Search billions of records on Ancestry.com
THIS AND THAT U. S. GOVERNMENT PUBLIC RECORDS
PUBLIC RECORDS OFFICE:
The prime source of information about the records held in the Public Record Office is C M Andrews Guide to the Materials for American History to 1783 in the Public Record Office (2 vols, Carnegie Institution, Washington, 1912). Some of the references given are now obsolete, but can be keyed to those in current use.
A complete history of the records with guidance on their use, giving the references in their modern form, is to be found in R. D. B Pugh The Records of the Colonial and Dominions Offices, (PRO Handbook No 3, HMSO 1964).
Documents in the Public Record Office and elsewhere not mentioned by Andrews are described in B R Crick and M Alman eds. A Guide to Manuscripts Relating to America in Great Britain and Ireland (Mansell Publishing 1961) a revised edition of which has been prepared by John W. Raimo and published, under the same title, by Meckler Books/Mansell Publishing (1979).
Documents relating to the Caribbean are noted in H C Bell, D W. Parker and others Guide to British West Indian Archive Materials, in London and in the Islands, for the History of the United States (Carnegie Institution, Washington 1926); and P Walne ed. A Guide to Manuscript Sources for the History of Latin America and the Caribbean in the British Isles (Oxford University Press, 973).
The texts or abstracts of many documents from 1574 to 1738 can be found in Calendar of State Papers Colonial (HMSO, 1859 onwards).
Documents of the period from 1770 to 1783 are being similarly published as K G Davies ed. The Documents of the American Revolution (21 vols to date, Irish University Press 1972 onwards).
ARRANGEMENT OF THE RECORDS
The arrangement of the earlier records does not reflect the respective roles of the Secretary of State and the Board of Trade. The class Colonial Papers: General Series (CO 1) was brought together by W N Sainsbury, first editor of the Calendar of State Papers Colonial: it contains, in chronological order, all the papers printed in the Calendar and dated not later than 1688, the original terminal date of the publication.
From 1688, and in a few instances before, until 1807, the records relating to the American colonies are combined in America and West Indies: Original Correspondence etc (CO 5). The records are arranged by colony:
New England (Massachussets, Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania);
Virginia and the Proprieties (including the Bahamas, Carolina, Connecticut, Maryland, East and West New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island).
In spite of its title, the class does not include records of the colonies of Canada and the West Indies and includes only one, the Bahamas, which did not come to form part of the United States.
For each colony there are five main types of record: the Original Correspondence with the Secretary of State and with the Board of Trade; Entry Books of both; collections of Acts, and of Sessional Papers, of the colonial legislature. In addition there are for some colonies Naval Officers’ Returns of shipping, collections of land grants and other materials, and military and naval dispatches. Documents concerned with Indian affairs and other, more general matters, are arranged in separate series.
The records concerned with: Antigua and Montserrat; Bahamas; Barbados; Bermuda; former French colony of Canada; Dominica; Grenada; British Honduras; Hudson’s Bay; Jamaica; Leeward Islands (including Antigua, St Kitts, Montserrat, Nevis and the Virgin Islands); Montserrat; Nevis; Newfoundland; Nova Scotia and Cape Breton Island; Prince Edward Island; St Kitts; St Lucia; St Vincent; Tobago; Trinidad; and Virgin Islands are arranged in the same way, but each series forms a separate class. The class numbers are listed by Pugh and Andrews and can also readily be identified in the Current Guide in the Reference Room.
Some records deal with matters concerning the Colonies in general. They are in the classes: Colonies General: Original Correspondence CO 323 Entry Books CO 324 Board of Trade: Original Correspondence CO 388 Board of Trade: Entry Books CO 389 Board of Trade: Miscellaneous CO 390
The class Board of Trade: Minutes (CO 391) includes the Journal of the Board of Trade.
Entries before April 1704 appear in the Calendar of State Papers Colonial, and those for the period April 1704 to May 1782 in: Journal of the Commissioners for Trade and Plantations (14 vols HMSO 1920-1928).
There are collections of reports and papers from, and orders and instructions to, the responsible officials in each colony, especially the governors. The correspondence of the Secretaries of State and the Board of Trade are in separate sequences. Each contains not only correspondence with the colonies but also with other officials and private individuals in the United Kingdom and between the Secretary of State and the Board.
From 1703 to 1759 manuscript calendars of the correspondence of the Board with each colony were compiled: these are in General Registers (CO 326) pieces 1 to 51.
From 1759 to 1782 a single, annual, calendar was prepared for all colonies: this series is CO 326 pieces 52-74.
These are letter books containing copies of dispatches, letters, reports, petitions, commissions and instructions, either in full or in abstract. Before 1700 apers received as well as papers despatched are noted. The Entry Books served as the primary record of outgoing correspondence, in particular royal commission, instructions and warrants: they were not intended as means of reference to the correspondence as a whole.
ACTS AND SESSIONAL PAPERS
Copies, either printed or in manuscript, of the Acts and proceedings of colonial councils and legislatures were forwarded to the Board of Trade, having been approved, or rejected, by the Privy Council. Other copies were retained in the colony itself where, as a rule, they are still to be found.
NAVAL OFFICERS’ RETURNS
The Naval Officers were officials of the Board, in practice usually Customs Officers acting in a second capacity, and they discharged certain statutory duties under the Navigation Acts. They compiled lists of the merchantmen entering and clearing their ports: these returns, at their fullest, give dates, the names of master and vessel, tonnage, when and where built, whence and whither bound, and the nature, consignor and consignee of the cargo. Only a proportion of the lists survive: comparable records can also be found in Treasury Board Papers (T 1) and Miscellaneous (BT 6).
MILITARY AND NAVAL dispatches
The dispatches collected in CO 5 relate mainly to fighting against the French and various Indian tribes, which could not conveniently be divided by colony. Original Correspondence: West Indies (CO 318) also contains some military dispatches. The majority of records concerning naval operations will be found among the ADM classes in the Public Record Office, and many concerning military operations, including a proportion removed from the papers of the Secretary of State and the Board of Trade, are in the WO classes. A detailed index to these papers is given in Alphabetical Guide to the War Office and other Classes (PRO List and Index Series vol LIII, HMSO 1931; reprinted by Kraus Thomson Organization 1963).
TREASURY AND CUSTOMS RECORDS
The extensive and varied records of the Treasury contain much material relating to the colonies: all have been mentioned by Andrews in volume II. Those records of the Board of Customs which survived a fire in 1814, chiefly statistics of trade, are likewise described by Andrews in the same volume.
In early colonial America the ownership of the land was considered to be vested in the Crown by right of discovery and settlement by its subjects. The Crown granted land to companies and to proprietors to organize settlements and also to some individual subjects as a reward for services. The matter is more fully described in O T Barck Jr. and H T Lefler Colonial America (Collier 1968)
The system whereby recipients of royal grants in turn gave or sold land varied. In some colonies, notably in New England, the legislatures established by the colonists assumed jurisdiction over the allocation of company lands. They made some direct grants to individuals for ‘adventuring’ money in the companies, but the greater part went to groups or communities to establish townships and to apportion the surrounding land.
In the southern counties, the ‘headright’ system of land distribution was the most common method followed during the seventeenth century. An individual who provided transport to the colony for any immigrant was thereby entitled to at least fifty acres of land. During the same period, however, larger tracts were given by the Crown, the proprietor or the company to favorites, to those who performed outstanding service to the company or, as in Maryland, to those who transported five or more persons to the colony. The ‘headright’ system led to many frauds and abuses, and by the early years of the eighteenth century most of the land was distributed by purchase or by taking out a patent signed by the governor of the colony for new, unpatented land.
Although grants were nominally made in the name of the Crown, most were made and recorded locally rather than in London. Of those grants which were reported to the Secretary of State or the Board of Trade no index exists. However, many are noted in Andrews and in the Calendar of State Papers Colonial.
There are collections of papers concerning Indian affairs in general, and relating to large tribes and confederacies not dwelling in any one colony in CO 5. The class includes some treaties, but there is no index to them and no easy means of locating those not mentioned by Andrews or in the Calendar.
Separate leaflets are available on request on the service records of officers and men of the British Forces serving in the Army, Navy and Royal Marines; on emigre loyalists, on emigration and on merchant shipping records (Registrar General of Shipping and Seamen).
THE WPA WORKS PROJECT:
When Franklin Delano Roosevelt took office in 1933, more than 13 million Americans were out of work. In the first hundred days of his administration, Roosevelt pushed through legislation for much of his New Deal, including the Works Progress Administration (WPA), which was responsible for the nation's relief program. It was first established as the Work Projects Administration by executive order on 6 May 1935 and in 1939 the agency's name was changed to Work Progress Administration. Before it's liquidation in 1942, it became the biggest relief program in U.S. history, providing employment for millions of people.
The WPA was initiated to give work to laid off workers during the great depression, repairing roads, sidewalks and sewers, cleaning and reading cemeteries and assisting small town governments in keeping the town functioning.
One of the important projects of the WPA was the "Historical Records Survey Program." In this program people were hired by the WPA to inventory all records both public and private, that were of historical value. The project was never completed, and not all of the records that were inventoried are of value to genealogist. However, where an inventory of the county records was completed they can be very useful. Where the county inventories exist they will list all records from the inception of the county until the time of inventory. Some of the inventories were published and some were not.
Massive bibliographies, inventories, indexes, and other historical materials were prepared by out-of-work historians, lawyers, teachers, researchers, and clerical workers. The intent of the program was to organize historical materials, particularly the unpublished government documents and records which are basic in the administration of local government and which provide invaluable data for students of political, economic, and social history. Archival guides were designed to meet the requirements of day-to-day administration by federal and local government officials, and also the needs of lawyers, businessmen, and other citizens who require facts from public records to conduct their affairs.
Inventories produced by the Historical Records Survey Program attempted to do more than merely provide lists of records - the program attempted to sketch the historical background of the county or other unit of government, and to describe precisely, and in detail, the organization and function of the governmental agencies whose records were listed.
Family historians continue to reap the benefits of these works, which survive in original, microfilm, and published forms in libraries and archives all over the United States. Listed below are but a few of the WPA records projects of genealogical value:
The Soundex Index to the U.S. population census is probably the most-used WPA work. While not error-free, Soundex indexes to the 1880, 1900, 1910, and 1920 censuses, microfilmed by the National Archives, have launched research projects for millions of family historians.
Other heavily used indexes created by the WPA and available through the WPA, through the National Archives (custodian of the original documents), and through the Family History Library operated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City are naturalization indexes. The "Soundex Index to Naturalization Petitions for the United States District and Circuit Courts, Northern District of Illinois and Immigration and Naturalization Service District #9, 1840-1950," includes more than 1.5 million index cards for naturalizations that took place in Chicago and northern Illinois, as well as in parts of Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Other large and important WPA naturalization compilations are the "Soundex Name Index to New England Naturalization Petitions, 1790-1906," and the "Index to Naturalization Petitions of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, 1865-1957."
The WPA operated at four organizational levels - the central administration at Washington, D.C., regional offices, state administrations, and district offices.
There are three WPA National Archives microfilm publications (Record Group 60): T935 "Index to Reference Cards for Work Project Administration Project Files, 1935-1937 (79 rolls); T936 "Index to Reference Cards for Work Project Administration Project Files 1938" (15 rolls); and T937, "Index to Reference Cards for Work Project Administration Project Administration Project Files, 1939-1942" (19 rolls). Except for certain federally sponsored projects, state and local governments helped finance and supervise WPA work projects.
For family researchers in Indiana, there are WPA indexes to vital records in sixty-five of that state's ninety-two counties. Indiana county histories were indexed by the WPA, alphabetically by county name, up to and including the letter J. Since that time, others have taken up where the WPA left off and have completed the indexing of various other counties.
WPA RELATED SITES:
American Life Histories, Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 (American Memory Project, Library of Congress): http://lcweb2.loc.gov/wpaintro/wpahome.html
African American Mosiac - WPA, Library of Congress: http://www.loc.gov/exhibits/african/wpa.html
NARA: RG 69 - Records of the Work Projects Administration: gopher://gopher.nara.gov:70/00/inform/guide/10s/rg069.txt
Work Progress Administration (WPA) projects in Georgia: http://www.libs.uga.edu/darchive/hargrett/wpa/wpa.html
Go back to the index page