Saturday, March 14, 2009

Civilian Personnel Records at the NARA

It’s not often that a customer will request civilian personnel records from the 1940’s. It’s even less likely that they want research for a worker on an American Indian reservation who isn’t a native American. But I’ve received several requests to write about how to search non-military NARA personnel records, and I decided to use this case as a teaching tool, but respecting my customer’s anonymity.

The only information known was that the search was for a “medical doctor” on an Indian reservation during WWII, amongst the Sioux Indians, perhaps in South Dakota, based on a photo with a member of Chief Sitting Bull’s family. With the help of the customer, we were able to narrow the reservation to Standing Rock (or at least to start there).

Luckily for me, I live within two miles of the Kansas City National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and they have a GREAT staff! Upon verifying that they had at least payroll documentation for Standing Rock, I was feeling pretty lucky!

Who knew that the Kansas City NARA also had boxes and boxes of stuff? They wheeled in five years of boxes, filled with what seemed to be an eternity of loose leaf payroll papers, into a private room, made me sign away my right to breathe should I remove a piece of paper, and closed the door. Crying wasn’t an option, so I began to dig.

Sometimes everything just falls into place. The second page, literally the second piece of paper I picked up had his name, position and salary on it. But what I needed was the beginning and ending of his service. So, jumping around years, I was able to find all I needed, with handwritten notes on his start date, his contract date, and even his resignation date, shortly after the war , on the ledgers.

But I was hired to find his service records, not his payroll. So, I weaved through the paperwork for the Civilian Personnel Office in St. Louis to have the records pulled. They needed the employment dates to pull the personnel file, but it still took over two weeks before the folder was accessible to me. Maybe they were stuffed in a cave somewhere?

Finally the papers were ready for viewing. I left Kansas City with the sun shining, but expecting 1-2” of snow, but St. Louis had a surprise for me. I was scheduled to meet my contact at the Personnel Office at 8:30am the next day, but a 7-9” snowstorm decided to fall overnight. Well, I’m from Kansas! I was there at 8:15am, and with a bit of shuffling from the poor understaffed persons in the office who braved the weather, they found the complete folder (with my name on it) on my contact’s desk. And I was off to work! I copied pages and pages of pertinent personnel information, and even a photo. The bonus for my customer: his parents names – they were from Russia, so they were pretty much unknown before then (I believe). It also appears as though, this service fulfilled military service requirements during WWII, but that is another topic!

So, using the phone as my first tool, I was able to stay within budget. I learned more about the KC NARA while doing my pre-search, even though I visit there all the time, and worked with the Civilian Personnel Records in St. Louis, because I truly believe my life purpose is to master government forms!

I hope your experience is as smooth as mine was. I have attached the website for your perusal, should you need such a search:

Happy Searching!
Kathleen Brandt
Accurate, Accessible Answers

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