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Special Files, M574, rolls 1-85
BIA Inventory, Entry 98, Special Files ... Special Files index
Record Group 75
Title Container List for the Series: SPECIAL FILES
Creating Org. Bureau of Indian Affairs.
File Number, Subject, and Dates of Records
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98. SPECIAL FILES.
ca. 1807-1904. 38 ft.
Correspondence, reports, accounts, affidavits, and other records relating chiefly to claims and investigations. The claims, made by both whites and Indians, were against Indians, the Bureau, and private citizens for money due for goods or services rendered, depredations, treaty obligations, and the like. The investigations were mainly concerned with the conduct of Bureau employees. The Special Files contain both records removed from the general incoming correspondence of the Bureau (entries 79 and 91) and other records. Cross-references were usually placed in the incoming correspondence to indicate the removal of records.
There are 303 Special Files, each relating to a particular subject or, in a few cases, to several subjects. The inclusive dates given above are those of the individual documents within the files. The Special Files probably were not created until sometime after 1840. Within each Special File the records that were removed from the general incoming correspondence are arranged in the same manner as those in the main series. Most of the records are for the 1824-80 period when correspondence under each file heading was arranged by year, thereunder alphabetically by initial letter of surname or other designation of writer, and thereunder by file number or chronologically by date of letter. The arrangement varies for records that were never part of the general correspondence. These records have been microfilmed by the National Archives as M574, rolls 1-85.
RECORDS OF THE BUREAU OF INDIAN AFFAIRS
GENERAL RECORDS, 1824-1907
Throughout the period from the establishment of the Bureau in 1824 until 1907 the basic records of the Bureau were maintained in separate series of incoming and outgoing correspondence. Most of this correspondence was with superintendents, agents, and other field employees of the Bureau; but there was also much correspondence with the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Interior, the General Land Office, Treasury Department officials, officials of other Government agencies, Members of Congress, businessmen, Indians, missionary groups, and private citizens. The correspondence increased progressively over the years.
Each incoming letter was registered and, beginning in 1836, was given a registry number, which was written or stamped on the letter when it was received. (Some of the earlier registers, however, seem to have been compiled at a later date.) The information recorded in the registers varied over the years, but in general it included the date of each letter, the name of the writer; and some indication of the contents and of the handling of the letter within the Bureau. The same information that was entered in the register was normally written on the back of each letter and was referred to as the "endorsement."
The method of registering is significant because the filing arrangement of the records was based in large part on the order in which they were registered. From 1824 through 1880 the register volumes were divided into alphabetical sections. Letters were registered in the appropriate section according to name or some other designation of the writer. In July 1836 the Bureau began to use file numbers. The first letter registered in the "A" section of a register was designated "Al," the second "A2", and so forth. A set of numbers was not used for any definite period of time; the sequence might run for several years, a year, or only part of a year.
In the earlier years the letters were filed in about the same order as that in which they were registered; that is, alphabetically by initial of name or other designation of writer and thereunder chronologically in order of receipt. In 1836 the Bureau began to file letters according to the field jurisdiction (superintendency or agency) or other subject classification to which they related. The pre-1836 letters were later rearranged to conform to the jurisdictional pattern. Originally all the letters received during one year were kept together and thereunder were arranged by name of jurisdiction. All the letters relating to one jurisdiction have now been brought together, and within each jurisdiction and for each year the letters are arranged approximately in registry order (beginning in 1836 almost exactly).
From 1881 until 1907 the Bureau used a different method of registering and filing its incoming correspondence. Letters were registered in strictly chronological order as received, and file numbers were assigned in the order of registry. The records themselves originally were maintained in registry order by the Bureau divisions that handled them. No jurisdictional or alphabetical breakdowns were used. In 1908 the letters were withdrawn from the divisions and consolidated into two groups in the Mail and Files Section. Letters that had been in the custody of the Land Division were kept together, in registry order, under the heading "Land." All other letters were placed in registry order in a general classification designated "Education." Since the registers alone did not provide adequate control of these records, it was necessary to compile name and subject indexes in order to locate letters relating to a particular jurisdiction, person, or subject.
From 1824 until 1886 outgoing correspondence was copied by hand into letter books. Except for letters to the Secretary of the Interior (to the Secretary of War until 1849) and to certain other high officials that after 1838 were copied separately into a series of "Report Books," the copies of outgoing letters were kept in chronological order until 1869. Thereafter the voluminous correspondence made it necessary to copy into two or more letter books simultaneously. These letter books were divided according to general subjects such as land, civilization, and finance -- subjects reflecting the major organizational units of the Bureau. The individual letter books were indexed by name of addressee and to some extent by subject. As a further control, abstracts of the outgoing letters were compiled; these correspond to the registers of letters received. The arrangement of these abstracts varies, but through 1880 it was generally according to jurisdiction and thereunder in chronological order. Thus from 1836 to 1880 the incoming correspondence was arranged by jurisdiction but controlled chronologically by registers. For the outgoing correspondence the pattern was reversed, the arrangement of the copies of letters sent being chronological and the jurisdictional breakdown being reflected in the abstracts. Both chronological and jurisdictional controls were thus preserved.
Beginning in 1881 the abstracts of letters sent, like the registers of incoming correspondence, were arranged in chronological order with no alphabetical or jurisdictional breakdowns. The abstracts were numbered in order, but the letters were not. It is usually possible, nevertheless, to identify and locate letters from the information given in the abstracts. No abstracts were compiled in 1907. Instead the letters were numbered and a register was compiled that indicated the letter book in which a letter bearing a given number could be located. Until 1884 the references given in the abstracts are to the handwritten copies of letters sent; thereafter the references are to press copybooks maintained in the several divisions. By 1886 the practice of making handwritten copies had been discontinued. The divisional press copybooks therefore usually contained the only copies of letters sent that were retained until 1907. After 1881 the abstracts were arranged chronologically and, within each division, the press copies were arranged chronologically. As with the incoming correspondence, it was necessary to compile indexes to locate letters concerning particular jurisdictions, persons, or subjects. Through 1906 references in these indexes were to abstract numbers; and for the year 1907, when no abstracts were compiled, references were to letter numbers. The press copybooks, like the letters received, were consolidated in the Mail and Files aection in 1908.
In addition to the basic serics of correspondence, numerous others are described below. Most of these series consist of documents that were removed from the incoming correspondence and brought together by the Bureau for easier reference.