I would like to congratulate the NARA volunteers of the Civil War Conservation Corps (CWCC) on reaching a significant milestone in the preparation of Civil War Widow’s Certificate pension case files for digitization. On June 2, these dedicated citizen archivists completed preparation of the 50,000th file, sending it on its way to the digital cameras and to easy access by researchers.
CWCC members Peggy Pratt, Mary Lou Cole, and Sue Barnard review case files.
(Photo Courtesy of Earl McDonald, National Archives)
Sixteen years ago, in June 1994, the CWCC was launched with a call for volunteers. The recently deceased Budge Weidman answered the call and shepherded the project from the beginning. The volunteers’ work includes assessing the documents of each pension file for conservation and imaging concerns, identifying and arranging the documents, and abstracting key information to create the database that allows researchers to easily find the records they want. They have become expert in Army organization and pension law in the process, not to mention learning what it was like for widows, children, parents, and siblings of Civil War soldiers to carry on after the fighting ended. The members of the CWCC read hundreds, even thousands, of stories documenting ordinary Americans’ experiences of the Civil War in pension files that have often not been touched in more than 100 years.
There are 1.28 million case files in the WC series, but the 52 CWCC members never let the enormity of the project dampen their enthusiasm. They know that each case they prepare is one more valuable digital record accessible to researchers from a variety of disciplines, and one more original textual record that NARA can retire to ensure its continued preservation.
It is the extraordinary dedication of these citizen archivists that has made this project, as well as many others at the Archives, possible. Their passion for the records and the history contained in them is evident as they devote their time and talents week after week.
Like all volunteers at NARA, the CWCC members have a collaborative relationship with staff in which knowledge meets enthusiasm and hidden treasures are brought to light in the process. As devoted citizen archivists who truly become a part of the team, NARA’s volunteers support our mission and thus all Americans in their quest to understand the records of their government and what they reveal about our past. Digitization projects are just one way in which citizen archivists can contribute. Others work on archival projects assisting with arrangement or description of the records; and still others engage the public as docents in our exhibit spaces and public outreach programs.
As I have mentioned before on this blog, I have been reading a lot these days about the Civil War as we commemorate the event. In my observation of the work of our volunteers I have been struck by the parallels of their work to the volunteers who visited, nursed, and provided companionship to wounded soldiers in the more than 55 makeshift hospitals here in Washington alone. The tenderness in the handling of the records, the interest in the background of the soldier, and the commitment to protecting and making whole–all are very much still alive 150 years later.
I join the CWCC members in celebrating this special milestone and look forward to what they and their fellow citizen archivists have yet to teach us in the years to come.
For Further Information:
- Coroner’s Office Letter and Evidence from the pension file of Esther Springfield, Widows’ Certificate Case File #38414; Record Group 15: Records of the Department of Veterans Affairs; Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents; National Archives, Washington, D.C.
- Read more about Esther Springfield and the document above at http://aotus.blogs.archives.gov/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/cwcc_esther-springfield1.pdf
- To become a member of the Civil War Conservation Corps at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. visit http://archives.gov/careers/volunteering/dc.html#apply
- To learn about opportunities at National Archives locations across the country visit the main volunteer page at http://archives.gov/careers/volunteering/
- Visit our “Discovering the Civil War” in the Lawrence F. O’Brien Gallery at the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C. and online at http://archives.gov/exhibits/civil-war/