Orphan Train flyer

Suffer the Little Children – Orphan Trains in America

In this post from the archives by the late Carolyn Barkley, the history and role of America’s orphan trains in a children’s diaspora is discussed. If you are having trouble tracing a child in your family history during the time period of 1853-1930, looking into the orphan trains may help you in your search.

It is dark and the wind whips up the few leaves that have found their way into the gutter. A figure, hunched against the night’s cold, appears in the dim light of the street lamp. She cautiously, and almost furtively, lays her carefully wrapped burden on the doorstep, gives it a lingering caress and then disappears back into the shadows. A few streets away, a small, grubby child begs for food on the corner, perhaps assessing each pedestrian as a possible candidate for pick-pocketing. Sound melodramatic? Surely. But scenes such as these were enacted on the streets of New York during the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

Immigration had brought many hopefuls to America’s shores. It is estimated that in the approximately twenty years between 1841 and 1860, over four million immigrants arrived; by the turn of the century, over one million were landing each year. This influx of newcomers, often poor and with no immediate prospects in their new country, caused many problems. Housing was limited; jobs were often unavailable to immigrants; food was scarce; and diseases were common-place. The support that might have been provided by members of extended families in the “old country” was not available in the new. Laws regulating – and ultimately restricting – immigration would not be enacted until 1917, although there was a Chinese Exclusion Act as early as the 1880s. The result was the abandonment of children on the doorsteps of private homes, churches, and other institutions that might provide them with shelter and care, and a growing number of homeless childrens eeking out a poor subsistence on the streets.

In New York City, two agencies began to address the issue. Continue reading…

Ethan Allen's Capture of Fort Ticonderoga in May 1775. Find your relatives using Revolutionary War pension records.

Revolutionary War Pension Records Restored, Consolidated, and Explained, Part III

Editor’s Note: This article, the third of three installments, is excerpted from the Introduction to Mr. Bockstruck’s book Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905. The first two installments appeared in Genealogy Pointers and here on our blog (Part I and Part II).

Revolutionary War Pension Records Restored, Consolidated, and Explained, Part III

Due to the 8 November 1800 fire in the War Department in Washington, D.C., which destroyed almost all of the pension files submitted before that date, there are pension files bearing the notation “Dis. No. Papers” that were created from pension claims submitted for approval to Congress between 1792 and 1795. They are listed in the American State Papers, Class 9, Claims. There was a second fire in the War Department 24 August 1814, which destroyed the pension files submitted within the first fourteen years of the nineteenth century. Some of those pension files were also partially recreated and also bear the notation “Dis. No Papers.” Such files contain the name of the veteran, unit, date of enlistment, nature of disability, residence, and amount of pension. In the micro-publication Letters Received by the Secretary of War, Main Series, 1801-1870, M221, are some letters of inquiry about eligibility for pensions, replacement of lost pension certificates, &c.

Army and Navy Pension Laws, and Bounty Land Laws of the United States, Including Sundry Resolutions of Congress, from 1776 to 1852: Executed at the Department of the Interior with an Appendix, Containing the Opinions of Attorneys General of the United States, with the Decisions, Rules, and Regulations Adopted by Different Secretaries Relative to the Execution of Those Laws (Washington, D.C.: Printed by Jno. T. Towers, 1852) by Robert Mayo and Ferdinand Moulton remains an important source for ascertaining the existence of pension files before the two fires. Another one is Resolutions, Laws, and Ordinances Relating to the Pay, Half Pay, Commutation of Half Pay, Bounty Lands, and Promises Made by Congress (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1998).

At various times Congress requested lists of pensioners, and these reports have been printed. These lists augment the other fragmentary records and provide data not available elsewhere. The pension report for the year 1792 is the second volume of House publication Reports War Department 1st Congress, 3rd Session to 2nd Congress 2nd Session. It contains the names of 1,358 pensioners. Seven reports between 1794 and 1795 are in Senate publication War Office Returns to Invalid Claims. The 1796 report first appeared in print in Mary Govier Ainswoth’s “Recently Discovered Records Relating to Revolutionary War Veterans Who Applied for Pensions under the Act of 1792,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly, XLVI (1958) 8-13, 73-78.

A Transcript of the Pension List of the United States of 1813 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1959) is extremely significant because it was the last one to appear prior to the fire of 1814. It contains the names of 1,766 pensioners, not all of whom, however, were Revolutionary War veterans. Of course, many pensioners were already deceased by 1813. The U.S. War Department’s Pension List of 1820 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991) contains the names of more than 15,000 pensioners. In order to replace the papers and applications submitted after 1800 but destroyed in the fire of 1814, Congress issued The Pension List of 1835 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1835, 1968). The four-volume set has been greatly enhanced by the addition of indexes.

A Census of Pensioners for Revolutionary or Military Services; with Their Names, Ages, and Places of Residence, under the Act for Taking the Sixth Census, Bound with a General Index (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1974) contains the names of pensioners–both veterans and their widows at the time of the 1840 census. Some of these pensioners had been on the rolls prior to the fire of 1814. Others were state pensioners. By no means, however, were all of these individuals veterans of the Revolutionary War. Other pension lists include Letter from the Secretary of War, Communicating a Transcript of the Pension List of the United States (1817). It contains the names of about 1,000 pensioners and 300 half-pay pensioners. Pensioners of the United States, 1818 (Baltimore: Southern Book Company, 1959) has 5,900 pensioners and The Pension List of 1820 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1991) has 17,000 pensioners.

The final payment vouchers found in Record Group 217 of the Treasury Department include a few invalid pensioners approved prior to 1814. The vouchers for the states of Georgia and Delaware have been microfilmed. Those for the District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Virginia have been published.

Perhaps as many as a few hundred state bounty land recipients who do not appear in [my earlier book,] Revolutionary War Bounty Land Grants Awarded by State Governments (Baltimore: Genealogical Publishing Company, 1996), are also featured in this work.

Each entry [in Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905] contains the name of the veteran, the state of his or her service or residence, and details of service and family data consolidated from various sources. In some instances the evidence was insufficient for differentiating between individuals of the same name, or variations in spelling were so different that it was impossible to determine if there was a single pensioner. In such instances entries were left unconsolidated.

The sources for the individual states [far too numerous to be included here] are treated alphabetically by the Thirteen Original States plus the Green Mountain and Pine Tree states–Vermont and Maine. Kentucky and Tennessee also provided relief to selected Revolutionary War veterans living within their borders. The resources are discussed in alphabetical order for each locality [throughout the balance of the Introduction].

Image Credit: By John Steeple Davis (1844-1917) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Genealogy research

Tips for Genealogy Research, of the wittier variety

Bill Dollarhide prepared forty five witty tips for genealogy research, most of which are published below. While each aphorism is intended to produce a chuckle or two, each contains an important element of genealogical truth as well. Consider #15: “Finding the place where a person lived may lead to finding that person’s arrest record.” The point of #15 is that researchers must keep an open mind. No one knows what is around the next bend in one’s ancestral road. Continue reading…

Battle of Lexington, Revolutionary War soldiers pensions

Revolutionary War Pension Records Restored, Consolidated, and Explained, Part II

Editor’s Note: Lloyd DeWitt Bockstruck’s groundbreaking book Revolutionary War Pensions Awarded by State Governments 1775-1874, the General and Federal Governments Prior to 1814, and by Private Acts of Congress to 1905 identifies and recreates the Revolutionary War pension files generated prior to the disastrous fire in the War Department on 8 November 1800, and a second and even more disastrous fire on 24 August 1814 with the British invasion of Washington. Mr. Bockstruck has not only identified many of those pensioners whose files are commonly believed to have been lost but also reconstructed in varying degrees their contents. More than 16,500 pensioners are featured in this work.

The Introduction to Mr. Bockstruck’s book is a bibliographical essay that both explains the legislative and archival history of the Revolutionary War pensions and identifies the existing sources–primarily the pension records of the Original Thirteen States and various Congressional sources-that the author utilized in this massive attempt at evidentiary reconstruction. This article, published in three parts, is excerpted from that Introduction. Part One was published in last week’s Genealogy Pointers and here on our blog. Be sure to read the conclusion in the October 7, 2014 issue of Genealogy Pointers or here at GenealogyandFamilyHistory.com. 

Revolutionary War Pension Records, Part II

There were a number of pension acts after the one of 1776. The next was that of 15 May 1778, which authorized half-pay for seven years to all officers who remained in Continental service to the end of the war. It did not apply to foreign officers or officers above the rank of colonel. It also provided a gratuity of $80 to every enlisted man who served to the end of the war. The states were to make the payments on account with the United States. The act of 24 August 1780 extended the half-pay provision to widows or orphan children of officers who had died or would die in the service.

Following the resignation of 160 officers between January and October 1780, Congress addressed the problem of a lack of pensions. By the Resolve of 21 October 1780, all officers who continued to the end of the war should be entitled to half-pay for life. Congress did not, however, make any funds available to implement the program. On 23 April 1782 soldiers who were sick or wounded and were reported unfit for duty in the field or garrison were to be pensioned at the rate of $5 per month. The states were to dispense the funds annually and to draw upon the Superintendent of Finance for the money advanced. On 22 March 1783 Congress authorized full-pay for invalid officers for no more than five years or half-pay for life.

Continue reading…

German Genealogy, Double-page from the baptismal record of the catholic St. Johann church in Sigmaringen, 1851 # 23-31

But I can’t speak German! The challenge of German Genealogy

Editor’s note: The following post on the challenge facing an English speaker deciphering his or her own German Genealogy is written by professional genealogist Ernest Thode. Mr. Thode is an author, columnist, librarian and German translator with degrees from Purdue and Stanford.

You, the family genealogist, have a dilemma. You have discovered that your ancestry is German. Those old family letters in your possession are written in some kind of hen scratching that no sane person could possibly interpret, even though you have a vague feeling that those Germans of a century or two ago may have been successfully communicating with one another. To top it off, now you have researched back to your German-speaking immigrant ancestor couple. You can’t even read the pre-printed part of that form you found in the attic that you think might be a passport, let alone the hand-written words that fill in the blanks. Why, for all you know, that passport might not be a passport at all, but a graduation certificate or a marriage license.

What do you, the designated family historian, do now? You don’t know German other than “Gesundheit” and “Auf wiedersehen.” You face a daunting task, probably an impossible task, or so it would appear to any reasonable person. Even though you have traced your English lines back to the 1600s with much satisfaction at your genealogical prowess, you are practically ready to abandon your German immigrants prior to the moment they set foot on American soil at Castle Garden in 1881 because of the language barrier.

Fortunately, there is help. Even though I had the advantage of at least knowing the German language as I did my research, I became frustrated by the many different reference books I had to look through to find explanations of the words I found in genealogical documents. I had surname books, given-name books, gazetteers for place names, German genealogical guides and word lists, Latin word lists, French word lists, lists of weights and measures, lists of diseases, and guides to the old script. With such a plethora of aids, I saw the need for a “one-stop” German-English genealogical dictionary that could be used in conjunction with a basic German-English dictionary.

For nearly a decade, I pored through records that I had translated, genealogical periodicals, passenger lists, village chronicles, and historical documents, gleaning words and definitions, exhausting numerous German genealogical word lists. Finally, I compiled a reference book that I actually still use myself (you should see the notes in my desk copy!). My reference book, the German-English Genealogical Dictionary, includes the genealogy-related words that regular dictionaries either miss or don’t define in a way that applies to genealogy. There are no etymologies, pronunciation guides, parts of speech, etc. – just pure meanings for somebody translating, literally, word by word. It is just what someone needs to make sense out of a German genealogical document.

Image credit: By baptismal record of the catholic church in Sigmaringen 1851 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons