This week's federal player:

Budge Weidman: Uncovering our nation's history

Budge Weidman
Budge Weidman (National Archives)
From the Partnership for Public Service
Monday, February 1, 2010; 10:18 AM

Among the treasures at the National Archives and Records Administration are voluminous Civil War military and pension documents. A dedicated group of volunteers are unearthing papers that offer a glimpse into the lives of Civil War soldiers and their families.

Budge Weidman, 74, who heads the Civil War Conservation Corps (CWCC) has logged thousands of hours helping preserve the Civil War records and publish them on microfilm and the Internet.

"The Civil War records are the most used in the National Archives and are a huge part of the agency's requests for research, because the public can look for genealogy information in them," Weidman said. "One of the great things about this project is that we are making records more accessible to the American public."

The records found by Weidman's team include a plea for a military pension from Elizabeth Keckly, Mary Todd Lincoln's dressmaker, who lost her son George during the Civil War. Keckly applied for a military pension in 1863 so she could repay loans used to win freedom from slavery for herself and her son.

Another document told the story of a woman who wrote about her lack of documentation to prove she was married to a slain soldier. She explained that "her father was so mad that she married an Irishman that he tore up her marriage certificate so she had to have friends and neighbors write letters as evidence." Then there was the poignant letter from Samuel Cabble, a slave before joining the Fifty-Fifth Massachusetts Infantry, who wrote to his wife that he was "a soldier now and I shall use my utmost endeavor to strike at the rebellion and the heart of this system that so long has kept us in chains."

Since 1994, Weidman and her volunteers have preserved and arranged, on microfilm, the military service records for approximately 160 regiments of the United States Colored Troops and more than one million field office records of the Freedmen's Bureau. Each of these projects took five years.

Weidman's group is now digitizing the Civil War Widows Pensions Records, which involves preparing the original Civil War widows' pension application files for scanning, indexing and publishing. In October 2008, launched the first images of these records on its Web site for public viewing.

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