This post comes to us from Communications intern Lia Collen.
Staff from the National Archives (NARA) at St. Louis participated in the annual National Genealogical Society’s (NGS) Family History Conference in St. Charles, MO, from May 13–16. More than 2,200 professional genealogists attended the conference.
Access Coordinator Bryan McGraw and archivists Theresa Fitzgerald, Daria Labinsky, and Ashley Mattingly gave presentations about the large collection of personal data series records available at NARA at St. Louis.
“While, individually, a particular record may not seem as critical as a landmark document or treaty, taken as a whole, these records are among the most powerful and essential to our existence,” McGraw said. “Furthermore, these records not only give insight into genealogy, but many of them are used decades and decades later for essential benefits, entitlements, and the like.”
In addition to their lectures, the St. Louis staff managed an information table to provide more detailed information on records. Staff used this as an opportunity to clear up misconceptions and provide a better understanding of the National Archives at St. Louis.
“It is important for NARA to take part in this conference as we hold a treasure trove of records that will assist any genealogist or researcher that wants to learn more about their family’s military background,” Fitzgerald said.
Staff spoke to visitors about the scope of the records at St. Louis and explained the records request process. A lot of visitors were unaware St. Louis had so many record series aside from military personnel folders. Some visitors did not know that the National Archives even existed in St. Louis!
“Visitors seemed quite thankful and excited for the information they garnered,” Mattingly said. “I believe that it is a bit difficult to understand the scope of our holdings as well as the information available (or restricted) to the public.”
Staff also received many questions about the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.
“We constantly informed people that, no, not all the records were burned in the fire, or not all the World War II Army records were burned in the fire,” Labinsky said. “We explained how auxiliary records can be used to recreate a veteran’s military service if a record had been destroyed in the fire.”
McGraw remarked that the National Archives staff were the unofficial rock stars of the conference. “Many commented to me at the booth how much they enjoyed NARA being there and how valuable the information we provided to them was to their research,” he said. “This was from the full spectrum of perspectives, including individual family researchers, to large, corporate organizations involved in genealogy, software, tools and the like.”
National Archives staff felt they benefited from participating in the conference as well. Staff enjoyed seeing that their presence at the conference was appreciated. The best part, staff agreed, was engaging with attendees and seeing them get excited about using National Archives records in their own research.
“Seeing someone learn something they didn’t know or helping them solve a complex problem is very rewarding,” McGraw said. “Helping someone to piece together the past to show eligibility for something and seeing their sometimes emotional reaction is absolutely priceless and drives me to do more and more.”