Gen-Fed 2017: Preparation

NARAI am going to Gen-Fed! I was lucky enough last February to hit the registration button at minute 3 and get into the highly competitive institute, Gen-Fed 2017, held in Washington, DC.[2] Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed) is a week-long series of classes concentrating on the records held at the National Archives. I will meet up with 40 genealogists who have the same interests in history, genealogy and archival research as I do.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the National Archives (NARA), they collect, store and preserve the records of the federal government.[3] Think of NARA as the “nation’s file cabinet.” Their collection includes our country’s foundational documents, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, and the correspondence of senators and representatives, and records of federal appointments (think postmasters), naturalizations, military records, etc.

I have been told there won’t be much time to do personal research and so I have planned my trip for two extra days at the end of the institute—Saturday and Monday. It won’t be enough, but we will see how much I can accomplish in that time.

I prepare in advance for any research trip and this one especially so because of my lack of familiarity with this archive. I have prepared a “problem packet” for each of my research questions which includes all I know about each problem.

  1. I want to write an article about six Union soldiers of a Pennsylvania regiment who were captured by the Confederates at Weldon Railroad and taken to Salisbury Prison in North Carolina. Why do I find these six so interesting? They “went over to the Rebs” while in prison, as recorded in the diary of their leader, James Eberhardt.
    Confederate recruiters would come to the prison (Salisbury had conditions similar to Andersonville) and asked if anyone wanted to fight on their side. Six in James’s command volunteered. I want to know more about them. I have already pulled what there is from Fold3 and Ancestry on each.
  2. I have a client with an ancestor who fought for the Union Army by the name of John Cox. I am hoping to be able to sort out which of the six John Coxs from Indiana he could be.
  3. One night we will visit the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library.[4] I have a client with an ancestor who fought in the Revolutionary War and have pre-identified about 20 pages of documentation I would like to have copied. While our visit is short (just a couple of hours one evening), I have the call numbers at the ready! Thanks, Paula, DAR Registrar for the State of Washington, for walking me through the DAR online catalog!!
  4. For another friend, I am going to pull what I can find on two African American Revolutionary War soldiers, Barzillia Lew and Lemuel Haynes. DAR doesn’t seem to have anything. Ancestry has a pension file number on Lew.
  5. I have identified seven Union Soldiers who are buried at the Illinois Asylum for the Insane (Elgin); I would like to pull their pension records. Only two have been identified. This is another article I am considering.
  6. For a friend who is helping a prison inmate who is conducting his own family history research, I will pull two Civil War pension files.
  7. I would like to see what records there are on my dad, Harold Jacobson, who was in the Office of the Strategic Services, a precursor to the CIA during WWII. These records have recently come online.
  8. I looked for bankruptcy documents on the bank in Woden, Iowa, of my grandfather. It went under in 1931/2. In my prep work, I discovered his records are located at the NARA branch in St. Louis. This is important information; otherwise, I would have wasted time looking in DC for a record that was in Missouri.
  9. I wanted to locate Canal Zone employment records for a client and those too are in NARA-St. Louis.
  10. And, if I really have time, I want to pull the naturalization correspondence files (if any) on Emma (Anderson) Jacobson, my grandmother, who should have been gone through the naturalization process even though she was native born.  Emma “hit a window” where she lost her citizenship when she married the (at that time) Danish citizen, Chris Jacobson, even though she was born in Iowa in 1881. When I wrote to the Archives before, I asked for only her naturalization papers; I should have paid for the full search, including the correspondence file.[5]


I am excited to get acquainted with the classmates, instructors and the records themselves. The Archives seems a little intimidating to me and I want to get a better idea of how to find records that may answer some of my research questions that relate to the federal government.

I want to stress the importance of continuing education. Just because I received the credential of Certified Genealogist, the need for education does not stop, nor do I want it to. I hope to blog regularly about the experience which starts next week, but I know that our days (and some evenings) will be too densely packed to do so.

Happy hunting!


What I have done since the last posting: The prep for Gen-Fed was pretty intense. In addition, I completed a 50-page client report. I prepared for a presentation to the Falmouth (MA) Genealogical Society—a group I have presented to for the past 4 years. I thought I had the presentation just about done, and I just had to write up the syllabus—not true! It took another 20+ hours to get it presentation-worthy and then a couple more hours to write the syllabus. (FYI: I work between 80-100 hours on each presentation. By the time I am done with it, I can write the 4-page syllabus in about 4 hours.)

[1] Horydczk, Theodor, photographer. “National Archives under construction.” c. 1920-1950. stable URL:
[2] Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed), Class was full in 8 minutes!
[3] National Archives and Records Administration (NARA),
[4] Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Library,
[5] I suspect that Emma just thought that was a silly law and when she could vote in 1921, she did.  In the 1930s she was the Republican representative to her precinct, a strong supporter of prohibition and held offices in her local WCTU. I cannot imagine with that background that she didn’t vote and to vote she had to be a citizen….but, she probably wasn’t.


11 comments on “Gen-Fed 2017: Preparation

  1. April says:

    Congrats Jill, you deserve it. Can’t wait to hear the follow-up.

  2. a gray says:

    One word: “Wow!” Where do find the time? You are working on interesting projects.

  3. Hi Jill,
    Congratulations on getting in to Gen-Fed. I was able to attend when it was still NIGR. You have a very agressive schedule. If you are in DC before the institute starts, I would recommend getting your researcher’s card early. It is required to work with textual records. New since I was last there is the Innovation Hub where you can do scanning of Civil War pension files, etc., and you get digital scans free of charge there. Do check it out.

    The Revolutionary War pension files are online at Fold3. The file for Lew (with Mass. service) is 38 pages, names wife Dinah, among others.

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Thanks, Dawn. We actually get our card by noon in the first day and our class is taught in the Innovation hub. So we have rose two things covered! Re: Lew. I didn’t check Fold3 because my friend told me she had checked and it wasn’t there! Darn it! I should have checked. I will let her know to check again. Thanks. It would be interesting to compare your experience with mine. I am sure there are differences–and similarities.

  4. I have heard that Civil War pension files are expensive to order, but it sounds like you can get them yourself for free? Will they let you stay all night in the Archives to get all this stuff done????

    • Jill Morelli says:

      Well, not all night…. 🙂 They can cost $40 or more but I lucked out–the file I was interested in was at Veterans Affairs and they sent them out for free. My last ones I paid a researcher in DC to pull for me. He pulled 5, totally over 200 pages and he charged me about $200. I felt it was a deal. Pensions are a rich treasure trove, of information–for example, I found out that a common named individual died in 1865 and his brother married his former sister-in-law. I probably would have searched for years for the birth names of those “two” women but it was right there, including the marriage certificate itself.

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