Friday, October 21, 2011

Day Two: Our final day at NARA

On this, the second day of our NARA adventure, we were old hands at getting around.  We breezed through the Metro and arrived at NARA about 10 AM.  Security was also a breeze, as well as signing in and getting our bright orange visitor/researcher badges.  We had done all of this before; we were now experts.  (We have also been very fortunate during this visit that the lines have been very short or nonexistent.)

We got another locker for our belongings and immediately hit the Finding Aids area; Ginger had more land records to fill out requests to have pulled, and I was still on the George Schwalls' short-lived Navy career hunt.  The same helpful archivist as yesterday helped me; he was relentless!  At one point, he had like six books open on the table, trying to find anything at all about George Schwalls even being in the CSA Navy.  Finally, he thought he had something and he called upstairs for help from another archivist.  She figured out what I needed to view (or at least she thought she did) and brought down the request form for me to complete.  The items would be pulled at 1:30 PM.

I helped Ginger look for some Confederate service records and then we headed to lunch.  We decided to get out of the NARA building today and walked a couple of blocks to the old Post Office.  It is now full of shops and a food court.  It is quite a contrast... the outside is absolutely beautiful and ornate while the inside is strip mall flashy and tacky.  There must be at least some federal offices still located in the building because at the main entrance where we went in, you still have to go through security.

The Old Post Office Pavilion, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington, D.C.
 After lunch, it was back up to the Central Research Room to view the War of 1812 Service and Pension Records we had requested the night before.  The service records were not robust at all.  Just a couple of "tickets" - one being information transferred from the regiments' muster roll and the other being payroll information.  I obviously need to do some research on the War of 1812 because it seems the men were enlisted for short terms, i.e., one of mine was six months and another was only 60 days.  Anyway, the information in those service records was sketchy at best.

Then I got to the the one pension file I had requested.  It was for my 4th great-grandfather, Jonathan Hesser.  Until the night before this trip, I was not even aware he had served during the War of  1812.  This pension file was no doubt the most exciting find of my trip.  I was not 100% certain that this was "my" Jonathan Hesser, but the pension file convinced me as it listed his wife and the fact that when he applied for the pension, he lived in Ohio.  The file is over 20 pages, and while I have not read every page line by line, I am still very excited to have it.  I look forward to transcribing and sharing it here on my blog.

You can only have one record out at a time, so it was after I finished looking at the military files before I could take a look at whatever the archivist had pulled for me regarding George Schwalls' Confederate Naval service.  It turned out to be two very old books of Naval Special Orders from 1863 and 1864.  It was with great hope that I opened the 1864 order book (George supposedly was transferred from the Confederate Army to the Navy in January of 1865, so the archivist and I were speculating that he received his orders in late 1864.)  I searched the Index of Names... no Schwalls.  OK, don't panic, Liz.  I turned to Special Order #88... which is the one the archivist thought would apply.  The order was several pages long, but there was no mention of George.  Hope is dimming, but there is one more thing I can double-check.  Paragraph 38 was also on George's naval service index card... so I checked that paragraph again for any mention of George... there was none.  As I dejectedly flipped back and forth in the book, looking for anything pertaining to my ancestor, I realized that this book only covered January - March 1864.  Wait a minute!  I need orders for later in the year.  Uh Oh.  It's almost the last pull time of the day:  3:30.  I have to hurry.  So I took the box back to the desk, explained my problem, and they sent me back down to my archivist friend in Finding Aides.  He had me fill out another request form with the other books I needed pulled and told me not to worry about the pull time.   He would get them to me in the Central Research Room.  He did deliver two boxes to me in about 30 minutes' time.  I eagerly began poring over them, and even enlisted Ginger's help.  No Schwalls anywhere.  The Special Order #88 in 1865 did not mention him.  The entire exercise was a bust.  Oh, well, that is the story of my research on George W. Schwalls.  My friend, Donna, swears he was a spy, and now I'm beginning to believe that, too.  It seems that every direction I turn in my research of him, I hit a brick wall.

Here I am, about to pitch a fit because I cannot find George Schwalls ANYWHERE!
 There were no more finds today. This concludes the story of my first ever trip to the National Archives in Washington, D.C.  It was exciting, frustrating, amazing, intimidating, exhausting, etc.  All those adjectives I used to describe the visit in the beginning still held at the end.

SIDE NOTE:  This is my 250th blog post!  


  1. Great pic, though :)

  2. I first saw that picture of you on Ginger's blog. Now I understand why you look so determined.

    Great recap and happy 250th post!