Posted by on July 26, 2014 in Collections

postage-stampHappy Birthday to the U.S. Postal Service! (We would have sent them a card, but we couldn’t find one for a 239th birthday.)

One great thing about having an ancestor who held a government job such as postmaster is that it creates a paper trail. A postmaster (which is the correct term for both males and females) has to be appointed to that position.  That appointment needs to be recorded somewhere.  For the period from 1832 to 1971, that “somewhere” was the Post Office Department. Those records were sent to the National Archives and Records Administration and are available in the U.S., Appointments of U.S. Postmasters, 1832-1971 collection on Ancestry.com.

Postmaster is an interesting occupation to have in the family tree. Besides being a job with records associated with it, it spans both urban and rural ancestors. (If there’s a post office, it needs a postmaster.) Also, beginning during the Civil War, there are a large number of women who were postmasters. It’s a rare glimpse into work outside the home for females of the time. It is estimated that 10 per cent of the postmasters in the U.S. at the close of the 19th century were female.

During the Civil War, the position of postmaster was a political appointment that was sometimes given to the widow of a Civil War soldier. These appointments were given both as a token of recognition of his service, but also to provide income for the widow and any children. After the war, many post offices in the former Confederate states had female postmasters due to the requirement that federal appointees not have voluntarily taken up arms against the United States. (In other words, Confederate veterans need not apply.)

Be sure the look at the image of the actual record. Some records contain notes. Also, you will be able to estimate how long a person was the postmaster by comparing their appointment date with that of the next postmaster. (The actual time in the position would have been shorter, as the appointment process itself took some time.) Keep in mind that the U.S. Post Office did not maintain the post offices in the southern states during the Civil War; therefore, there will be a gap in the postmaster appointments in those states.

You can also learn a lot by browsing by location. The records are arranged by state and then by county. If you browse through a county, you can see when post offices were discontinued or when a name changed. Browsing through Emmet County, Michigan, we see that sometime after 4 June 1877, the Little Traverse post office was renamed Harbor Springs and that the Mossville post office was discontinued 4 March 1878.

emmet-county-postmasters Other Resources:

 

About Amy Johnson Crow

Amy Johnson Crow is a Community Manager for Ancestry.com. She's a Certified Genealogist and an active lecturer and author. Her roots run deep in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states. She earned her Masters degree in Library and Information Science at Kent State University. Amy loves to help people discover the joys of learning about their ancestors and she thinks that there are few things better than a day in a cemetery. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and No Story Too Small.

6 Comments

Rick Womack 

Are there any related collections that have records showing other postal employees besides postmasters such as letter carriers, sorters, etc?

July 26, 2014 at 9:51 am
Amy Johnson Crow 

Rick — There aren’t any collections on Ancestry specifically for other postal employees outside of the postmasters. City directories often list occupations, so you could find something there. The National Archives has a page about some of the larger post office collections that they have: http://www.archives.gov/research/post-offices/ That page also has a link to the NARA catalog. You might want to give that a try as well.

July 26, 2014 at 10:00 am
Laurie 

Fun post to find. My earliest paternal ancestor Michael Coble of Elizabethtown was their first Postmaster but as it was before the archive you note I don’t believe he will be listed. Very recently his burial site was discovered on a private farm in the same town he was Postmaster of. Now we as family are dealing with the heavy eq damage done by the construction company. His story continues 191 years after his death.

July 26, 2014 at 12:14 pm
aylaeh 

I had five generations of my family who were postmasters or worked for the United States Postal Service in some fashion. It stopped with my generation…so for me this article was interesting to read thanks so much!

July 26, 2014 at 7:59 pm
Vera Marie Badertscher 

I am surprised you did not mention politics. Until mid 20th century, postmaster was a political appt. And I know some of my relatives counted on political activity ” paying off.” So by correlating who is President with when your ancestor served you can learn their party and be pretty sure they were active in elections.

July 28, 2014 at 5:25 pm
Leslie Bagwell 

My hometown! Now need to find the rest of the images.

July 30, 2014 at 6:30 am

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