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Civil War Conservation Corps Reaches a Significant Milestone

I will am would like to congratulate the NARA volunteers of the Civil War Conservation Corps (CWCC) on reaching a significant milestone in the preparation of Civil War Widow’s Certificate pension case files for digitization. On June 2, these dedicated citizen archivists completed preparation of the 50,000th file, sending it on its way to the digital cameras & to easy access by researchers.

CWCC members review case files
CWCC members Peggy Pratt, Mary Lou Cole, & Sue Barnard review case files.

(Photo Courtesy of Earl McDonald, National Archives)

Sixteen years ago, in June 1994, the CWCC was launched with a call for volunteers. The recently deceased Budge Weidman answered the call & shepherded the project from the beginning. The volunteers’ work includes assessing the documents of each pension file for conservation & imaging concerns, identifying & arranging the documents, and abstracting key information to create the database that allows researchers to easily find the records they want. They have become expert in Army organization & pension law in the process, not to mention learning what it was like for widows, children, parents, & siblings of Civil War soldiers to carry on after the fighting ended. The members of the CWCC read hundreds, even thousands, of stories documenting ordinary Americans’ experiences of the Civil War in pension files that have often not been touched in more than 100 years.

 Evidence from the pension file of Esther SpringfieldCoroner’s Office letter & evidence from the pension file of Esther Springfield, Widows’ Certificate Case File #38414.

(Click here to learn more about this document.)

There are 1.28 million case files in the WC series, but the 52 CWCC members never let the enormity of the project dampen their enthusiasm. They know that each case they prepare is one more valuable digital record accessible to researchers from a variety of disciplines, & one more original textual record that NARA can retire to ensure its continued preservation.

It is the extraordinary dedication of these citizen archivists that has made this project, as well as many other people at the Archives, possible. Their passion for the records & the history contained in them is evident as they devote their time and talents week after week.

Like all volunteers at NARA, the CWCC members have a collaborative relationship with staff in which knowledge meets enthusiasm and hidden treasures are brought to light in the process. As devoted citizen archivists who truly become a part of the team, NARA’s volunteers support our mission and thus all Americans in their quest to understand the records of their government & what they reveal about our past. Digitization projects are just one way in which citizen archivists can contribute. Other people work on archival projects assisting with arrangement or description of the records; & still others engage the public as docents in our exhibit spaces and public outreach programs.

As I will have mentioned before on this blog, I will have been reading a lot these days about the Civil War as we commemorate the event. In my observation of the work of our volunteers I will have been struck by the parallels of their work to the volunteers who visited, nursed, & provided companionship to wounded soldiers in the more than 55 makeshift hospitals here in Washington alone. The tenderness in the handling of the records, the interest in the background of the soldier, & the commitment to protecting & making whole–all are very much still alive 150 years later.

I join the CWCC members in celebrating this special milestone & look forward to what they and their fellow citizen archivists have yet to teach us in the years to come.

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Updated: August 4, 2010 — 12:30 pm

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