George Mason and the origins of the Bill of Rights

Today’s post comes from Austin McManus with the National Archives History Office.

Come see our traveling exhibition, “Amending America: The Bill of Rights,” at George Mason’s Gunston Hall through October 21, 2017.


Portrait of George Mason (Courtesy of Gunston Hall)

One of the documents on display in the Rotunda in the National Archives is the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Its serves as a prominent reminder of our right as Americans.

But the document that inspired the Bill of Rights, as well as its main author, George Mason, are lesser known.

Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, completed in June 1776, served as the basis for our nation’s Bill of Rights.

Mason was raised in a wealthy planter family in the Northern Neck region of Virginia. By his early 20s, Mason emerged as one of the wealthiest men of the colony and began a successful career as a businessman, lawyer, and public servant for his colony and, later, his country. Continue reading

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Last chance to see Amending America

Today’s post comes from Christine Blackerby, archives specialist in the Center for Legislative Archives at the National Archives in Washington, DC. She is also co-curator of the exhibit “Amending America.


“The Bill of Rights and Beyond,” 1991. (National Archives Identifier 24520428)

More than 11,000 constitutional amendments have been introduced in Congress since the Constitution was written in 1787. What most of these proposals have in common, though, is that they failed to be enacted. Only 27 amendments have been ratified to become part of the Constitution.

So, what succeeded and what failed?

“Amending America,” a National Archives exhibit, invites us to discover the remarkably American story of how we have amended, or attempted to amend, our Constitution in order to form a more perfect union.

“Amending America” is on display in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery of the National Archives Building through September 4, 2017. Continue reading

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Hawaii’s long road to statehood

Today’s blog post comes from Lily Tyndall in the National Archives History Office.


Map of the Territory of Hawaii, 1915. (National Archives Identifier 25464219)

Hawaii’s journey to statehood was long and difficult.

For centuries the islands of Hawaii were ruled by warring factions. In 1810, King Kamehameha unified all of the Hawaiian Islands into one royal kingdom.

During the 19th Century, Western influence grew and by 1887 the Kingdom of Hawaii was overrun by white landowners and businessmen. They forced then-King Kalākaua to sign a constitution stripping him of his power and many native Hawaiians of their rights. Continue reading

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Total Eclipse of the Sun

Today’s post comes from Riley Lindheimer from the National Archives Public and Media Communications Office. 

On August 21, the continental United States will experience the first total solar eclipse in 38 years, a celestial phenomenon that has inspired awe in viewers around the world for centuries.

Lacreek 1979 timelapse

Time lapsed photographs of the February 26 total solar eclipse from the Lacreek National Wildlife Refuge annual report, 1979. (National Archives Identifier: 25496903)

In anticipation of the event, the National Archives is sharing eclipse-related documents and photographs from our holdings on our social media channels. 

Although partial solar eclipses occur more frequently, total solar eclipses require the perfect alignment of the sun, moon, and Earth.

Observers in the “path of totality,” a narrow path of visibility, will experience a period of temporary darkness while the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, blocking the sun and its corona. Continue reading

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New in our Catalog: Famous Faces in the Military

Today’s post comes from Marie Taylor, Preservation Technician with Preservation Programs at the National Archives.


Photo of Joe Louis from his Official Military Personnel File, n.d. (National Archives Identifier 57277097)

Have you ever wondered what Elvis did during his time in the military? How about Humphrey Bogart, Sammy Davis Jr., or even legendary boxer Joe Louis?

Many people forget or simply don’t know that these famous individuals served in our nation’s Armed Forces. That awareness might change in the future, thanks to a new initiative from the National Archives at St. Louis.

Many of the Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) from the Archives’ Persons of Exceptional Prominence (PEP) collection will now be available to view or download on the National Archives Catalog.

So, what are the PEPs? The PEPs are Specially Protected Holdings (SPHs) of accessioned military and civilian personnel files of prominent individuals who served in the military or Federal Government. They warrant special protection due to their status, what they did while serving, or as a result of their service.   Continue reading

Posted in - World War I, - World War II | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Putting the “Rat” in Ratification: Tennessee’s role in the 19th amendment


Joint Resolution Proposing the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, June 4, 1919. (National Archives Identifier 596314)

In 1878 Senator Aaron A. Sargent introduced into Congress a resolution proposing a constitutional amendment granting women the right to vote.

On June 4, 1919,  after 40 years—and much effort and debate—Congress passed, by a two-thirds vote of both houses, that proposed amendment.

It was then up to the states to ratify it. 

Many states quickly approved the amendment, and by the end of March 1920, it was just one state shy of ratification.

Mississippi could have been the final vote needed to make the amendment law, but the state rejected it on March 29.

The amendment still needed one more state for ratification when the Tennessee legislature met in special session that summer. Continue reading

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World War I: Now in HD

Today’s post comes from Sonia Kahn in the National Archives History Office. Visit the National Archives website for a full list of events and activities related to the 100th anniversary of World War I. 

It is almost eerie to watch the silent black-and-white footage, panning over the rubble remaining from small villages of France and Belgium, seeing cannons fire, and watching a zeppelin drop bombs on London rooftops, all without a sound. These are just some of the haunting images captured on the reels of recently digitized footage of World War I.

Digitized World War I footage, National Archives

Continue reading

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The Lost Battalion of World War I

Today’s post comes from Garet Anderson-Lind, an intern with the National Archives History Office.


Soldiers of the 77th Division as they are demobilized in New York, 1918. Some are veterans of the Argonne Offensive. (National Archives Identifier 26433577)

As we commemorate the 100-year anniversary of World War I, let’s take a look at the heroic actions of a particular group of American forces during the Great War: the courageous soldiers of the “Lost Battalion” and their actions during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in late 1918.

The “Lost Battalion” consisted of several different companies from the 77th Division of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) stationed in France.

Included in the fateful mission were Companies A, B, C, E, G, and H from the 308th Infantry Regiment, Company K, from the 307th Infantry Regiment, and Companies C and D from the 306th Machine Gun Regiment. Continue reading

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Discovering my family history: Genealogy at the National Archives

Today’s post comes from Garet Anderson-Lind, an intern in the National Archives History Office.


U.S. Immigrant Building at Ellis Island, 1900. (National Archives Identifier: 597954)

As an aspiring historian, genealogy has always been an aspect of history that I have found interesting. Growing up I heard stories of older relatives and our strong German heritage, which inspired me to look deeper into our history and what it meant to be a part of our family.

Until I got involved with the National Archives as a history office intern, it always felt like the tools to explore my family’s history were out of reach. Not only did pay walls on websites stop me, I lacked the know-how to explore my ancestors and their stories.

Through the National Archives, several avenues of research and discovery have opened up to me.

Today I am sharing a few highlights of my family’s history and talking about the tools I used to help research my ancestors. I hope to inspire others to pursue their own genealogy research, and to help potential researchers avoid some of the pitfalls I encountered when I attempted to do my genealogy research.

Hailing from Wisconsin, it will surprise no one with a knowledge of the area that my family going back many generations is sehr Deutsch—very German. Through my research, I was able to pinpoint where many of my ancestors came from, thanks in part to immigration and census records available online.


1940 Census Enumeration District Descriptions – Wisconsin – Winnebago County – ED 70-7, ED 70-8, ED 70-9, ED 70-10, 1940. (National Archives Identifier 5888050)

The first ancestor I want to highlight is Albert Edward Domke. Born in Pomerania, which was then a part of Prussia, Albert came to the United States on the passenger ship America in 1869, around the age of 20. Married to Anne Nessbauer (Nesbower), Albert was a nailer who lived until the ripe age of 43 and had two children, both sons.

One of the more interesting facts about Albert is that he possibly changed his last name when he arrived in the United States. As far as my research can tell, the name he and his family used on the immigration forms when arriving here was Damkse, slightly different than the last name Domke that he and three more generations of my family used before the name ended with my father’s mother.

Highlighting both the desire to “Americanize” last names and the continued fight for good documentation, my grandfather Albert shows the many of the difficulties that can arise when trying to pin down older ancestors.

Not all my family members were born more than 150 years ago. Another family member whose story now inspires me is my great grandmother, Nina Meyer, from my mother’s side.

Born in 1914 to Christ Meyer and Wilhelmina Nehring, Nina went on to survive the Great Depression and go to college as well. Although neither of her parents got past eighth grade, Grandma Nina was able to not only graduate high school, but had at least a year of college when the 1940 census rolled around. And she was also married to my great-grandfather at the time.

Throughout my research, I used resources from the National Archives, many of which you can find online.

The first place to start is the general National Archives genealogy page. The website provides a great starting point for genealogy research.

Furthermore, through the NARA website, the site was a huge boon to my efforts. With access to census records and immigration papers, Ancestry helps connect all the dots. The site also provides help through the creation of user-generated family trees. Visitors to National Archives facilities nationwide may access for free.

In addition to Ancestry, the site also provides helpful tips to getting your genealogy research started.

Finally, to help keep in the spirit of history and research, don’t forget that 2017 is the anniversary of America’s entry in World War I. If you know of a family member who served or you want to find out, the National Archives has many resources for these types of inquiries as well.


Over 4.7 million American men and woman served during World War I. Did someone in your family serve? Photo: American Red Cross canteen at the station of Bordeaux, France, where soldiers of the Allied armies get lunches, tobacco, etc. 1918. (National Archives Identifier: 20803816)

Hopefully, my family’s story has provided some insight into the interesting things you can learn about your own family history.

In addition, not only is family history research important for personal reasons, through continued efforts by everyone, more and more family connections can be made. Perhaps your own investigation can provide a family member’s maiden name to another researcher, or perhaps an old photo album contains a picture of someone else’s great-great-grandfather that they have never seen.

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Masterpieces of Freedom: The Faulkner Murals

Today’s piece comes from Lily Tyndall from the National Archives History Office.

Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, DC, on July 22, 2016.

Faulkner murals in the Rotunda of the National Archives in Washington, DC, July 22, 2016. (NARA photo by Brogan Jackson)

In 1933, the artist Barry Faulkner began work on two murals that were to adorn the walls of the National Archives Rotunda. The paintings were to reflect and honor the spirit of our nation’s founding documents.

After three years of sketching and editing the designs, and the actual painting, the murals were installed in 1936 (the Constitution and Declaration, which inspired them, didn’t come until 1952).

These larger-than-life murals are more than just art. They represent the complex work that went into drafting the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the documents that rest below them. Continue reading

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