The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America

On the eve of the American Civil War, 1.6 million Irish-born people were living in the United States, most in the major industrialized cities of the North. The stories of 35 Irish families whose lives portray the nature of the Irish emigrant experience are captured in Damian Shiels’ new book, The Forgotten Irish: Irish Emigrant Experiences in America.

The Forgotten Irish

Damian Shiels, a celebrated conflict archaeologist, historian, and author, has focused his research in the widows and dependents pension application files of the American Civil War found at the National Archives. These records often include not only letters and private correspondence between family members, but unparalleled accounts of their lives in both Ireland and America.

The National Archives’ project to digitize these valuable files has opened up an invaluable online resource for Irish social historians. The author systematically examined each of the digitized files associated with Irishmen (using surnames as a primary indicator) in order to retrieve social information. Each of the 35 stories in the book uses at least one digitized file from the National Archives as its base and builds on the family story both through other online resources and historical documentation.

The book’s existence underscores the importance of digitization and our goal to expand public access to historical holdings, and it illustrates the importance of NARA’s holdings to social historians worldwide. In the acknowledgements section of his book, the author states:

“The majority of the research undertaken for this book was conducted from Ireland. This is something that would not have been possible prior to the increased accessibility of online records that has been a hallmark of recent years. Though nothing can truly replace direct archival research, the accessibility of millions of scanned primary documents online has provided a unique opportunity for scholars, particularly those located outside the country in which they have an interest, to engage with (and hopefully contribute towards) their chosen subject.
I had the great privilege of meeting some of the NARA team whose hard work in digitizing the pension files allowed me to explore these Irish stories. They include Archives Specialist Jackie Budell, who coordinates the project. Over the years, Jackie has been a constant source of encouragement, advice, support and friendship, for which I am extremely grateful. More than any other she deserves a special note of thanks for helping this book come to fruition.”

Join us on the eve of St. Patrick’s Day, Thursday, March 16, 2017 from 7:00pm to 8:30pm EST in the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives in Washington, DC for a discussion program with Damian Shiels based on his book, The Forgotten Irish. This will be the book’s launch in the United States, and the first time Damian will speak on this book in the U.S. The National Archives will be the exclusive point of sale in the U.S. for this book through May 1 when it becomes available nationwide.

Michael Hussey, a National Archives archivist and historian, and David T. Gleeson, Professor of American History at Northumbria University and author of The Green and the Gray: The Irish in the Confederate States of America, will co-moderate the discussion and audience Q&A. A book signing will follow the program.

Register to attend the event in person, or watch the livestream of the event on our YouTube channel.

Learn more about this program on our events page, and read more about Damian’s research on his blog, Irish in the American Civil War.

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Women’s History Month

Every March, the National Archives proudly observes Women’s History Month. We recognize the vast contributions women have made to our nation’s history as we explore their stories through letters, photographs, films, and other primary sources. Because the National Archives holds the records of the federal government, each day we find stories documenting the countless ways women interacted with the government and engaged with national issues of the time.

Liberty motors manufactured for government use. Electric welding on the steel jacket on a Liberty Motor cylinder. Lincoln Motor Co. plant. Detroit, Michigan. National Archives Identifier 45567610

Liberty motors manufactured for government use. Electric welding on the steel jacket on a Liberty Motor cylinder. Lincoln Motor Co. plant. Detroit, Michigan. National Archives Identifier 45567610

There are also stories of women’s history from within the National Archives building itself. In October 1975, a new exhibit opened at the National Archives to coincide with International Women’s Year and the Bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence. The exhibit, “Her Infinite Variety: A 200-Year Record of American Women,” ran from July 1975 to February 1976.  The exhibit examined women’s roles at home, work, in wartime, as reformers, and in public life.

Then in 1976, the National Archives hosted a ground-breaking conference devoted to women’s history, examining records pertaining to women’s history and papers that used these rich resources to demonstrate women’s contributions throughout American history. Read the full story from the National Archives History office on our Pieces of History blog.

I am proud that women currently represent 51 percent of the National Archives’ workforce and commend their tireless efforts and recognize the significant role that they play in accomplishing our mission. Additionally, I support NARA’s Employee Affinity Group (EAG) Women’s Affinity Group (WAG), whose mission is to provide information, resources, networking opportunities, promote career growth, and facilitate mentorships for women at NARA. You can follow WAG on Twitter @RecordsofWomen and on Tumblr.

Women's History Month webpage

NARA’s holdings regarding women are extensive and include documents on a wide range of subjects. You can browse our Catalog for more information about records and information documenting women’s history. Are you interested in transcribing documents to help make these records more discoverable? Celebrate the contributions of American women by transcribing records from our Women’s History Month mission. Learn more and get started on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

View more Women’s History resources on archives.gov.

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Guidance on Presidential and Federal Records

The National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) has long had a special relationship with the incoming Presidential Administration, including providing archival and records management guidance and support to the White House upon request. This relationship continues throughout the Administration, until the Presidential records are transferred into the National Archives for permanent preservation in our President Library system.

guidance-on-presidential-records

The 2016 Guidance on Presidential Records is available on archives.gov. This document, which NARA has prepared for every incoming administration since 2000, provides basic background information on the Presidential Records Act (PRA) of 1978, as amended, 44 U.S.C. §§ 2201-2209; how the National Archives implements the PRA; and how we assist the White House in managing its records under the PRA.

NARA has also continued to engage with Federal agencies to inform them of their records management responsibilities under the Federal Records Act (FRA).  The Office of the Chief Records Officer at the National Archives has updated its Documenting Your Public Service publication and developed other resources for agencies to ensure that records management is an integral part of agency transition plans. See the Records Express blog for more information about records management guidance for the Presidential transition.

It is important to understand the distinction between Presidential records and Federal records, which are governed by the two different laws described above:

Presidential records only apply to the President, the Vice President, their immediate staff, or a unit or individual of the Executive Office of the President whose function is to advise or assist the President, in the course of conducting activities which relate to or have an effect upon the carrying out of the constitutional, statutory, or other official or ceremonial duties of the President. (For further details, please see the Presidential Records Act.)

Federal records apply to all “federal agencies” in the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches, but do not include the Supreme Court, the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the Architect of the Capitol. 

The rules governing Federal and Presidential records and their preservation have not changed since the FRA and PRA were amended in 2014, but updating and sharing our guidance is one component of the support that NARA offers to both Federal agencies and the White House, especially when a new administration begins.

Posted in Leadership, NARA Records, Open Government, Records Management | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

African American History at the National Archives

February is Black History Month. This month and every day, the National Archives celebrates the extraordinary contributions of African Americans to our history and culture.

The National Archives holds a wealth of material documenting the African American experience, including millions of records related to the interactions between African Americans and the Federal government. These materials are highlighted in online resources, in public programs, and throughout traditional and social media.

African American History webpage

You don’t have to live in Washington, DC or visit one of our research rooms to be inspired by the wealth of information available at the National Archives. Visit our African American History webpage to learn more about events and activities celebrating African American History. This webpage contains photographs, historical videos, articles, links to online resources for research, public programs and events, Presidential Library resources, exhibits, and much more.

You can also browse our Catalog for more information about records and holdings documenting the African American experience. Are you interested in transcribing documents to help make these records more accessible? We’ve created an African American History transcription mission in celebration of Black History Month. Learn more and get started on our Citizen Archivist Dashboard.

Questions about conducting research at the National Archives? Visit our African American History research group on History Hub. And see our Pieces of History blog for more information and resources about the National Archives holdings related to African American History.

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Reaching Out with RDA

This week, the National Archives took yet another step toward the Open Government goals of transparency, participation and collaboration, by joining the wider archival community in adopting the Resource Description and Access (RDA) standard for its authority records. The RDA standard was developed in 2010 as the successor to the Anglo-American Cataloguing Rules, Second Edition (AACR2).

RDA logo

We came to this decision through a series of internal meetings, blogposts, phone calls and discussions with staff across the agency. The input into this agency-wide discussion was remarkable. The initial internal blogpost on the subject received over 5000 views and hundreds of comments from staff. I was pleased to see that the debates were vigorous, which is exactly what should happen in an open and innovative agency. Our critics provided comments that helped to guide and shape our thoughts on the subject and ultimately led to important changes in the way we plan to implement this standard. We also reached out to our peers and after external benchmarking over the past year, NARA decided that moving from our internal standards to RDA was the best choice for the usefulness of our authority records.

But this is much more than simply a practical decision for our authority records. In making the decision to use RDA, the National Archives is opening up to the professional community, to participate with our peers in new ways. We are becoming an organization that is seeking out new connections to the professional community and there is a sense of new leadership possibilities for us as we take these steps.

I am also looking forward to all the opportunities that adopting RDA will provide our staff and our users.  These include:

  • participation in cross-institution collaborations and cooperatives
  • establishing linked hierarchical relationships that can be leveraged for navigation and visualization
  • linking and repurposing NARA’s data to other sources
  • leveraging open source tools built by and for the archival community
  • managing federal records across the lifecycle
  • developing NARA staff professionally to enhance their skills and increase collaboration with other institutions

Moving to RDA from our current standards is far from an overnight process, but we have the right staff with the skills and the desire to implement effectively. Over the next year, an internal working group, consisting of staff from across the agency, will analyze our processes, systems, and data model to determine next steps toward implementation of RDA.

Please join me in celebrating this Open Government turning point for the National Archives!

 

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Veterans Day

Every day at the National Archives, we hear extraordinary stories from veterans and their families. Veterans Day presents us with a great opportunity to highlight an important collection within the National Archives: Official Military Personnel Folders, which document the actions of our nation’s military veterans. It fills us with great pride to be able to process, protect, and service records for veterans and their families.

Earlier this week I traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to honor both the veterans who comprise the workforce of our National Personnel Records Center (NPRC), as well as the staff who provide services to our veterans. NPRC holds more than 56 million military service records and responds to 4,000 – 5,000 requests each day. Most of these requests come directly from veterans and their families who need prompt access to military service records to support their pursuit of important benefits. Others need these records to pursue the verification and replacement of medals and awards or the preparation of family histories. Preserving these records and servicing these requests is important work performed by the National Archives, and our mission is to provide world class service to military veterans and their family members.

Here are just a few of the stories of the lives we’ve touched as our staff meet the needs of the men and women who have served their country:

John Joseph Scala is an 88-year-old Korean War veteran. With support from his niece and a local television producer, Mr. Scala contacted the NPRC for support in obtaining medals he earned while in service. Using records from NPRC’s holdings, our staff was able to verify the awards and order replacements to be issued by the Department of the Army. After receiving his medals, Mr. Scala sent us this image in which he proudly displayed his medals and thanked us for helping him receive them.

Photo of Mr. John Joseph Scala proudly displaying his service medals

Photo of Mr. John Joseph Scala proudly displaying his service medals

During my visit to NPRC, its workforce shared with me other expressions of gratitude recently received from veterans and their families:

Letter thanking staff for sending military service records

Email thanking National Archives employees for work

Postcard thanking National Archives staff for assistance with military service records

Letter thanking National Archives staff for assistance sending military service records to widow

As these thank you notes illustrate, supporting our nation’s veterans through access to military service records is a great responsibility as Archivist of the United States. On this Veterans Day I salute the 615 veterans who are members of the National Archives family along with all others who have served.

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The Role of the National Archives in the Presidential Transition

With this week’s election, we Americans determined the next chapter in our country’s history. I am proud to have exercised my vote and I hope you did the same. As private citizens we participated in an act of living democracy. Today, we do the same as Federal employees dedicated to preparing our agency for a smooth Presidential transition.

At the advent of each new administration, the National Archives prepares briefing materials that explain who we are as an agency and what we do and why it matters. We share these with the President-elect’s Transition Team.  All Executive Branch agencies are required to do this, but the National Archives has special transition responsibilities.

Constitution of the United States, Page 1

The Constitution of the United States

We are planning for and have already begun the physical transfer of hundreds of millions of textual, electronic, and audiovisual records and additional materials to a temporary facility in Hoffman Estates, Illinois, that will store the records of the eventual Barack Obama Presidential Library.  We are also planning for the transfer of legal custody of those records on January 20, 2017, the care of those records, and the development of the Library itself.

The National Archives is engaged with Federal agencies and oversight and advisory groups to ensure that both incoming and outgoing political appointees are properly trained and properly preserving their records. We provide training materials that offer guidance to the latest amendment to the Federal Records Act. The National Archives is a permanent member of the Agency Transition Directors Council, as well, from which we advise best practices to ensure that all Federal records are protected during administration changes.

The peaceful transition of power and knowledge from one Presidential Administration to another is both a cornerstone and a cyclical event of American democracy. Yet even as we progress through that transition, our mission, our vision, our values remain unchanged. We will continue to do our best work on behalf of the American public and the records that future historians will turn to in understanding our era’s events.

Posted in Collaboration, Leadership, NARA Records, Open Government, Participation, Records Management, Special Events, Transparency | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Check Us Out!

The National Archives provides many “entrances” to our content. We have facilities located across the country to bring our records to you and you may find our records where you go to on the web, including Wikipedia, Facebook, Instagram, and many more.  We know that nearly one third of you come to our website via your phones and this experience just got much better.

A few days ago, our website (Archives.gov) underwent a substantial behind-the-scenes overhaul. Nearly 3 million visitors come to Archives.gov each month to search and discover information about the National Archives. The website serves as the primary face of the agency both nationally and internationally and plays an important role in our Open Government efforts to provide greater transparency and access to the records of the National Archives.

The underlying infrastructure was completely rebuilt and migrated into Drupal, an open source content management system. Drupal allows more NARA staff to more easily update the site content, resulting in a fresher experience for you, our users. Although this effort focused on our back-end systems—and was not a visual redesign of the site—there are some enhancements that will be readily apparent to you and I want to highlight here. These improvements include: a better experience on smartphones and tablets, an updated section of the site dedicated to America’s founding documents, and a new searchable calendar of national events.

1. Responsive to mobile devices: Nearly one third of our web visitors browse Archives.gov on a smartphone or tablet. The updated site now adjusts to provide the best experience for your screen size.Responsive to mobile devices

2. Refreshed look for America’s founding documents: The Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights are viewed more than 18 million times a year and are consistently in our top 5 most visited sections of the website. In the past, these important documents were featured in a design that was distinct from the rest of the website and the user experience on mobile devices was poor. We’ve incorporated this content into the main site, making it more accessible on mobile devices, improving the navigation, and better integrating documents with the rest of our online offerings.

Refreshed look for America's Founding Documents

 

3. Searchable calendar of events: Want to find a fun event for kids or a workshop for genealogists? Our new calendar interface provides simple ways to search by keyword, filter by event location, and by event type. You can also easily add an event to your own preferred calendar (iCal, Google, etc.) so you’ll never forget where and when to join us!

Searchable Calendar of Events

4. Featured records on the homepage: We have added a prominent spot on the homepage for highlighting relevant items from the Catalog. Check here for connections between our holdings and current events and anniversaries as well as newly-digitized records.

5. Improved search: Our new website search is designed to provide more relevant results. We’ve made the search more comprehensive as well, so you will now find results from our Presidential Library websites and the latest news from our many social media accounts.

Improved Search

Our website plays an essential role in helping the National Archives make access happen and connect with our customers. While most of the changes we’ve made to date are behind the scenes, these back-end upgrades are a critical first step towards a full redesign that will improve the look, navigation, and user experience. We are excited to roll out these initial changes and look forward to hearing your feedback.  Add your comments below or send in to webprogram@nara.gov.

Posted in Leadership, NARA Records, Open Government, Participation, Social Media, Special Events, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Launching the Beta Program for our Remembering WWI App

Today we’re launching the public beta program for the Remembering WWI iPad app, which puts newly digitized primary source materials into the hands of teachers and museum professionals nationwide. The app is a product of a two-year collaboration among the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, the National WWI Museum, and others, all working toward the goal of connecting teachers, students and history enthusiasts to primary sources in interesting new ways.

I’ve written a few times about the moving and still images related to World War I and II that have been part of a large scale digitization effort at NARA over the last few years. In addition to the digitization of these rarely-seen photographs and moving images, this app is part of a long-term community engagement plan to connect with existing and new audiences for NARA. On our NARAtions blog, the team has shared how we’ve taken a user-centered design approach to one of our first cross-unit productions, and opened up our collections to free and creative reuse.

We welcome your participation and feedback in this beta program for the Remembering WWI app. The best way to get involved is to join the conversation on the History Hub, where you can learn about downloading the beta app, participate in user experience research, and share your feedback and ideas to help inform changes to the app before being promoted in schools and museums in February 2017.

WWI app screenshot 1

The app features a geographical interface that allows users to explore the archive, but also provides special resources for teachers and curators using the app.

WWI app screenshot 2

The geographical interface makes it easy to connect to content that is relevant to your own communities.

WWI app screenshot 3

WWI films have been broken into short segments based on theme and location, so that you can explore WWI moving images in an entirely new way. There are always links back to the catalog so you can view the film in its entirety.

WWI app screenshot 4

You can also view collections based on a number of diverse themes and locations, and also create your own collections from primary source materials based on subjects you may be studying or want to highlight.

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We want to hear from you! NARA’s Open Government Plan 2016-2018

I am proud to announce the publication of our fourth Open Government Plan. To get started, check out the Executive Summary, which provides an overview of the commitments the agency is making to make the National Archives and the Federal government more open over the next two years.

Open Government Plan on Github

We want to hear from you! This plan is a living document and we will update it over time based on the feedback we receive.

We have published this plan on the social coding platform, Github so that the public can provide feedback through the “Discuss” feature and can suggest edits through the “Edit” function. If this is not your preferred method of feedback, please check out all available feedback opportunities, provide comments below on this blog post, or email opengov@nara.gov.

While one could anticipate the enthusiasm for open government winding down during the end of a second term of the administration, we have seen the opposite. During the development of this plan we saw an increase in momentum and greater engagement from the public and staff in open government initiatives. We held more than 20 internal and external brainstorming sessions and briefings, including our first Open Government Webinar on March 29, 2016, for our external stakeholders with nearly 100 participants. Our engagement efforts brought in more than 180 ideas, comments, and suggestions that we considered for inclusion in this plan.

This plan, our fourth, will see us through a Presidential transition and contains more than 50 specific commitments to strengthen open government at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) and across government from 2016 to 2018, including:

  • our launch of a social media campaign to collect stories about people’s own personal artifacts and documents from the Vietnam War to enrich the experience of visiting our new exhibit on the Vietnam War;
  • our Office of Research Services will provide additional customer service training for staff members so that we can better serve the public, along with exploring how to incorporate digital tools, like social media and our History Hub pilot to make it easier for the public to find the records that interest them;
  • flagship Initiatives including our work engaging the public and staff in our Innovation Hub, expanding History Hub and Citizen Archivist programs, and developing a solution for user-generated finding aids about our records that update dynamically as needed;
  • commitments from our Office of the Chief Records Officer to provide greater transparency and expanded reporting to better evaluate records management risk in agencies and promote accountability of government officials to the public;
  • commitments from our National Declassification Center (NDC) to develop a special systematic declassification review program for records that were accessioned prior to the creation of the NDC in 2010;
  • in addition to implementing components of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, our Office of Government Information Services will develop tools to teach students about the power of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to hold the government accountable and work within the Department of Justice to develop standards for agency FOIA webpages; and
  • our Information Security Oversight Office will continue to monitor and report on the state of classification and declassification in government and will also provide guidance and report on agency adherence to the Fundamental Classification Guidance Review.

As we look forward to the next two years, I am confident that we will continue to strengthen and build momentum for our efforts to provide transparency, and foster greater participation and collaboration in our work so that we can better serve the public.

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