Archive for the ‘National Archives’ Category

Locate Ancestral Town Using World War I Draft Registration Cards


Have had a rather exciting find for 2011. My father’s family of HILLENBRANDs in Syracuse started with grandfather Jacob HILLENBRAND coming from Markelsheim, Wuerttemburg in 1885. I have mentioned this before on this blog, and his photo can be seen on my main website at

Well last month I received an email from my new best friend, a genealogist that actually lives in Markelsheim and she offered to help! Wow, you should all be so lucky.

This very kind lady went through the church record books and was able to take some of my Markelsheim lines back almost to the 1500′s. I had done the best I could with my self-taught Genealogical German when I used these same records on microfilm at LDS in Salt Lake city some 25 or 30 years ago.

The earliest HILLENBRAND ancestor that I had recorded previously was a Caspar HILLENBRAND, a baker of Markelsheim with an estimated date of birth of about 1760 with no known location in Germany. His wife’s name was Barbara (PFAU), with no further information that I had been able to discover.

So now with a native German researcher going through the same Catholic Church records she was able to locate his parents names and place of birth as another Caspar HILLENBRAND, also a baker of Röttingen, Wuerttemburg, Germany, which is only about 8 miles up the Taube River from where Markelsheim is located.

So now I will be ordering the microfilms of Röttingen to see what I might find. This caused a light to go on in my noggin as Röttingen is right on the border with Bavaria. The reason that is so exciting to me is that there was another family of HILLENBRANDs in Syracuse that came in 1866, and for many years I have always told every one that we are not likely related as they were from Bavaria and my direct line was from Wuerttemburg .

So fortunately I have been working on the “other” HILLENBRAND family off and on, with quite a bit more research in the past month as I bought the book, “Unbroken” by the best selling author, Laura HILLENBRAND, (she also wrote “Seabiscuit”), and it turns out she is a descendant of this same “other” HILLENBRAND family in Syracuse.

Now we get to the title of this Blog post and what it has to do with the World War I Draft Registration Cards. This excellent collection of some 24 million names of men that registered for the draft has been available on for quite a number of years now and it has been very helpful in finding dates of birth and many other details like nearest relative, occupation and more.

If you have used these draft cards online before you will have noted that they are often quite hard to read as the image quality is very poor. Usually you are able to read it well enough to get some of the data and it is helpful.

So I found a card on Ancestry of an Anthony HILLENBRAND and lo and behold it listed his father’s place of birth as [unreadable] Bavaria, Germany. So I downloaded the image and ran it through photoshop, and enhanced it the best I could by sharpening the edges and altering the brightness and contrast and still the best I could guess at were names something like; Nissisedicl, Rissiuqid, Kissiseaicl, and about a half-dozen other total meaningless spellings.

Then I decided to dig deeper on these draft cards, and discovered that the National Archives southeast Region Branch near Atlanta has high quality scans available to purchase online. It is really quite easy. All you have to do is set up an account and this same account may be used for future purchases.

I ordered a digital download copy of Anthony’s card for five dollars and was told that it would be 4 to 5 days. I ordered yesterday, Sunday, and the order was ready today, Monday!

Well Bingo! The card is very clear to read and the name of the town is “Kissengen”, Bavaria, Germany. It is too soon to be sure but at first check of Google maps and an old World Gazetteer it is most likely Bad Kissengen which is just a little northeast of Würzburg, and as Markelsheim is just a little southeast of Würzburg, so we just might have a connection after all.

I will be trying to locate church or civil records of Bad Kissengen and for some reason it does not seem to be a place name that is in the LDS film catalog by doing a place search. I will find it for sure, this has all just happened today! Turns out the two towns are only about 68 miles apart.

In reading the description of the National Archives WW I Draft Cards they note that there were three different series of these cards issued in 1917 and 1918, and only one short group asked for the name of the father’s birth place, so we were indeed fortunate that Anthony registered when he did.

Here are comparisons of the two different scans.


Ancestry View


National Archives High Def Scan

Note the ancestry version is so compressed digitally that much of the card is hard to read, but a good high def scan of the original record is excellent. Five dollars well spent and you all might want to do the same on some of those hard to read draft cards.

Update on National Archives NARA Move in New York City

More information concerning the closing of the National Archive (NARA) Northeast Region New York Branch is received from correspondent, Roger D. Joslyn, FASG.

Those of you that have had the pleasure of using the excellent facility and holdings of the New York City branch on Varick Street will want to know about the changes being made.

It appears as though the downsizing will affect the collections as they move the facility over to the Customs House in lower Manhattan.

“I hope those of you who are interested in the future of the National Archives in New York City and access to its research materials will be able to attend one of two meetings this Tuesday at NARA-NYC, 201 Varick Street, 12th floor, Manhattan, at 10:30 AM or 5:30 PM (or come to both sessions!).

In addition to information about the new location in the Customs House, there will be discussion about which textual records, microforms, and books have been identified to go to the new facility, which will be sent to storage, and which will be offered to local libraries/repositories (the latter concerns only microforms and books).

This list of research materials is still in the “development” stage, so your interest in, concern for, and comments about the materials is important.

See you there!

Check out the previous letters from Roger regarding this matter.

Changes at National Archives Northeast Region, New York City

Update Relocation and Collection Downsizing of National Archives Northeast Region New York Branch

Update on the Update of the Update:

Roger added this correction on the meeting place for Tuesday

“Please note (thanks to Steve Siegel’s pointing this out), the two public meetings this coming Tuesday, 4 May, about the NARA move to the Customs House will be held, NOT at NARA, 201 Varick Street, but at the Naval Officers Room, 3d Floor, in the Customs House at One Bowling Green. Again, the times are 10:30 AM and 5:30 PM.”

Update Relocation and Collection Downsizing of National Archives Northeast Region New York Branch

Roger D. Joslyn reports further…

Hello, again

Thank you for the many responses to my letter concerning the possibility of losing our National Archives–Northeast Region as an important research facility. The response was overwhelming and I regret I could not answer all the many e-mails. I understand my letter was circulated pretty far and wide and some persons wrote me from other countries. Many of you conveyed good thoughts about the issue, telling of similar experiences, and several wrote to offer, “What can I do?”

My apologies if I missed sending first my letter to a few people who are receiving this one, and if so, please let me know and I shall send the earlier one if you want to see it.

The main purpose of my first letter was to let you know what I knew and had heard about the planned move of NARA’s New York regional facility. At the time of my first letter, NARA had put nothing out to the pubic about the intended move, about any reduction in space and on-site research materials, and so forth. As I then wrote, some of the plans were told to Stuart Stahl by NARA’s Diane LeBlanc for him to pass the word. So, “officially,” that is the best information there was at the time, but one might also still consider any of those details to be “rumor” at that point.

Since the first letter, NARA has responded, and I have been told or led to believe that a positive result of my letter was that it put things in action sooner than later. I have had telephone conversations with Diane LeBlanc and other NARA personnel about the move of the New York regional facility and I refer you (below) to NARA’s official word about the move and also to some NARA-prepared FAQs. As you will see, some of information is different and/or a little more detailed than what had been said and circulated earlier.

Also since sending my first letter, I have been able to visit what will be NARA-NYC’s new home in the Customs House in lower Manhattan. There is no question the building is a lovely place and, when the space is renovated, will provide pleasing accommodations for researchers, staff, and programs. NARA’s Public Programs Specialists Dorothy Doughty is quite excited about the possibilities for the latter, not only for large and small presentations and workshops, but also because there is room for (for example) genealogical/historical fairs and so forth, using space NARA will share with other agencies in the building. (And without a lockup in the building as there is at 201 Varick Street, the security staff in the Customs House is more welcoming to visitors.)

While there is no question the new location will be a nicer home for NARA-NYC for the above reasons, the amount of storage space for textual records and microfilm will be greatly reduced.

I would like to add from my conversations with Diane LeBlanc some additional points that are of interest and/or concern to us as researchers.

Ms. LeBlanc said that NARA-NYC is “going through a process” in preparation for the move, which will likely take place eighteen to twenty-four months from now. She sees the Customs House as having “enormous potential” for NARA. One example is that being near the Circle Line terminal for Ellis and Liberty Island visits, there is increased possibility to attract tourists to the Customs House and thus to NARA.

According to Ms. LeBlanc, NARA-NYC currently has about 40,000 cubic feet of textual records at Varick Street, but with limited space in the Customs House, only about 5300 cubit feet of records can be housed there. (The 5000 square feet reported earlier as being the total of the new space was a misunderstanding about room for the textual records; NARA will actually have about 20,000 total square feet that includes public and office space, storage room, and so forth.)

Apparently, NARA looked at a number of possible new locations and chose the Customs House as the best of the bunch. The main argument for settling for the much-reduced storage space is that patron usage is down. What cannot fit in the new space will go to a new storage facility in Philadelphia. Ms. LeBlanc says the off-site material will have the “same access” by shuttle to New York City that is now provided for other off-site materials. The frequency of the shuttle service is still under discussion.

Similarly, because of less storage space, NARA will also not be able to take all its current microfilm collection to the Customs House. Ms. LeBlanc says there is room for only about twenty percent of the film. What becomes of the other eighty percent of the microfilm has not been determined, but Ms. LeBlanc said there may be some possibilities for keeping it in New York City, if some other repository can take it. She thought New York Public Library’s microfilm collection nearly duplicated that at NARA-NYC. I told her this is not the case.

In order to determine what textual records and microfilm will likely be moved to the Customs House, NARA staff and volunteers will be “assessing” customer usage—what material, textual and microform, gets the most on-site use. (A large amount of NARA-NYC’s collection, mostly voluminous court records, is already stored off-site in Lee Summit, Missouri.) I reminded Ms. LeBlanc that much of the more-used microfilm is self-serve, that patrons take and replace microfilms themselves. This limits what staff and volunteers may be able to determine about usage. They are more aware of the usage of specific microfilms they must retrieve for patrons from the back “stacks.”

Ms. LeBlanc clarified that certification of copies of records at NARA-NYC will still be possible. Certifications needed from microfilm that will no longer be at NARA-NYC can be requested to be done at NARA-Pittsfield, or the microfilm can be brought in from Pittsfield to be certified at NARA-NYC.

She also said that over time, what textual records are actually kept on-site in the new facility could change, based on patron usage. For example, if there was increased call for ships’ original passenger lists, they might be brought in from off-site storage and less-requested material sent off site.

Two other things need clarification. First, volunteers will continue to be needed and they, in addition to helping patrons, will be involved with projects. There will be designated space for projects in the new facility, with textual records brought in from off-site for such projects as needed.

Second, the expansion at NARA-Waltham mentioned in my first letter is for public programming space. Some of this new space was formerly used to store microfilm, a large amount of which was given to the library in Plano, Texas, because, as Ms. LeBlanc explained, “no one else wanted it.”

I wrote my first letter in reaction to the response a colleague received who suggested to NARA that some of the more frequent patrons might be consulted for input about the upcoming move, records use, and so forth. The person was told that no one was going to tell NARA what to do. NARA staff has told me that, following former Archivist John Carlin’s attempt to move large amounts of material out of the regional facilities, that NARA has became more sensitive to public wants, needs, and so forth. So the response to my colleague was out of line and certainly was not good business. We expect better from an agency that has long been one of our primary repositories for the research we do.

Ms. LeBlanc agreed. In acknowledging that my first letter got NARA’s attention, she stated, “We will do this better than we did in the past.” The move to the Customs House seems set, and while my opinion is that user involvement before that decision would have been helpful and should have been sought, NARA-NYC is holding two public meetings about the move (see the announcement). I hope those of you who are interested in the move and have concerns and questions will attend. It is not clear if whatever is voiced at these meetings will change any of NARA’s plans at this point, but those of us who are concerned should go and speak up.

Here are just two of the many concerns about which some of you have written to me.

“It’s all online.” And many of us doubt it ever will be. But even with all that is available on the Internet, we have all experienced problems that take us back to the original sources, or at least back to the microfilm, for a variety of reasons, including legibility, printing, missed material, even speed. Can we be content with loosing easy access to what we now have so readily available?

Out of sight, out of mind, or never in mind at all. Ms. LeBlanc agreed that this is one area where NARA can use a lot of improvement. Many patrons have no idea what else there is beyond the Federal censuses, passenger lists, and a few other microfilmed records. With less microfilm in the public space for users to actually see some examples of what resources there are, there need to be ways of letting researchers know about the wealth of other records that might help them—microfilm and textual.

If NARA is willing to let its users work with them to do better and not just be informed of what others have decided, is that not a positive thing?

Roger Joslyn

P.S. I realize that most people who learn “what we do” usually react with, “That’s very interesting!” or “My aunt was the family historian,” and so forth. But we also frequently encounter those who cannot fathom such an interest in the past. In these instances, I am always reminded of what is carved on the National Archives building in Washington, D.C., as you all know so well: “The Past is Prologue.”

This was brought home the other night as Leslie and I viewed (from Netflix) Masterpiece Theatre’s Shooting the Past, about a photo archives doomed to the trash and the staff’s struggle to save it. We were deeply moved and saw parallels with what has happened and will likely continue to happen in our field. For those of you who have not seen this wonderful BBC drama, I strongly recommend it. In the meantime, you can read a little bit about it at

and in this New York Times review

Changes at National Archives–Northeast Region, New York City

Upstate New York Genealogy readers please note, it looks like we are losing another extremely valuable local research facility.  The  National Archives–Northeast Region in Manhattan has been our nearest location to access NARA record holdings.

Roger D. Joslyn, FASG, sent me this letter and requested that we share it here on in the hopes of creating some public influence on the situation.  Roger makes a point to say that none of this information is truly “official” yet but it has been gleaned from various sources that he has.

Please read and take action.

“Dear Friends

We may be losing the National Archives–Northeast Region as a research facility. Perhaps we can save it and not have New York lose yet another important repository for our research.

Here is the supposed plan, told recently to Stuart Stahl by Diane LeBlanc, NARA’s Regional Administrator in Waltham, Massachusetts, for him to pass the word. So, there is nothing “official” beyond this, and nothing in writing for dissemination.

•NARA-NYC will move in approximately eighteen months to about 5000 square feet over two floors in the Customs House.

•Only about twenty percent of the current collection at 201 Varick Street, textual and microform (not specifically identified to Stuart), will go to the new location in the Customs House. All or most textual material will go to a storage facility in northeast Philadelphia and will have to be transported to New York City for researchers, as off-site textual material in Lee Summit, Missouri, is now.

•Among the textual material to be retained in the new space will be the federal court naturalization petitions not microfilmed and the federal court records docket books, but it is not clear if the originals of microfilmed naturalizations will be retained.

•“Non-regional” microfilm will go to NARA-Pittsfield.

•Certifications of records on microfilm will have to be requested from Pittsfield.

Additionally, the following seems to also be in the plans for the move:

•The volunteer staff will be abolished or reduced, since there will no longer be textual records for them to arrange, index, and so forth.

•The new space will be primarily for visitors to see exhibits. There will be a few computers and, apparently, some microfilm readers and reader-printers.

•The microfiche indexes of New York State vital records will evidently go to the new space, together with associated printed material and microfiche readers.

•Nothing has been mentioned about the fate of NARA-NYC’s library, including published census indexes and so forth.

•Some of us had been led to believe there would be invitations to some of us “regular” users to help NARA staff know our needs and plan the space and collection for the Customs House. It would seem now that, while there may be a “public meeting,” it will only be to tell us NARA’s plans—too late for any changes.

There is probably more that is or will be of concern to all or most of us.

When the move of NARA-NYC became more certain a month or so ago, I had a telephone conversation with Diane. She seemed very excited about the increased display space that NARA will have in the Customs House and explained the need to reduce the research collection because there will not be room. She also mentioned that the lower number of patrons using NARA these days justified the scaling down of the research facility. She did not seem to be concerned about the need many of us have for certification of records for legal matters, or that the microfilm and original textual records were still necessary even though there is much online. She was quite proud to tell me that NARA-Waltham had given all of its “non-regional” microfilm to a library in Plano, Texas. Guess who got the better deal there! Ironically, while New York City is scaling down, the Waltham facility is being expanded!!

I do not think I need to state the obvious to all you seasoned and knowledgeable researchers about the huge loss to us if all the plans noted above are correct and go through. I know I use microfilm of the Federal Census at least once a week in order find what I cannot online or clarify what I do find online, one problem being the annotations that obscure names on the 1900 Census. This is but one example. I am sure you have all found census pages missed by Ancestry, Heritage Quest, Footnote, or “front material” and other pieces not scanned from the microfilm that someone evidently decided we did not need. Sorry! One more example: What about the original ships’ passenger lists, especially the ones where the often abbreviated copy is what is on the NARA film? What will become of these?

Who in Pittsfield will make “my” kind of decision about the best copy to be certified for the court? In the always-tight time breathing down our necks for court cases, what will Pittsfield’s turn-around time be? Will there be added costs since we can no longer get the certifications locally? Will Pittsfield staff make “groupings” of certified records that we often get here to hold down costs?

Personally, while I have enjoyed many of the exhibits at NARA-NYC, I rarely see anyone coming to specifically look at them, and even those who come to do research seem not to pause for a few minutes of viewing.

And it has always been my understanding that one of the great things about our National Archives is its wealth of material for scholarly research. Yes, personal visits are down, but we all know what the majority of those who rely strictly on the magic box are missing. And I do not see much effort by NARA to help educate the unwashed about what is there that cannot be found online.

I very much admire the position of Kathleen Roe, New York State Archives’ Director of Operations. At a meeting there last year, she told our advisory committee something like, “I know financing for archives is tight, but our mandate is to serve the public, and we must make every effort to continue to do so.”

The very upsetting plan seems analogous to a library tossing certain books because no one has taken them off the shelves over the last couple of years.

So, who wants to organize the car-pooling to Pittsfield and Philadelphia? No? Then we should organize a group effort to let our concerns be known. Genealogists have been successful in the past in changing the direction of bad thinking at NARA. Some examples come to mind: When President Reagan proposed John T. Agresto as Archivist of the United States and the genealogical and historical communities formed a loud “No!” to the inappropriateness of the candidate; and when Archivist John Carlin planned to ship huge amounts of NARA material from the regions to cold storage (and some of you were on hand to give your two-cents when he came to New York City). Another example is the great effort genealogists lent to getting NARA away from GSA’s thumb.

Are there others out there, including folks you know in the historical community, whom we should encourage to get involved?

I know after the G&B mess, many of you may not want to devote the time and energy it may take to make a difference, but I look forward to hearing from those who are concerned and want to be involved. Then we can plan something together.


National Archives and Ancestry (TGN) Propose Digitizing Project

Footnote and Ancestry are in the news recently regarding the digitizing that Footnote currently does, and the work that the parent company of Ancestry, The Generations Network (TGN), wants to do, at the National Archives (NARA).

NARA is asking for public comment regarding the non-exclusive contract that they intend to sign with TGN to embark on a digitization project at NARA of some parts of their collection.

Footnote and Ancestry are both very reputable companies and we all should be ever thankful to the Archivist who has such great forward thinking to bring this digitized content to the Internet. Online resources just keep getting better and better.

Thanks to Dick Eastman for this notice.

Please do go to the NARA info site and voice your opinion, it really does matter! The comments must be received by April 9th, 2008.
NARA Link:

You may sign up for a Free Trial at Footnote here:

You may sign up for a Free Trial at Ancestry here:

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