Today’s post is written by Denise Henderson.
A few months ago, I was asked to locate a record about Pat Garrett, the famous sheriff who killed Billy the Kid in 1881 when cowboys and cattle thieves made the West wild and dangerous and a place in serious need of law enforcement. Understanding the index to, and most importantly, the arrangement of the DOJ “Year Files, 1884-1903” enabled me to find the record in question: File #5624/1894, Correspondence #17113/1896. Dated October 22, 1896, the letter was sent to the Office of the Attorney General from Edward L. Hall, the U.S. Marshal for the District of New Mexico, submitting a voucher belonging to P. F. Garrett, the Deputy Marshal for Las Cruces, New Mexico. In the same box, I found Garrett’s oath in which he swore to “…without malice or partiality perform the duties of Deputy Marshal for the Territory of New Mexico during my continuance in said office, and take only my lawful fees, so help me God.” I wasn’t the first to find Pat Garrett in our records and I know I won’t be the last, but it was still an exciting discovery.
Finding this record wasn’t the only thing that came out of my search. During a conversation with the DOJ reference archives specialist, I learned how difficult it is to access the early DOJ records. With the retirement of the DOJ subject matter specialist, we no longer have the depth of knowledge and expertise about these records. I started thinking about ways that I, as a processing archivist who worked with DOJ records, could help my colleagues in the Reference Unit assist our researchers. I was informed that there was very little intellectual control over quite a few large series for which the reference staff received a number of inquiries; one of those series being, “Appointment Files for Judicial Districts, 1853-1905,” which contains records relating to the appointments of Federal judges, U.S. attorneys, and U.S. Marshals. It is a gold mine of information for researchers, especially genealogists.
Although the series description is in the Archival Research Catalog (ARC), there is no existing container or file unit list so finding files and answering reference questions can sometimes be a challenge. I started working on a database that contains each appointment file and when completed, the file unit descriptions will be added to ARC. This will allow researchers to search for specific appointment files by the appointee’s name and, I hope, will make the retrieval of files easier for our reference staff.
Ultimately, the project was undertaken by two students, Katie Beaver and Katy Berube. Not surprisingly, they found many interesting records in the appointment files and over the next few weeks they’ll share their own discoveries with you.
I hope researchers will experience the same excitement that I felt when I found Pat Garrett all those months ago.