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The archival goodies

He was 44 years old on that first of September, 150 years ago this year.

He was born in Warren County, New Jersey, in the northwestern part of the state, lived in Bethlehem, in Hunterdon County in 1864, and was by occupation a laborer.

He was not quite five and a half feet tall, and had black eyes, black hair, and black complexion.

And when he finished inscribing his mark at the bottom of the page, he became a private in Company H of the One Hundred and Twenty Seventh Regiment, U.S. Colored Troops.

USCT.NJ.smNow you can find out that much about George Blakins in the digitized records available at, for example, Fold3.com.1

You can find his widow on the 1890 veteran’s census.2

And you can find his grave in the cemetery of the Asbury Methodist Church in Warren County, and a photo on Find A Grave.3

But last night, The Legal Genealogist was at the New Jersey State Archives in Trenton.

And, last night, I had the privilege of holding George Blakins’ original mustering-in certificate in my hand.4

It’s a beautiful document — you can click on the image you see here and enlarge it — and it is only one of hundreds that exist in the New Jersey State Archives.

Joseph R. Klett, director of the State Archives, gave me a tour of the back areas of the Archives when I arrived early last night for a lecture on DNA as part of the 2014 Exploring Your Jersey Roots lecture series, co-sponsored by the Archives, Genealogical Society of New Jersey (GSNJ), and Central Jersey Genealogy Club (CJGC). It’s part of the celebration of New Jersey’s 350th birthday.

There are two more lectures in the series — Military Records at the New Jersey State Archives by reference archivist Catherine Medich on June 3rd, and Klett’s own presentation on Using the Records of the East and West Jersey Proprietors on June 11th — and an all day finale on June 14th with lectures, case studies and more.

As much as anything else, attending the lecture series means getting a chance to see what the New Jersey State Archives has. And the treasures — the archival goodies — in the vaults of the Archives are stunning. The huge parchment sheets showing New Jersey’s ratification of the United States Constitution. The original and current Seals of the State of New Jersey. Records of the New Jersey Supreme Court starting in 1703.

Many of the records held by the Archives are what you’d expect: state records from the very earliest colonial days.

And then there are those that archivist Klett describes as “unexpected.”

Like the records of soldiers of the United States Colored Troops.

Records of soldiers like George Blakins.

New Jersey itself didn’t organize regiments of Colored Troops. “All the recruits were forwarded to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and placed directly under the Secretary of War. The troops were mustered into regiments of the United States Colored Troops and credited to the state of New Jersey.”5

The records are described by the Archives as “miscellaneous documents relating to individual soldiers (both black and white) in the United States Colored Troops who were credited to New Jersey. A few of the files relate to black soldiers in other non-New Jersey units (e.g., the Massachusetts Colored Cavalry); however, information on African-Americans who served in New Jersey units (as cooks, for example), or black naval recruits who were credited to the state, can be found with the records for those units.”6

And for these men from New Jersey, mustered in over in Pennsylvania, and serving as federal soldiers, there are wonderful documents which, for any individual soldier, might include:

• Muster certificates: Completed at the time of mustering-in, most of the muster certificates were issued at Camp “William Penn” at Chelten Hills, PA. They record the name of the soldier, the company he was assigned to, and the date of muster.

• Certificates of service: These were usually prepared to document the eligibility of a soldier’s family for relief pay. They generally include the name of the soldier, the unit of service, and the signature of the commanding officer.

• Discharge certificates and transmittal letters: A few original discharge certificates are included; more often, there will be simply a cover letter transmitting the discharge. The few certificates that are present contain considerable information, including: soldier’s name; date of enrollment; date, place and reason for discharge; place of birth; age; physical description; and occupation at the time of enrollment.

• Correspondence and affidavits: Much of this material relates to individual soldiers’ eligibility for state pay or relief pay for their families.7

Many of these documents, for about 600 soldiers of the 2,900 New Jerseyans who served in the United States Colored Troops, have been digitized, and are available on the New Jersey State Archives’ website.

But not yet the one for George Blakins.

The one for a 44-year-old man who left wife and child behind and volunteered to fight for the Union.

The one I held in my hand last night.

Makes you want to make a visit to Trenton, doesn’t it?


SOURCES

  1. Compiled Military Service Record, George Blakens, Pvt., 127th U.S. Colored Troops, Civil War; Compiled Military Service Records of Volunteer Union Soldiers Who Served the United States Colored Troops: Miscellaneous Personal Papers; Record Group 94: Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, 1762 – 1984; National Archives, Washington, D.C.; digital images, George Blakens file, p. 3, Fold3.com (http://www.fold3.com : accessed 28 May 2014).
  2. 1890 U.S. census, Hunterdon County, New Jersey, East Bethlehem, special veterans’ schedule, enumeration district (ED) 141, p. 1 (penned), line 11, Catharine L. Blakins; digital image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 28 May 2014); citing National Archive microfilm publication M123, roll 42.
  3. Asbury Methodist Church Cemetery, Warren County, New Jersey, Pvt George Blakins marker; digital image, Find A Grave (http://findagrave.com : accessed 28 May 2014).
  4. Mustering-in certificate, George Blakens (1864), George Blakins folder; Department of Defense, Adjutant General’s Office (Civil War), United States Colored Troops – Service Files, ca. 1862-1870s; New Jersey State Archives, Trenton.
  5. Institutional History – New Jersey’s Regiments,” New Jersey State Archives Collection Guide, Department of Defense, Adjutant General’s Office (Civil War), PDF version (http://www.state.nj.us/state/archives/guides/sdea4000.pdf : accessed 28 May 2014).
  6. Content Note, “United States Colored Troops Service Files (Civil War),” Imaged Collections, New Jersey State Archives (http://www.state.nj.us/state/archives/ : accessed 28 May 2014).
  7. Ibid.
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