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Post Office Records

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Post office records may deliver interesting information to the genealogical researcher seeking more information about an ancestor or an ancestor's community. Microfilmed records include postmaster appointment records and records showing the location of post offices.

Records of Postmaster Appointments

Postmaster appointments before 1832 are found in National Archives microfilm publication M1131, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, Oct. 1789-1832 (4 rolls). Arranged alphabetically by name of post office, these records include the name of each post office and the state in which it was located, dates of establishment and discontinuance of post offices, the names of postmasters, and dates of postmasters' appointments. For example, the post office of Frostville, Cuyahoga County, OH, was established January 31, 1829, with Dr. Elias C. Frost appointed first postmaster. Although these records do not indicate when the postmaster resigned or was terminated, his or her length of service can be approximated by noting the date of appointment of the postmaster's successor.

Postmaster appointments after 1832 are found in National Archives microfilm publication M841, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832-Sept. 30, 1971 (145 rolls). These records are arranged alphabetically by state, thereunder by county, and then by name of post office. The content is similar to the pre-1832 records.

Postmasters served as little as a few months to more than 30 years. One such long-serving postmaster was Elihu O. Lyman of Mulberry Corners, Geauga County, OH, who served a total of 31 years, from February 1852 to March 1865 and January 1867 to August 1885. Some persons were appointed several times, such as Dr. William M. Hayford who was four times appointed as postmaster of Hartland, Livingston County, MI. Dr. Hayford was first appointed on January 15, 1853, followed by Abraham F. Chambers, who was appointed January 30, 1856, who Dr. Hayford succeeded on January 23, 1857. Dr. Hayford's third appointment was on January 28, 1859, followed by Chauncy P. Worden on March 19, 1861. Dr. Hayford's final appointment was on June 5, 1885, followed by G. Winfield Wallace, who was appointed April 24, 1889.

Sometimes, control of the post office was a family affair. The Denmark, Ashtabula County, OH, post office provides examples of this phenomena. Its postmasters included Elihu "Knap" and Horace Knapp; Ebenezer Williams, William H. Williams, and Henry E. Williams; Giles Ives, his son-in-law William H. Seager, and Daniel K. Palmer, who was father-in-law of Lewis Ives, a son of Giles Ives. (Family relationships are not stated in these records).

Women were frequently appointed postmasters of small rural post offices, with their numbers increasing in the last quarter of the 19th century. In 1895, for example, some of the women serving as Ohio postmasters included Lizzie Davis, Achor; Sarah E. Shisler, Adair; Carrie Billett, Alcony; Almira Bachman, Alexis; Elza I. Conkey, Alfred; Ellen A. Bard, Alice; Annie E. Barrett, Alpha; Allethe J. Smith, Amsterdam; Lydotia Williams, Angel; Alice Penn, Antioch; Kate Crumbacker, Antrim; Irene H. Henry, Anvil; Sarah Arbaugh, Arbaugh; Gertie H. Musgrave, Arena; Anna S. Campbell, Ash Ridge; Ida Jump, Austin; Sarah A. Bargar, Bargar; Olive L. Hibler, Bier; Lucy A. Nupp, Black Jack; and Ella A. Clark, Boardman.

Records of Post Office Locations

Information about the physical location of post offices is found in National Archives Microfilm Publication M1126, Post Office Department Records of Site Locations, 1837-1950 (683 rolls). The quantity and quality of information about each post office varies but it may be useful for learning more about an ancestor's community.

Early site reports are relatively infrequent and often contain little information. An undated report for Frostville, Cuyahoga County, OH, for example, simply states that neighboring post offices are Rockport, which is 7 miles northeast, and Copopa, which is 6 miles south. It also states that the Frostville post office is on the west side of the Rockey [sic] River, 7 1/2 miles from its mouth at Lake Erie.

Site reports become more common and more informative after 1870. Information generally includes the post office's proximity to nearby rivers, creeks, postal routes, railroad stations, and to other post offices. Many postmasters requested permission to move the post office to a more convenient location. They frequently submitted maps with the site reports. Most maps relating to rural post offices are hand-drawn, while many relating to cities are annotated copies of published street maps, especially after 1900.

These maps vary in content. For example, postmaster J.K. McNutt of Eagleville, Ashtabula County, OH, submitted a hand-drawn map in 1889 showing nine townships covering a 225 square mile area. He included the position of his post office in relation to two railroad lines; several roads, rivers, and creeks; and one dozen other post offices. The postal site reports for Dorset, Ashtabula County, OH, include an undated map, probably circa 1905, of the commercial area of Dorset Township. The map shows the locations of the current and proposed post office sites, two churches, a cheese factory, two hotels, two stores, and the railroad depot. The Dorset postmaster wanted to move the post office from the south end of the commercial district to its center.

Other Microfilmed Records

M601. Letters Sent by the Postmaster General, 1789-1836 (50 rolls).

M2076. Index and Registers of Substitute Mail Carriers in First- and Second-Class Post Offices, 1885-1903 (1 roll).

M2077. Indexes to Rosters of Railway Postal Clerks, ca. 1883-ca. 1902 (1 roll).

T268. Journal of Hugh Finlay, Surveyor of Post Roads and Post Offices, 1773-1774;
Accounts of the General Post Office in Philadelphia and of the Various Deputy Postmasters;
"The Ledger of Benjamin Franklin"--Jan. 1775-Jan. 1780 (1 roll)
Available for purchase, or search the Microfilm Catalog for the nearest Regional Archives that has a copy of this microfilm publication.

Post Office Names

Before 1891, the Post Office Department had no written policies about post office names. Post office names were derived from several sources, including names of towns, townships, neighborhoods, crossroads, or from the postmaster's name or place of business. The post office of Chesterland in Geauga County, OH, was in Chester Township. A second post office in the same township was named Mulberry Corners after its location in an area where a farmer had once grown mulberry trees. Dr. Frost named his post office "Frostville" after himself; it was located in the village of Olmsted Falls. Subsequent postmasters changed its name to Norris Falls in 1843, Olmsted in 1845, and Olmsted Falls in 1889. In 1819 the post office of Carson's Tavern, OH, was obviously the location of a tavern operated by postmaster William J. Carson, while in 1821-1823 the post office of Gassaway's Mill, OH, was undoubtedly the location of a mill operated by postmaster Nicholas Gassaway.

Information about policies for assigning post office names after 1891 can be found in Arthur Hecht and William J. Heynen, comps., Records and Policies of the Post Office Department Relating to Place-Names, Reference Information Paper No. 72 (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1975).

Where to Find these Records

Washington, DC

The Microfilm Reading Room in the National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC, has microfilmed post office records. For listings of records available as National Archives microfilm publications, see listings for Record Group 28, Records of the Post Office Department, in Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1996).

Regional Facilities

Most National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) regional facilities have some microfilmed post office records; call to verify their availability.

For more information

  • For more information about assignment of post office names after 1891, consult:

    An excerpt from Arthur Hecht and William J. Heynen, comps., Records and Policies of the Post Office Department Relating to Place-Names, Reference Information Paper No. 72 (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1975).

  • For more information about post office records available as National Archives microfilm publications, consult:

    Listings for Record Group 28, Records of the Post Office Department, in Microfilm Resources for Research: A Comprehensive Catalog of National Archives Microfilm Publications (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1996).

  • For more information about post office records that have not microfilmed, consult:

    Arthur Hecht, et al., comps., Preliminary Inventory of the Records of the Post Office Department. Preliminary Inventory No. 168. (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1967).

  • For a listing of some postal maps, consult:

    Janet L. Hargett, comp., List of Selected Maps of States and Territories. Select List No. 29. (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Service, 1971).

  • Many books about post offices and postmarks have been published. A selection of these are listed below; you may be able to borrow them through interlibrary loan. Contact your local public library for assistance. These books are not in NARA. For titles of other books on postal history, consult the Library of Congress online catalog.
  • California:

    Salley, Harold E. History of California Post Offices, 1849-1976: Includes Branches and Stations, Navy Numbered Branches, Highways and Railway Post Offices. La Mesa, CA: Postal History Associates, 1977.

    Salley, Harold E. History of California Post Offices, 1849-1990. Lake Grove, OR: The Depot, 1991.

  • Illinois:

    Pre-1830 Post Office Business: Excerpts from the Postmaster General Letter Books Pertaining to Illinois and Surrounding Areas, 1801-1829. Des Plaines, IL: Illinois Postal History Society, 1984.

    Mehrer, Jim. Illinois Post Offices: A Listing and Guide to Postmark Scarcity. Rock Island, IL: Jim Mehrer, 1996.

  • Iowa:

    Patera, Alan H. Iowa Post Offices, 1833-1986. Lake Oswego, OR: The Depot, 1986.

    Ramsey, Guy R. Postmarked Iowa: A List of Discontinued and Renamed Post Offices. Crete, NE: J-B Publishing Co., 1976.

  • Kentucky:

    Patera, Alan H. A Checklist of Kentucky Post Offices. Lake Grove, OR: The Depot, 1989.

  • Michigan:

    Ellis, David M. Michigan Postal History: The Post Offices. Lake Grove, OR: The Depot, 1993.

    Marciana, Sister, S.S.J., Serving You, 1802-1976: Post Offices of Michigan. Grosse Pointe, MI: W. Romig, 1977.

  • New York:

    Empire State Postal History Society. New York State Post Offices Extant by County & Year, 1792-1969. Richford, NY: Empire State Postal History Society, 1980.

    Kaiser, Louis W. A Checklist of the Post Offices of New York State to 1850: With the Names of the First Postmasters. Ithaca, NY: L.W. Kaiser, 1965.

  • Ohio:

    Gallagher, John S.The Post Offices of Ohio. Burtonsville, MD: The Depot, 1979.

    Grabb, John R. A History of the Chillicothe and Other Ross County, Ohio, Post Offices, 1799-1987. Chillicothe, OH: J.R. Grabb, 1987.

    Prechtel-Kluskens, Claire. "Birthplace and Compensation of Postmasters in Ohio, 1816-1823." The Report 33 (1993): 79-97, 134. Mansfield, OH: The Ohio Genealogical Society, 1993.

  • Virginia:

    Axelson, Edith F. Virginia Postmasters and Post Offices, 1789-1832. Athens, GA: Iberian Publishing Co., 1991.

    James, Charles L. Alleghany County, Virginia: Post Offices and Postmasters. Lake Grove, OR: The Depot, 1993.

    Wine, J. Floyd. Frederick County, Virginia, Post Offices: Past and Present. Winchester, VA: J.F. Wine, 1987.

  • Wisconsin:

    Bournique, Raymond A. County & Postmaster Postmarks of Wisconsin. Madison, WI: Wisconsin Postal History Society, 1985.

    Richow, Harold E. The Territorial Post Offices of Wisconsin: Their Covers and Postmarks, July 4, 1836-May 29, 1848: Including Those Which Were in the Michigan Territory, October 6, 1921-July 3, 1836. Oshkosh, WI: Wisconsin Postal History Society, 1963.

This essay is adapted from Claire Prechtel-Kluskens, "Post Office Records 'Deliver'," The Record, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 21-22 (Sept. 1996).