Margaret M.H. Finch, War Records Keeper

Today’s post for Women’s History Month comes from Jessie Kratz, Historian of the National Archives.

I was intrigued when Alan Walker discovered those wonderful ID cards of former Archives employees in Record Group 64. I noticed many were women, which makes sense given the time period, and thought it would be nice to highlight a former female employee for Women’s History Month. I randomly picked Mrs. Margaret M. H. Finch, who worked for the National Archives between 1940 and 1949.

ID card of former Archives employee, Margaret M. H. Finch (National Archives Identifier 12091157)

As it turns out, Finch’s name appears quite frequently in many of our records. Interestingly, it’s not because she was employed by the National Archives, but because of her previous position.

Finch began her federal career in 1919, at age 42, shortly after her first husband died in the 1918 influenza outbreak. She started as a clerk in the War Department but soon moved to the Bureau of Pensions in the Department of Interior. While there, she worked primarily with pension and bounty-land files from the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812.

When she became chief of the Revolutionary and War of 1812 pension branch, she became the main contact person for historians, genealogists, and other researchers seeking copies of pension records. The paperwork these requests generated were subsequently filed with the records themselves.

This War of 1812 pension is just one example of hundreds and hundreds of documents Finch has signed that are now filed in the National Archives pension records:

War of 1812 pension application signed by Mrs. Finch
War of 1812 pension application signed by Mrs. Finch

In 1940, as the pension records were transferred to the National Archives, Finch transferred with them. She continued to help researchers locate pension files but also gave numerous talks about researching in the records. At that time, she knew the pension files from the nation’s first two wars better than anyone else, lovingly referring to them as her “heart throbs.” In an interview conducted upon her retirement, she explained the files made the men who served “almost become living people, and their descriptions of battles in which they fought are so real you feel like you’ve been an actual participator.”

Finch reluctantly retired from the National Archives in June 1949 after 30 years of federal service. She passed away in 1958.

A final note…

I became curious about the M.H. initials. Here’s what I have found:

Born: Margaret G. Maddox (1878)
Married Rosser Mead Hammond –> Margaret M. Hammond (1902)
Married Erastus M. Finch –> Margaret M.H. Finch (early 1920s)
Died: Margaret M. H. Finch (1958)

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