Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon


George Washington, copy of painting by Gilbert Stuart. (National Archives Identifier 532888)

Today’s post comes from Jim Zeender, Senior Registrar in the National Archives Exhibits Office.

On October 1, 2016, the Mount Vernon Museum opened a new and groundbreaking exhibition called “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.

The exhibition explores the long and complex relationship between George Washington and his slaves and his evolving attitudes toward the evil institution as a whole.

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A Trip to Williamsburg

Today’s post comes from Jim Zeender, Senior Registrar in the National Archives Exhibits Program in Washington, DC. 

In early September I had the pleasure of taking a train to Williamsburg, Virginia.


Visitors at the Muscarelle Museum of Art Exhibit in Williamsburg, VA, November 7, 2016. (Photo Courtesy of the Muscarelle Museum of Art)

I have taken trains to Philadelphia, New York, and New Haven numerous times. Overseas, I have been on trains in England, France, Austria and Switzerland. However, I had never taken a train in a southerly direction here in my home country.

As we rolled slowly out of Union Station through downtown Washington, DC, and across the Potomac River, we had great views of the monuments.

Our first stop was Alexandria, boyhood home of Robert E.  Lee and location of the first Union soldier killed in the Civil War.

This Amtrak regional train continues on to Williamsburg via Fredericksburg, passing various Civil War battlefields, Richmond (the capital of the Confederacy), and stops in between. Instead of the industrial north, I saw the rolling hills and woods of Virginia, once roamed by the first Americans.

The purpose of the trip was to see the exhibition, “Building the Brafferton: Founding, Funding and Legacy of the American Indian School” at the Muscarelle Museum of Art on the campus of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.

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Gerald Ford: President and Veteran

In honor of Veterans Day, today’s post comes to you from Sanjana Barr of the National Archives History Office.

Gerald R. Ford Administration White House Press Releases

Press Release Statement regarding Veterans Day, September 20, 1975. (Gerald Ford Presidential Library, National Archives).

On September 20, 1975, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation returning the official date for celebrating Veterans Day to November 11.

For the previous four years, Veterans Day had been observed on the fourth Monday in October due to the 1968 Uniform Holiday Act. That act mandated observance of four national holidays (George Washington’s Birthday, Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and Columbus Day) on Mondays to create more three-day weekends.

The law led to confusion about Veterans Day, with it being celebrated in October in some places and on November 11 in others.

President’s Ford’s action was also important for symbolic reasons. After World War I, November 11 was recognized as Armistice Day in many of the Allied nations and continues to be a way to honor fallen soldiers. Unlike most Armistice Day celebrations,  our observance of the holiday honors all American veterans, living and dead.

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The Election of 1800

scan-1800 election.tif 2

Tally of electoral votes for the 1800 Presidential election, 2/11/1801. (National Archives Identifier 2668821)

Anyone who is a fan of the hit musical Hamilton knows the song “Election of 1800.” It depicts an infamous election that ultimately led us to change our Constitution.

By 1800, the nation’s first two political parties were beginning to take shape. The two major candidates for President were the Federalist President, John Adams, and the Democratic-Republican candidate, Thomas Jefferson.

When the electors cast their votes, the result was a tie. But the tie wasn’t between Adams and Jefferson (Adams received 65 electoral votes). It was between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr, who both received 73 votes.

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Documenting National Archives History

October is American Archives Month! We’re wrapping up our month-long series of blog posts about electronic records. Today’s post comes from Elle Benak from the National Archives History Office.


Contact sheet from the transfer, August, 12, 2016. (Photo by Steve Greene, National Archives)

On August 12, 2016, the National Archives transferred photographs from 25 years of our history into permanent storage.

What makes this transfer so significant is that it not only covers a 25-year time span, but it is also the first time we have ever transferred our own photographs electronically and highlights the shift in National Archives photography from film to digital.

The National Archives photographs its events, programs, visits, and other activities. We use these photos to promote the National Archives and document our history.

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Researching the Family Tree

October is American Archives Month! Today’s post comes from Elle Benak in the National Archives History Office.


Illustrated family record (Fraktur) found in Revolutionary War Pension and Bounty-Land-Warrant Application File W4927, for Ezekiel Root, Connecticut, ca. 1800. (National Archives Identifier 300228)

The National Archives has many records that can assist researchers in their search to discover their family history. In fact, from the 1970s onward, genealogical records have been the largest resource that draws people to the archives.

Before 1970,  many historians did not view genealogists as serious researchers. The prevailing view was that only the wealthy traced their family histories to document their pedigrees.

At that time, historical research focused mostly on topics like military, political, or economic history.

But the late 1960s and early 1970s marked a shift in historical research. Topics pertaining to social history, like women’s and African American history, started to gain popularity. Continue reading

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Archiving the Digital Age

October is American Archives Month! We’re celebrating the work of archivists and the importance of archives with a series of blog posts about the electronic records. Today’s post comes from Elle Benak of the National Archives History Office.


Memorandum on Managing Government Records, November 28, 2011. (Office of the Federal Register, National Archives)

On November 28, 2011, President Obama signed a memorandum issuing an executive branch–wide order that all government agencies must reorganize and improve their records management by transitioning to systems that could properly manage electronic records.

The goal of this memorandum was to create a records management system that would “improve performance and promote openness and accountability by better documenting agency actions and decisions.” Improving records management was also seen as a way to minimize expenses.

In the memorandum, Obama stressed that well-managed records allow agencies to analyze programs, operate efficiently, save money, and share knowledge with other agencies as well as the general public.

In short, they are the backbone of an open government.

President Obama recognized the need to transition from paper recordkeeping to a digital system. In his memorandum, he called for a framework that can organize the electronic communications and systems that have “radically increased the volume and diversity of information that agencies must manage.” Continue reading

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Helping the Public Use Electronic Records at the National Archives

October is American Archives Month! We’re celebrating the work of archivists and the importance of archives with a series of blog posts about the electronic records. Today’s post is an interview by External Affairs Liaison Meg Phillips with Lynn Goodsell and Ted Hull of the Electronic Records Division.


Ted Hull and Lynn Goodsell at work. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Goodsell)

Today I’m visiting with the Director of the National Archives Electronic Records Division, Theodore (Ted) Hull, and the Electronic Records Division Reference Branch Chief, Lynn Goodsell.

My goal is to learn about how the public can get access to electronic records at the National Archives and to find out a little bit about the types of electronic records we receive from federal agencies. (The National Archives also receives electronic records in the Presidential Libraries and the Center for Legislative Archives.) Continue reading

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The Challenges of Electronic Records

October is American Archives Month and today is Electronic Records Day! We’re celebrating the work of archivists and the importance of archives with a series of blog posts about the electronic records. Today’s post comes from Sam McClure, Electronic Records Program Officer in the Office of the Archivist. 


Printed email message found in George W. Bush Administration textual materials. (Excerpt from National Archives Identifier 24620194)

With more than 12 billion pages of textual materials, 600,000 reels of motion picture film, 18 million maps and charts, 400,000 sound and video records, 9 million aerial photographs, 17.6 million still pictures and posters, 550,000 artifacts, and 20 billion records in our electronic holdings, the scale of the National Archives’ archival holdings is difficult to grasp.

Any category of records in our holdings can be daunting to consider, whether because of the sheer volume of the material, the legal requirements for gaining access, or because of the challenges in finding specific records related to your research interest.

However, electronic records combine these challenges in a unique way.

Many discussions of electronic records focus on email. But email is by no means the only type of electronic record that NARA takes in—we ingest digital images, databases of many kinds, basic office files in directory structures, and countless other formats. Continue reading

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While Chicago Burned

Today’s post was originally published in Prologue: Quarterly of the National Archives in the Winter 2011 issue (Vol. 43, no. 4).

While Chicago Burned

Records of an Obscure Court Case
Yield New Details on the 1871 Fire

By Ann Patricia Duffy

When the fire brigade’s general alarm bells sounded on the night of October 8, 1871, most Chicagoans paid no special notice. The summer had been the hottest and driest of many seasons, and October had already seen several fires in the city.

That Sunday, however, a ferocious wind frustrated the exhausted firefighters’ efforts and propelled the flames across the city. By the time the fire died out on Tuesday morning, roughly 300 people were dead, 100,000 were homeless, and Chicago’s central business district was destroyed.

Those who fled before the flames never forgot the fear and panic of those days. Nearly 70 years later, one Chicagoan described the night of October 8 for the Federal Writers’ Project:

I jumped out of bed and pulled on my pants. Everybody in the house was trying to save as much as possible. I tied my clothes in a sheet. With my clothes under my arm and my pack on my back, I left the house with the rest of the family. Everybody was running north. People were carrying all kinds of crazy things. A woman was carrying a pot of soup, which was spilling all over her dress. People were carrying cats, dogs and goats. In the great excitement people saved worthless things and left behind good things. I saw a woman carrying a big frame in which was framed her wedding veil and wreath. She said it would have been bad luck to leave it behind.

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