These 1886 craftsman - some of them in their 60s (or older) - posed with handiwork and tools at their workplace, the Springfield Armory in MA (active 1777-1968.) Especially in wartime, the federal government was a major purchaser of certain staple items - clothing, shoes, paper, -- and weapons. Industrial productivity in the infant U.S. got a huge boost from technological advances in the early-mid 1800s, aka "The Black Hole of Genealogy." (See the "American System of Manufacturing" entry on wikipedia.) Small mill towns in the Connecticut River Valley, southeastern MA, and RI became significant population centers as rural men and women gave up farming and moved to other towns, counties, and even states to seek paid employment in the bustling new factories. Such cash-economy workers generated different/fewer land records and their major life events (marriage, birth of children, & deaths) took place in places you might not think to look. The Springfield Armory (and federal armory at Harper's Ferry, WV) were under the control of the military. As civilian employees of the military, records of individual workers may be part of any employment records now at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). If you have an ancestor listed as an "operative," "mechanic," or a specific industrial trade and think he/she might have worked at a federal facility, submit a signed, dated, written request (no phone or email) to: National Personnel Records Center (Civilian Personnel Records) 111 Winnebago St., St. Louis, MO 63118-4126. Provide as much detail as you can about your ancestor (full name, date of birth, federal agency employing him/her, approximate dates) and they will search for you. NARA can only provide name, position titles, grades, salaries, and duty stations, but these are particularly useful in differentiating between people of the same name living in the same city, confirming residency, indicating likely socioeconomic status, verifying that someone who abandoned his/her family was still alive and where, or writing an analysis or genealogical argument for a lineage society. NARA will field questions about the process by phone (314) 801-9250, fax (314) 801-9269, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm going to try it out on a stray great grandfather from MA thought to be dead but who recently turned up on a WWI draft card working at a federal facility in OH. Hmmmmm....
Dr. Maura Mackowski is an Arizona research historian who enjoys the challenge of looking for Mayflower descendants, hers and anyone else's.
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