertheless stands as a valuable genealogical resource for the 19th century.

So what is available for genealogists? The following examples are just some of the types of reports and information that are available.

Land Records
The Serial Set contains much information concerning land claims. These claims relate to bounty for service to the government as well as to contested lands once under the jurisdiction of another nation.

In House Report 78 (21-2), there is a report entitled “Archibald Jackson.” This report, from the House Committee on Private Land Claims, in 1831, relates to Jackson’s claim for the land due to James Gammons. Gammons, a soldier in the 11th U.S. Infantry, died on February 19, 1813, “in service of the United States.” The act under which he enlisted provided for an extra three month’s pay and 160 acres of land to those who died while in service to the United States. However, Gammons was a slave, owned by Archibald Jackson, who apparently never overtly consented to the enlistment but allowed it to continue. That Gammons was eligible for the extra pay and bounty land was not in dispute, but the recipient of that bounty was. Jackson had already collected the back pay in 1823 and was petitioning for the land as well. The report provides a decision in favor of Jackson, as he was the legal representative of Gammons, and as such entitled to all of his property. (2)

Land as bounty was one issue, and another was claims for newly annexed land as the country spread west. In 1838, the House of Representatives published a report related to Senate Bill 89 concerning the lands acquired through the treaty with Spain in 1819 that ceded East and West Florida to the United States. Claims to land between the Mississippi and the Perdido Rivers, however, were not a part of that treaty and had been unresolved since the Louisiana Purchase, which had taken the Perdido River as one of its limits. The report provides a background on the claims as well as lists of the claimants, the names of original claimants, the date and nature of the claim, and the amount of the land involved. (3)

Other land claims are represented as well. In 1820, the Senate ordered a report to be printed from the General Land Office containing reports of the land commissioners at Jackson Court House. These lands are located in Louisiana and include information that would help a genealogist locate their ancestor in this area. Included in this report is a table entitled “A List of Actual Settlers, in the District East of Pearl River, in Louisiana, prior to the 3d March, 1819, who have no claims derived from either the French, British, or Spanish, Governments.” The information is varied, but a typical entry reads: No. 14, present claimant George B. Dameson, original claimant Mde. Neait Pacquet, originally settled 1779, located above White’s Point, Pascag. River, for about 6 years. (4)

Annual Reports
Among the reports in the Serial Set for the 19th century are the annual reports to Congress from the various executive branch agencies. Congress had funded the activities of these organizations and required that each provide a report concerning their annual activities. Many of these are printed in the Serial Set, often twice: the same content with both a House and a Senate document number. Annual reports in the 19th century were very different from the public relations pieces that they tend to be today.

Besides providing information about the organization and its activities, many included research reports and other (almost academic) papers. In the annual reports of the Bureau of Ethnology, for instance, one can find dictionaries of Native American languages, reports on artifacts, and in one case, even a genealogy for the descendants of a chief. (5)

These reports can often serendipitously include information of interest to the family historian. For instance, the annual report of the solicitor of the Treasury would not necessarily be a place to expect to find family information. The 1844 report, however, does have some information that could be useful. For instance, pages 36 and 37 of this report contains a “tabular list of suits now pending in the courts of the United States, in which the government is a part and interested.”

Many on the opposite side of the case were individuals. An example is the case of Roswell Lee, late a lieutenant in the U.S. Army, against whom there has been a judgment for over $5,000 in 1838. Lee was sued in a court in Massachusetts and in 1844 still owed over $4,000. In a letter dated May 5, 1840, the district attorney informed the office (6)
that Mr. Lee is not now a resident of the district of Massachusetts, and that whether he ever returns is quite uncertain; that nothing, however, will be lost by his absence, as the United States have now a judgment against him, which probably will forever remain unsatisfied.

Another set of annual reports that appear in the Serial Set are those for the Patent Office. The annual reports of the commissioner of patents often include an index to the patents that were granted that year, arranged by subject and containing the names of the invention and the patentee and the patent number. The report included a further description of the patent, and often a diagram of it as well. Each year’s report also included an index by patentee.

Unfortunately, the numbers of patents granted in later years, as well as their complexity, led to more limited information being included in later reports. The 1910 report, for instance, simply contains an alphabetical list of inventions, with the entries listing the patentee, number, date, and where additional information can be found in the Official Patent Office Gazette. (7)

The Civil War gave rise to a number of medical enhancements and innovations in battlefield medicine, and the annual report for 1865, published in 1867, contains a reminder of that in the patent awarded to G. B. Jewett, of Salem, Massachusetts, for “Legs, artificial.” Patent 51,593 was granted December 19, 1865, and the description of the patent on page 990 provides information on the several improvements that Jewett had developed. The patent diagram on page 760 illustrated the text. (8)

This annual report relates to a report from May 1866, also published in the Serial Set that same session of Congress, entitled “Artificial Limbs Furnished to Soldiers.” This report, dated May 1866, came from the secretary of war in response to a congressional inquiry concerning artificial limbs furnished to soldiers at the government’s expense. Within its 128 pages are a short list of the manufacturers of these limbs, including several owned by members of the Jewett family in Salem, Massachusetts, New York, and Washington, D.C., as well as an alphabetical list of soldiers, detailing their rank, regiment and state, residence, limb, cost, date, and manufacturer. Constantine Elsner, a private in B Company of the 20th Massachusetts living in Boston, received a leg made by G. B. Jewett at a cost of $75 on April 8, 1865. 9 This may have been an older version of the one that Jewett would have patented later in the year, or it may have been an early model of that one. Either way, a researcher would have some idea not only of what Elsner’s military career was like, but also some sense of what elements of life for him would be like after the war.

Congress also was interested in the activities of organizations that were granted congressional charters. Many of the charters included the requirement that an annual report be supplied to Congress, and these were then ordered to be printed in the Serial Set.

One such organization is the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). As one would expect, the DAR annual reports contain a great deal of genealogical and family history information. The 18th annual report is no exception. Among other things, it includes, in appendix A, a list of the graves of almost 3,000 Revolutionary War soldiers. The list includes not just a name and location, but other narrative information as well:
Abston, John. Born Jan. 2, 1757; died 1856. Son of Joshua Abston, captain of Virginia militia; served two years in War of the American Revolution. Enlisted from Pittsylvania County, Va.; was in Capt. John Ellis’ company under Col. Washington. The evening before the battle of Kings Mountain, Col. Washington, who was in command of the starving Americans at this point, sent soldiers out to forage for food. At a late hour a steer was driven into camp, killed, and made into a stew. The almost famished soldiers ate the stew, without bread, and slept the sleep of the just. Much strengthened by their repast and rest, the next morning they made the gallant charge that won the battle of Kings Mountain, one of the decisive battles of the American Revolution. Washington found one of the steer’s horns and gave it to Abston, a personal friend, who carried it as a powder horn the rest of the war. (10)

Another organization whose annual reports appear is the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb, which later became Gallaudet University. These reports, found in the annual reports of the secretary of the interior, contain much of what one would expect: lists of faculty and students, enrollment statistics, and other narrative. While that information can help to provide information about one’s ancestor’s time there, there are other parts of the narrative that include information one would not expect to find.

For instance, the 10th annual report for 1867 has a section entitled “The Health of the Institution.” It concerns not the fiscal viability of the institution but rather the occurrences of illness and other calamities. One student from Maryland, John A. Unglebower, was seized with gastric fever and died: “He was a boy of exemplary character, whose early death is mourned by all who knew him.” Two other students drowned that year, and the circumstances of their deaths recounted, with the hope that “they were not unprepared to meet the sudden and unexpected summons.” (11) Both the faculty and the student body contributed their memorials to these two students in the report.

Other organizations represented in the Serial Set are the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts of America, Veterans of World War I of the United States, proceedings of the National Encampment, United Spanish War Veterans, the American Historical Association, and the National Convention of Disabled American Veterans.

Lists of Pensioners
The history of pensions provided by the federal government is beyond the scope of this article. However, the Serial Set is a source of information about who was on the rolls at various times. For instance, an 1818 letter from the secretary of war was published containing a list of the persons who had been added to the pension list since May 28, 1813. The list provides information on the likes of Susanna Coyle, certificate of pension no. 9, heiress of deceased soldier William Coyle, alias Coil, a private who received pay of four dollars per month. (12)

Sundry lists of pensions appeared in 1850, related to the regulation of Navy, privateer, and Navy hospital funds. The report included four lists: those placed in the invalid list who were injured while in the line of duty; those drawing pensions from wounds received while serving on private armed vessels; widows drawing pensions from their husbands who were engineers, firemen, and coal-heavers; and orphan children of officers, seamen, and marines pensioned under the act of August 11, 1848. (13)

One of the most widely consulted lists is that for 1883, “List of Pensioners on the Roll, January 1, 1883” (Senate Executive Document 84 [47-2]). This five-volume title, arranged by state and then county of residence, provides a list of each pensioner’s name, his post office, the monthly amount received, the date of the original allowance, the reason for the pension, and the certificate number.

An example is the case of Eli G. Biddle, who served in the 54th Massachusetts. Biddle can be found on page 439 of volume 5 of the “List,” and a researcher can learn several things without even having seen his pension file: his middle name is George, he was living in Boston in 1883, and he was receiving four dollars each month after having suffered a gunshot wound in the right shoulder. His pension certificate number is also provided 99,053­ and with that one could easily order the appropriate records from the National Archives.

Registers
The Serial Set serves as a source of military registers and other lists of government personnel as well. Both Army and Navy registers appear after 1896. The Army registers for 1848–1860 and the Navy registers for 1848–1863 are transcripts of the lists that appeared the preceding January and include pay and allowances, with corrections to that earlier edition for deaths and resignations.

The Official Register, or “Blue Book,” a biannual register of the employees of the federal government, appears for 10 years, from 1883 to 1893. If one’s ancestors were employees at this time, their current location and position, place from which they were appointed, date of appointment, and annual compensation can be gleaned from this source.

The Serial Set often provides unexpected finds, and the area of registers is no exception. There is a great deal of material on the Civil War, from the 130 volumes of the Official Records of the War of the Rebellion to other investigations and the aforementioned registers and lists of pensions. There are not, however, large amounts of compiled unit histories.

One exception, however, is the report from the adjutant general of Arkansas. Shortly after the Civil War, the adjutant general offices of the various Union states prepared reports detailing the activities of the men from their states. The same was done in Arkansas, but the state legislature there, “under disloyal control,” declined to publish the report. Senator Henry Wilson of Massachusetts, chairman of the Senate Committee on Military Affairs, brought it to the committee in 1867, and it was ordered to be printed in the Serial Set so that the loyal activities of these 10,000 men would be recognized. (14) The report includes brief histories of each unit as well as a roster of the unit and rank, enlistment date, and other notes on each soldier.

Accessing Information in the Serial Set
The indexing for the Serial Set has long been troublesome to researchers. Various attempts have been made to provide subject access, with varying degrees of success. Many of the indexes in the volumes themselves are primarily title indexes to the reports from that Congress and session. The Checklist of United States Public Documents, 1789–1909, does provide information about what reports listed therein do appear in the Serial Set, but the researcher has to know the name of the issuing agency in order to access that information. The Document Index provides some subject indexing by Congress, and other efforts such as those by John Ames and Benjamin Poore can also be used, but none index the tables and contents of many of the reports that have been discussed in this article. (15)

The best comprehensive print index is the Congressional Information Service’s (CIS) U.S. Serial Set Index, produced in conjunction with their microfilming of the volumes through 1969 beginning in the mid-1970s. In this index, a two-volume subject index covers groups of Congresses, with a third volume providing an index to individual names for relief actions, as well as a complete numerical list in each report/document category. The index, however, does not index the contents of the documents. For instance, although the title given for the Archibald Jackson land claim includes James Gammons’s name, the latter does not appear in the index to private relief actions. In addition, users must often be creative in the terms applied in order to be sure that they have exhausted all possibilities. In the mid-1990s CIS released these indexes on CD-ROM, which makes them somewhat easier to use, although the contents are essentially the same.

The indexing problems have been rectified by the digitization of the Serial Set. At least two private companies, LexisNexis and Readex, have digitized it and made it full-text searchable.

[The Serial Set and American State Papers are available in GenealogyBank. Click here to search them online]

This article can only hint at some of the genealogical possibilities that can be found in the Congressional Serial Set. It has not touched on the land survey, railroad, western exploration, or lighthouse keeper’s reports or many of the private relief petitions and claims. Nonetheless, the reports and documents in the Serial Set provide a tremendous and varied amount of information for researchers interested in family history.

Author
Jeffery Hartley is chief librarian for the Archives Library Information Center (ALIC). A graduate of Dickinson College and the University of Maryland’s College of Library and Information Services, he joined the National Archives and Records Administration in 1990.

Notes
1 For a more complete description of the American State Papers, and their genealogical relevance, see Chris Naylor, “Those Elusive Early Americans: Public Lands and Claims in the American State Papers, 1789–1837,” Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives and Records Administration 37 (Summer 2005): 54–61.
2 H. Rept. 78 (21-2), 1831, “Archibald Jackson” (Serial 210).
3 H. Rept. 818 (25-2), 1838, “Land Claims between Perdido and Mississippi” Serial 335.
4 S. Doc. 3 (16-2), 1820, “Reports of the Land Commissioners at Jackson Court House” (Serial 42).
5 H. Misc. Doc. 32 (48-2), 1882, “3rd Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology” (Serial 2317).
6 H. Doc. 35 (28-1), 1844, “Annual Report of Solicitor of the Treasury” (Serial 441), p. 37. 7 H. Doc. 1348 (61-3), 1911, “Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1910″ (Serial 6020).
8 H. Exec. Doc. 62 (39-1), 1867, “Annual Report of the Commissioner of Patents for the Year 1865″ (Serial 1257-1259).
9 H. Exec. Doc. 108 (39-1), 1866, “Artificial Limbs Furnished to Soldiers” (Serial 1263).
10 S. Doc. 392 (64-1), 1916, “Eighteenth Report of the National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, October 11, 1914, to October 11, 1915″ (Serial 6924), p.155. 11 H. Exec. Doc. 1 (40-2), “Tenth Annual Report of the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and Dumb” (Serial 1326), pp. 429–430.
12 H. Doc. 35 (15-1), 1818 (Serial 6), p. 17.
13 See H. Ex. Doc. 10 (31-2), 1850, “Sundry Lists of Pensioners” (Serial 597).
14 See S. Misc. Doc 53 (39-2), 1867, “Report of the Adjutant General for the State of Arkansas, for the Period of the Late Rebellion, and to November 1, 1866″ (Serial 1278).
15 A good discussion of how some of these indexes work can be found in Mary Lardgaard, “Beginner’s Guide to Indexes to the Nineteenth Century U.S. Serial Set,” Government Publications Review 2 (1975): 303–311.

On the Road Again – Delaware Genealogical Society

I am on the road again.

Last night I had the opportunity to speak to the Delaware Genealogical Society about GenealogyBank.

Hat’s off to the Society and particularly to DGS President Phoebe Doherty, her husband Tom and to the incoming DGS President Fran Allmond and her husband Charles for their invitation and hospitality. The Union City Grille was a great place to eat.
What a terrific group. The hall was packed and they asked lot’s of questions ranging from the coverage of Delaware newspapers in GenealogyBank and a non-stop presentation of the variety of examples found in historical newspapers.

Newspapers are a terrific resource. They give us these details and more.

GenealogyBank has more than 1 billion names – and we’re adding more than 4 million articles every month.

Give it a try right now – only $9.95.

Tracking down Family Bibles ….

Family Bibles have been treasured by families for generations, but finding them today can be difficult.

It was common for families to have a family Bible – a large bound book that was prominently displayed in the family parlor – “…a large octavo volume, with a more or less ornate binding, with blank pages inserted on which to record births, marriages and deaths, and sometimes the near-slaying of Isaac, Moses in the bulrushes, the infernal regions and other interesting dramatic and historic incidents narrated in the [Bible]“. (Boston Journal 13 May 1908).
(Image from Antique Holy Bible Item #330235937204 – Ebay.com)
I spotted quite a few newspaper articles that cited the old family Bibles and who their current owners were.

For example – Henry Peters of Trenton, NJ used his family Bible to prove that he was “sixteen years old and two months older than that” so that he could get in to the show at the Trent theater. (Fort Worth (TX) Star-Telegram. Nov 4, 1909).
An article in the Columbus (GA) Enquirer (2 Sep 1898) tells us that “Mrs. Billard, the daughter of the late Rev. Edward Oldrin, who lives on Bank Street [Stamford, CT]” … and that she got it “by inheritance from her father. … The book is in the original binding and well preserved, the Old Testament part having been printed in 1597 and the New Testament in 1596. The covers are of wood.”

This is an important point. Always check the dates that each of the Testaments was printed. Printers often printed them separately and then joined them together when they published the Bible. This is a way to date a family Bible.

“Inscribed on the yellow fly-leat are the words: Edward Oulldron owns this book and after his death to his son Edward Oulldron, given by his grandfather – 1651.” Elsewhere it states “Edward Oldrin’s [note the change in spelling] book, given by his father on is deathbed in the 1827, July 28, to be kept in the family.”

Mrs. Jennie Fairbanks Milligan of Springfield, Ohio brought the family Bible when she was called to testify in a case trying to break the will of the late Delavan Smith of Lake Forest, IL. (Dallas Morning News. 1 October 1921).

John M. Butler of Ocean Grove, NJ found out by double checking his family Bible that he was 101 and not 100 years old when he went to celebrate his birthday. He said it was a “pretty tough job trying to keep track of so many birthdays.” He said with a smile … “I must have lived two years in Brooklyn [NY, the] one year that I was there. That’s the only way I can account for the discrepancy.” (Evening Times – Pawtucket, RI – 17 jan 1901).

But you won’t find the Belin family Bible. It seems that in November 1908, Joseph Belin of Wilkes-Barre, PA “came home intoxicated and threatened [his mother] and then burned the family Bible.” There were 7 prisoners in court that day for “being drunk”. Six of them were fined $1.00 but Joseph Belin was fined $5.00. (Wilkes-Barre (PA) Times Leader – 18 Nov 1908).

Historical newspapers are packed with family history information. Research more than 3,400 newspapers and document your heritage on GenealogyBank.
Give it a try right now.