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Monday, September 7, 2015

Find Your Ancestors in Post Office Records

"Louisville Kentucky 1861 cover+3c" by U.S. Post Office - U.S. Post OfficeSmithsonian National Postal MuseumPhoto image obtained/rendered by Gwillhickers.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - 
Yes, there are genealogically important records from post office records. For many, many years from the time I was eight years old, I was a philatelist (stamp collector). Technically, I guess I still am. Genealogically speaking, one of the major benefits I derived from my years of accumulating a huge stamp collection was very detailed geographic knowledge of the countries of the world. I finally realized that by collecting stamped (franked) letters from the U.S. Civil War era, I was preserving a part of history. By the time I was a teenager, I was also very sophisticated about the value of collectables of all kinds. Now that I am mainly involved in genealogy, I value the time I spent learning about the world's postal system and stamps.

The post office handles letters. Letter contain information, often of genealogical interest. Therefore, if you know where and how to acquire the letters, you just might find out something of value. However it is not just the letters that are important. In rural areas the postmaster was an important member of the community. Control of the post office was sometimes a family matter. Important records can be found in the following categories:
  • Records of Postmaster Appointments
  • Records of Post Office Locations
  • Letters sent by the Postmaster General
  • Indexes to rosters of Railway Postal Clerks
  • Post Office Names
These records and many more are found on microfilm in the U.S. National Archives in Washington, D.C. In addition, most National Archives and Records Administration regional facilities have some microfilmed post office records. See NARA's Post Office Records. I find this comment from the NARA webpage very interesting:
Postmasters served as little as a few months to more than 30 years. One such long-serving postmaster was Elihu O. Lyman of Mulberry Corners, Geauga County, OH, who served a total of 31 years, from February 1852 to March 1865 and January 1867 to August 1885. Some persons were appointed several times, such as Dr. William M. Hayford who was four times appointed as postmaster of Hartland, Livingston County, MI. Dr. Hayford was first appointed on January 15, 1853, followed by Abraham F. Chambers, who was appointed January 30, 1856, who Dr. Hayford succeeded on January 23, 1857. Dr. Hayford's third appointment was on January 28, 1859, followed by Chauncy P. Worden on March 19, 1861. Dr. Hayford's final appointment was on June 5, 1885, followed by G. Winfield Wallace, who was appointed April 24, 1889. 
Sometimes, control of the post office was a family affair. The Denmark, Ashtabula County, OH, post office provides examples of this phenomena. Its postmasters included Elihu "Knap" and Horace Knapp; Ebenezer Williams, William H. Williams, and Henry E. Williams; Giles Ives, his son-in-law William H. Seager, and Daniel K. Palmer, who was father-in-law of Lewis Ives, a son of Giles Ives. (Family relationships are not stated in these records).

Women were frequently appointed postmasters of small rural post offices, with their numbers increasing in the last quarter of the 19th century. In 1895, for example, some of the women serving as Ohio postmasters included Lizzie Davis, Achor; Sarah E. Shisler, Adair; Carrie Billett, Alcony; Almira Bachman, Alexis; Elza I. Conkey, Alfred; Ellen A. Bard, Alice; Annie E. Barrett, Alpha; Allethe J. Smith, Amsterdam; Lydotia Williams, Angel; Alice Penn, Antioch; Kate Crumbacker, Antrim; Irene H. Henry, Anvil; Sarah Arbaugh, Arbaugh; Gertie H. Musgrave, Arena; Anna S. Campbell, Ash Ridge; Ida Jump, Austin; Sarah A. Bargar, Bargar; Olive L. Hibler, Bier; Lucy A. Nupp, Black Jack; and Ella A. Clark, Boardman.
Here is the issue. Persistent researchers will sometimes realize that these types of records exist but only really dedicated researchers will expend the time and money necessary to actually search records such as these.'s Catalog shows very few post office related records.  There are some more records on, including some from the United Kingdom.

The Library of Congress also has a considerable collection of post office records. These include the following from the "Sources of Historical Infomation on Post Offices, Postal Employees, Mail Routes and Mail Contractors," Publication 119 from the United States Postal Service:

  • An Appointment Bureau list of Post Offices, 1861 to 1865, with establishments, discontinuances, and name changes noted, along with names of postmasters and appointment dates, for Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas. Sources of Historical Information 9 
  • A register of accounts for the quarter ending March 31, 1862, for Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee, and Texas (includes Post Office and postmaster name and financial information on the office—sometimes incomplete). 
  • An Appointment Bureau list, 1861 to 1865, in no discernable order, of postmasters appointed in Arkansas, Indian Territory, Louisiana, and Texas (provides dates of appointment, bond and commission of the postmaster, the name and reason for leaving of the previous postmaster, the county of location, sureties’ names, and miscellaneous remarks). 
  • Journal and Orders of the postmaster general (contains lists of hundreds of postmaster appointments in the summer of 1861). 
  • Letters sent by the postmaster general, 1861 to 1862 (contain occasional references to postmaster appointments). 
  • Appointment Bureau letters sent, 1861 to 1865, partially indexed through November 4, 1863. 
  • Letters sent by the Contract Bureau, 1861 to 1864, mainly to contractors and postmasters, which are indexed by recipient or Post Office name and provide details on mail service. 
  • Confederate records on mail contracts and routes in the states of Mississippi and Virginia.

See also, The National Archives Narations, "Family Tree Friday: Post Office Records."

Here are a few additional sources:

1 comment:

  1. As a fellow philatelist who also enjoys the world of genealogy, thanks for the article.