One of the most exciting aspects of archival research is stumbling upon records and events you didn’t know existed. Did you know, for example, that Florida sent several companies of soldiers to fight in the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-48?
Today’s post is part of the Florida Department of State’s Victory Florida campaign to commemorate the contributions of Floridian men and women to winning World War II. Help us get the word out by sharing this and other related posts on social media using the hashtag #VictoryFL.
Americans nationwide are preparing to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The weekend of August 14-16 will mark the 70th anniversary of Japan’s announcement that it would surrender, while September 2nd will be the anniversary of the formal ending of hostilities.
Over 248,000 Floridians, including more than 50,000 African Americans, served in the military during the war, while the state itself served as a year-round training center with over 170 military installations. Florida’s population grew by leaps and bounds during and after the war, as many former military personnel decided to make the Sunshine State their permanent home.
It goes without saying that Florida’s military contributions to the war were vital, but Floridians on the homefront also played an essential role in achieving victory. Citizens from all walks of life – men and women, whites and African Americans, city dwellers and rural folks – poured countless hours into civilian defense programs designed to keep Florida safe and prepared for any possibility. They took stock of food, water, and medicine supplies, organized carpools and child care services for working mothers, planned recreational activities for the men and women in uniform, and even helped watch the skies and seas for signs of the enemy.
Many of these programs were administrated by Florida’s State Defense Council, a state-level counterpart of the national Office of Civilian Defense. Each county had its own defense council, with committees assigned to take on various tasks associated with civilian defense. Because these entities answered to the State Defense Council, many of their records have been preserved at the State Library and Archives in Tallahassee in Record Series 419. For the local historian working on a history of a particular Florida community or county, these records can be invaluable for understanding how local leaders helped meet the serious challenges of World War II. Genealogists may also find it interesting to learn how various relatives participated in civilian defense work. Here are some examples of the kinds of records available:
Personnel Lists & Organizational Charts
Each county and many cities had their own defense councils, administrated by community leaders and supported by hundreds of local volunteers. Many of the committee chairpersons were required to submit oaths of allegiance before their appointments to local leadership positions would be confirmed by the state and made official by the Governor. The local council also had to notify the state if there were any changes in personnel as the war progressed. All of this activity was documented through correspondence and lists of essential defense council leaders. Local and family historians can use this information to determine who was in charge of each area of civilian defense work during the war in a given community.
Local Programs & Advertisements
Local defense councils, especially those in Florida’s larger cities, designed intricate programs to handle basic needs like child care for working mothers, transportation, and spreading information about air raid drills, blackouts, and other safety measures. Many of the child care centers, supply distribution points, and other agencies created during the war disappeared quickly after victory, leaving little trace of their existence. The records in Series 419 can help local historians piece together what these entities were doing, where they were doing it, and who was in charge.
Example: Leaflet describing wartime child care services in Duval County established by the local school board and the Duval County Defense Council (Box 16, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida.
While much of the correspondence between the State Defense Council and the local defense councils consists of routine business, some of the letters contain excellent descriptions of the work being done, and of the challenges local leaders faced in getting the supplies they needed, the information they wanted, and so on. These letters are a must for anyone working on the history of civilian defense work in a Florida community. Here is an example of one such letter to the State Defense Council from Mrs. C.C. Codrington of Lake City, who had volunteered to chair a local campaign to recruit women into the Women’s Army Corps. She describes speaking to local civic clubs about her work, working with local theater managers to show informative films, and starting work in the local high school library. Mrs. Codrington’s oath of allegiance was enclosed with the letter.
Source: Box 12, Series 419 – State Defense Council Records, State Archives of Florida.
These are only a few examples of the many gems to be found in the records of the State Defense Council at the State Archives of Florida. If you or someone you know is working on a history of your Florida community during World War II, visit us and have a look. More information on Series 419 may be obtained from the Archives Online Catalog, or you may contact the State Archives directly by email at Archives@dos.myflorida.com or by phone at (850)-245-6719.
Also, don’t forget to share this post with friends or family who may be interested in learning more about Florida’s World War II contributions. Use the hashtag #VictoryFL to help more people find this and other related posts!
Land records are some of the most useful items in a genealogist’s toolbox. They pinpoint specific people in specific places at specific times, and can serve as a stepping stone to other historic records that illuminate the lives of our ancestors. Sometimes land records can tell us a lot about a given moment in the broader history of Florida as well. The records associated with the Armed Occupation Act of 1842 are an excellent example.
During the American Civil War (1861-65), Florida faced serious shortages of many consumer items that were normally obtained through trade. Clothing, weapons, ammunition, hardware, and even salt became scarcer and scarcer as the Union Navy encircled the Florida coastline with a blockade. What limited trade items could be obtained were generally funneled to the front lines for soldiers’ use.
These privations were tough, especially the lack of food, arms, ammunition, and metal goods. Sometimes, however, the best illustrations of history come from the tiniest details. Want to see a great example of how strapped Florida’s citizens were for certain supplies during the Civil War? Look at their writing!
The words written on a historical document are certainly very useful, but sometimes how they are written, what they are written on, and what they are written with can be just as important for learning something new about the past. Take this document, for example:
This letter was written August 24th 1863 by a man named Julius, who was stationed at Legare’s Point on James Island near Charleston, South Carolina. You’ll notice right off that he wrote the letter in two directions, at right angles so as to be as readable as possible. He italicized his handwriting, which also increased the readability of the letter.
Why go to all this trouble? The answer is simple – as the war grew longer, paper and stationery supplies grew increasingly tight throughout the Confederacy. This was particularly true for soldiers on the front like Julius, who were often away from towns for long periods at a time. Although there were paper mills in the South in the 1860s, most letter-writing paper still had to be imported. The paper produced in the South was generally quite coarse, almost like craft paper. With the blockade in place, good stationery was difficult to obtain. Accordingly, folks “made do” with what they had. Throughout the collections of the State Library & Archives, we see examples of “cross-writing” like that above, as well as re-using paper and even using envelopes to write messages.
A lack of paper wasn’t the only challenge facing Floridians and other Southerners wanting to drop a line to someone during the war. Ink supplies also ran low, which led some citizens to turn to older natural sources. Long-time State Librarian Dorothy Dodd’s papers contain recollections from Floridians who reported using nutgalls and pomegranate skins to produce ink.
Tallahassee resident Susan Bradford Eppes confirms in her diary that her family was forced to find substitutes for ink, although she reports that it blotted and faded easily. This widespread substitution likely explains why the writing in some of the Civil War-era documents at the State Library & Archives is so faded, even when much older letters can still be read easily.
The State Library & Archives collectively hold a wealth of information about Florida in the Civil War. Diaries, letters, government reports and documents, military records, and other primary sources are available, as are books and periodicals relating to the Civil War era. If you’re looking for information about a Civil War-era ancestor, the Library’s genealogy section is a great place to get started.
The Confederate Pension Applications are one of the most popular series of historical documents on Florida Memory. They chronicle the efforts of Confederate veterans and their wives to obtain pensions from the State of Florida in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. By law, in order to obtain a pension a veteran or his widow had to provide information about the veteran’s Civil War service, his birth, and proof of a qualifying disability. Widows of Confederate veterans had to provide proof of their marriage. The State Board of Pensions reviewed these applications and approved those that met the proper qualifications.
The applications alone are full of useful information for genealogists and historians, but when used in conjunction with other collections at the State Archives of Florida they can do much more. For example, if you know you have a Civil War veteran or veteran’s widow in your family tree who received a state pension, in many cases you can find out how long the person received that pension, how much they received, and where they lived while they were receiving it. This can be achieved by finding the veteran or widow’s pension application on Florida Memory, then visiting the Archives for a look through the State Comptroller’s records of pension payments (Record Series 678).
Let’s use Floridian Civil War veteran Robert H. Parker as an example. If you search for Robert H. Parker on the Confederate Pension Applications page, here’s what you get:
Sometimes an individual will have multiple application numbers, but as the example above demonstrates, usually only one application will have the best information. In Robert Parker’s case, if we click on the application numbered A01666, we’ll get over a dozen pages of information from his soldier’s pension application, as well as the widow’s application of his wife Marietta.
We see from Marietta’s pension claim form that her husband Robert died on October 16, 1914, and that the Pension Board approved her to continue receiving a Confederate pension as his widow. What we can’t tell from this paperwork is how long she continued to receive that pension, or whether she moved after her husband died. That’s where the Comptroller’s records can help!
If you’ll notice in the example search results above, each of the Confederate Pension Applications is identified by a number. In Robert and Marietta Parker’s case, the number is A01666. The “A” in this code simply means the application was approved; the “1666” is the part used across state agencies to identify the pensioner.
The State Archives holds a series of ledgers from the State Comptroller’s office that record each payment made to each pensioner up through 1917. There are separate ledgers for soldiers and widows. The entries in each ledger are sorted by the pension number, so if we know Marietta started receiving a widow’s pension after her husband Robert’s death in 1914, we should be able to track her payments from that time by looking in the “Widow” volumes for entry number “1666.”
And there she is! In the example above, you’re seeing the information recorded for pension payments made on October 1, 1915 by the State Comptroller’s office. For each pensioner, you get the pensioner number, name, pension amount per year, postal address, Comptroller’s warrant number, date the pension was sent, and the amount of this particular payment. The pension payments were generally sent quarterly.
Just from this entry alone, we learn a few helpful bits about Marietta Parker. We know she was living on a rural postal route near Lutz in Hillsborough County in October 1915, and that she was receiving $37.50 every three months. Each ledger page typically covers a year’s worth of payments. Let’s keep following Marietta Parker’s payments to see if anything else helpful turns up.
Going through the Comptroller’s records of payments to Marietta, we learn that she moved to Tampa sometime in the spring of 1916, evidenced by the fact that her postal address changes. Also, when we get to the entry above, we learn that Marietta died sometime during the quarter leading up to the October 1, 1916 payment.
If you happen to be researching an ancestor whose death date or location have been tough to ascertain, these records can be very helpful. Plan a visit to the State Library & Archives soon to have a look. Remember, Series 678 only covers through 1917. If your Civil War veteran ancestor or his widow lived past that time, researching his or her later pension payments will require a different approach.
You might also want to have a look at our Guide to Genealogical Research. It has some helpful hints for getting started with your family history adventure!