Research Work at the National Archives, with Kim Lindner

We asked Shapell Manuscript Foundation researchers at the National Archives in Washington D.C. about their work and experience there.  The team is working on the Shapell Roster – an updated and accurate roster of Jewish soldiers who served in the American Civil War.

Responses from Kim Lindner, Shapell Roster Researcher.

Kim Lindner, Shapell Roster Researcher.
Kim Lindner, Shapell Roster Researcher.

What’s been your favorite discovery so far?

Of course the best discoveries are when we are able to prove a soldier Jewish but these stories are just interesting all on their own. My favorite discoveries tend to be when I find a letter written by the soldier himself that contains information on his background. I love reading about soldiers emigrating to the United States and fighting for their new country.

Esslinger, Isidore (Record number 12029) – He had a very interesting letter in his file. He immigrated from Germany and became a naturalized US Citizen. But back in Germany he had been in the military. It seems like he was supposed to report for another service but came to the United States instead. So in Germany he is considered a deserter. Now he is Captain of his regiment. He asks in his letter for a 90 day furlough to go back to Germany. His father had passed away and the government was trying to take some of his inheritance from his mother since he deserted the army. His furlough was rejected, so he was forced to resign.

Click to view full-size images.

Samuel Davidson (Record number 11294) – In a pension questionnaire Samuel Davidson writes that he was struck in the forehead by holy electricity. Unfortunately he ends up losing his property and is sent to an insane asylum, and then his wife divorces him.

Click to view full-size images.

Joseph Greenhut (Record number 11385) – Joseph was born in Austria, moved to the US and advanced to the rank of Captain. He resigned for a very interesting reason. He claims that his father and uncle were business partners in Austria and they had a large amount of wealth and real estate. When his father died his uncle convinced his mother to emigrate to America with her children, and promised that he would support her. Joseph says his uncle never helped his mother and took all the land that was rightfully his fathers. Joseph resigns because his uncle had passed away and he wants to return to Austria to claim his fathers stolen real estate. The resignation letter is attached to his record.

Click to view full-size images. 

What’s your favorite/least favorite thing about work at the national archives?

My favorite thing about working in the archives is learning about all the different resources that are available to the public. It’s crazy what just anyone can come here and look at.

It’s (least favorite) a tie between my commute and receiving rejection slips. I take an hour and a half train ride to and from Washington DC, it’s nice because I can do work while I’m on the train but being closer to the city would be great. When we request a pension or service record we fill out a slip and hand it in to the archivists. Sometimes we’ll get rejection slips that say they were unable to find our records. Chances are if you put the same slip in again you’ll get your record the second time around.

What have you learned from your research and the research process?

The main thing I’ve learned through the research process is to read everything and double check your work. When reading through pages and pages of handwritten affidavits it’s very easy to miss some information here and there. After I finish working on a state in the database I will go back and look at the records to make sure everything looks correct and clean.

What’s the longest you’ve gone without making any headway on a soldier/case?

I usually don’t spend more than a day looking for a soldier or trying to make a connection. Adrienne (Adrienne Usher, Head Researcher) is amazing at finding information on soldier’s we can’t find on the internet, so if i’m not making any headway and feel like i’m beginning to waste my time, i’ll ask her to see if she can find anything.

How long does it usually take to qualify or disqualify a soldier from the Roster?

If a soldier has a pension we can qualify them or disqualify them pretty quickly. When looking through their pension we usually come across a death or marriage certificate. If the soldier was married by a priest and buried in a Catholic cemetery chances are he didn’t follow the Jewish faith. He could of course be Jewish through his parents but the chances are slim. We won’t rule out a soldier by finding information like this because you never know what you might find online or through another resource, but we make a note that it’s not looking good.

Hope these provide some insight into our work at the archives!

Interested in staying updated with the latest research news and discoveries?  You can follow the research team’s progress as it’s made at the Shapell Manuscript Foundation Facebook Page and Roster Project Album, or by following @ShapellManu on Twitter, #ShapellRoster, or check back at our blog for more interviews and news from the archives.

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