Did your ancestor have a government position or apply for one? Or perhaps was recommended for such a career. Are you aware that letters to the government have been separated by administration (e.g., "Lincoln administration," etc.) and then further organized alphabetically by the subject (not necessarily author) of the letter?
In other words, if Sam Smith* wrote a letter to President James Monroe, or other government official during the Monroe administration, recommending Peter Adams* for a position as a government appointee, the letter would be filed under the "Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of James Monroe, 1817-1825" (Part of Record Group 59, "General Records of the Department of State"; series M439 - 19 rolls).
Within that collection listing online (see earlier blog about how to find microfilm collections at the Pacific Region Archives), the PDF Information Document lists all the people who were subjects of the letters, so that particular letter would be listed under "Adams, Peter" and, following his name, there would be a number in parentheses (e.g., (8)) representing the number of documents (a single letter might be 4 pages long but if that is the only document in the file for Peter Adams, then there would be a (1) after his listing).
Once I identify the subject person in the name index, in that same PDF document, at the very end, is a listing of the microfilms in the collection and which rolls contain which surnames or organizations, so the Peter Adams item would probably be on roll number 1 - the listing looking something like this (for example only)*:
Aar - Bad - 1 (meaning film series M 439, roll 1)
Bae - Cre - 2 (etc.)
or like this:
Roll Index Range
2 Be-Bo (etc.)
To read the Peter Adams letter by Sam Smith, I would fill out the film requisition form at the archives and then the NARA employee would pull the film(s) I requested so I could view it (them).
*(This example is for information purposes only - there is not an actual letter by Sam Smith on behalf of Peter Adams, that I know of. In the next blog we will examine some real examples of what one might find within these films.)
There is a wealth of information in the documents on these films and most people are unaware of their existence. Checking through the indexes on the Information Documents takes only a few minutes and can be done at home (see earlier blog) before going over to the Archives. If you find your ancestor, or someone you think might be your ancestor, in one of those documents, you owe it to yourself to dig a little deeper. The employees and volunteers at the Archives are there to help you: 23123 Cajalco Rd., Perris (actually just off the I-215 at Cajalco Expy in Riverside County), CA 92570.
Note: if you wish a number of films to be pulled, it is advisable to call in advance with that request: 951-956-2000.
For those non-Southern Californians who are reading this, there are around a dozen other facilities across the country that house these films. To see if the archives near you has the film collection you seek, follow the directions in the aforementioned blog (but substitute your regional archives location for "Pacific Region" under "advanced search"), then (when you are in the catalog list for your selected archives), click on the "Publication Title" heading (this will give you an alphabetized listing of collection titles) and scroll to "Letters of Application and Recommendation During the Administration of _____" (pick the desired Presidential administration). (Note: Expect the title to be over half-way through the title listing.)
See below for a complete listing of the Presidential Administrations and their Film Series numbers to assist in making your selection.
M406 - 3 rolls - John Adams, 1797-1801
M418 - 12 rolls - Thomas Jefferson, 1801-1809
M438 - 8 rolls - James Madison, 1809-1817
M439 - 19 rolls - James Monroe, 1817-1825
M531 - 8 rolls - John Quincy Adams, 1825-1829
M639 - 27 rolls - Andrew Jackson, 1829-1837
M687 - 35 rolls - Martin Van Buren, William Henry Harrison, and John Tyler, 1837-1845
M873 - 98 rolls - James Polk, Zachary Taylor, and Millard Fillmore, 1845-1853
M967 - 50 rolls - Franklin Pierce and James Buchanan, 1853-1861
M650 - 53 rolls - Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson, 1861-1869
M968 - 69 rolls - Ulysses S. Grant, 1869-1877
So now you have some information to get you locating that elusive ancestor who allegedly worked for the government or was a White House employee, etc. Please let me know how this works for you! And let others know about this amazing resource (in the next couple of blogs I'll show you some of the actual findings).