In the past we've examined microfilm documents from the Letters of Application and Recommendation for the different Presidential Administrations. My daughter, the Postmaster for the Heber-Overgaard Post Office in Arizona, commented that she wondered what information NARA microfilms had about her. So I decided to check - at least in general.
I hit pay-dirt, with the help of Kerry Bartels of the Pacific Region of the National Archives in Riverside County, California, that is. Here is the title of the next microfilm collection I will be examining:
"Record of Apppointment of Postmasters, 1832-September 30, 1971." There are 145 rolls of film and the Record Group (RG) number is 28. The publication is number M841 with a publication date of 1977.
These films are available for viewing in the following regional Archives:
Pacific Alaska Region (Anchorage)
Pacific Region (Riverside County, CA)
Pacific Region (San Bruno, CA)
Rocky Mountain Region (Denver, CO)
Southeast Region (Atlanta, GA)
Great Lakes Region (Chicago, IL)
Northeast Region (Pittsfield, MA)
Northeast Region (Boston, MA)
Northeast Region (New York City, NY)
Mid-Atlantic Region (Philadelphia, PA)
Southwest Region (Fort Worth, TX)
Pacific Alaska Region (Seattle, WA)
and, of course,
National Archives I (Washington, DC)
Before heading to the local NARA facility (listed above) to view these, remember to check the "Finding Aid" (the PDF Information Document) that is linked on the descriptive page from the catalog (follow earlier instructions on how to access the microfilm catalog, then enter "M841" in the Search box; click on the link for the publication that appears in the results). This publication information tells us that the collection here is just a part of Records of the Post Office Department, RG 28 (yup, there's even more):
"This record was prepared in the office of the Junior Assistant to the Postmaster General from 1832 to January 2, 1835; Second Assistant Postmaster General from July 2, 1836, to 1851; First Assistant Postmaster General from 1851 to 1950; and the Bureau of Post Office Operations from 1950 to September 30, 1971" (Publication Number: M-841, Washington, DC: NARA, 1977, page 1).
There are a number of factors that make this collection potentially useful to genealogists:
1) If your ancestor served as a Postmaster (or was rumored to have been such) his/her service dates and location(s) of service can easily be tracked.
2) Because Post Offices were not static, sometimes facilities closed down, were subsumed by others, or had their territory expanded. These changes are noted on the filmed documents and may help with tracking ancestors in those various areas.
3) Specific information regarding other aspects of the people, offices, and regions are often included, adding historical perspective to the lives of those living within the various boundaries and the cities, towns, and outposts listed.
More specifics on how the records are organized can be found on the seven-page document referenced above. That document also contains a list of abbreviations or notations commonly found on the filmed records. I would recommend printing that out to have available for reference when viewing the films or you might miss the significance of "C.H." (Courthouse - county seat), "Dis" (discontinued), or "P" (Appointed by the President). (Note: those abbreviations are also provided at the beginning of each film but can be cumbersome to reference when the researcher is viewing the end of the film.)
Pages three through seven of the PDF Finding Aid lists the rolls of film (beginning with "Alabana; Autauga - Dale" and ending with "Wyoming; Albany - Yellowstone National Park"). Because there was U.S. Postal Service to areas other than the contiguous United States, some unexpected regions include:
and more (see the Finding Aid for a complete list).
So if your ancestors were from any of those areas and may have worked for the Post Office (as a Postmaster, even on temporary assignment as such), these would certainly be documents to check. Even if ancestors did not work for the Post Office, if they came from, say, Cuba, this record collection might shed light on some of the history of the area (I'll illustrate this in a future blog on this topic).
So there's the preliminary information on this unusual collection. Your "homework," for those who wish to follow up or further research the potential of these films, is to go to the link given above and follow the directions to pull up the PDF of the "Publication Details" (AKA the "Finding Aid" or "Information Document") and check it for yourself. Oh, and share this information with others - let's not keep this collection a secret any longer!