Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Did you have an ancestor who was a postmaster or postmistress?

Image courtesy of the Erik Overbey Collection,
University of South Alabama Archives

This 1905 street scene shows the Wilmer, Ala., post office building on the far right and an unidentified building on the far left. 

Free home mail delivery began in cities in 1863, but the U.S. Post Office didn’t begin Rural Free Delivery (RFD) directly to farm families until 1896. Before then, farmers had to pick up their mail at sometimes distant post offices or pay private express companies to deliver it.

But a trip to the Wilmer post office no doubt gave Napoleon B. and Julia M. Pierce and their neighbors and friends in the Mobile County farming community a chance to share pleasantries, news and gossip of the community.

Many rural communities built their identities around their post offices. Today, those post offices are closing, victims of inefficiency and the same communications revolution that is leading to the elimination of newspapers, magazines and phone booths.

Did you have an ancestor who was a postmaster or postmistress? Did he or she leave stories about people who came into the post office and the life of the community?

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  1. I don't have such an ancestor, but I've read somewhere on Twitter that there is a Directory of postmasters/mistresses -- postpersons?--where one could look up ancestors. Certainly you're right that the communications revolution is changing the landscape!

    1. According to the Postmaster Finder ( “The Postmaster Finder database was created in 1986. Since that time, it has served as the Postal Service's national record of postmasters by Post Office. Pre-1986 information is researched and added to the Postmaster Finder database upon request on a case-by-case basis.

      “Prior to 1971, the primary sources of information are National Archives ( Microfilm Publication M1131, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, October 1789-1832, and M841, Record of Appointment of Postmasters, 1832—September 30, 1971. The Postal Bulletin, the Official Register of the United States, and the Journals of the Postmaster General, along with various lists, tables, and directories of Post Offices, are sometimes used in conjunction with the Record of Appointment of Postmasters.

      ”From 1971 to 1986, information is pulled from record cards of postmaster appointments located in the USPS Historian's office.

      “Since 1986, information in Postmaster Finder has been updated from PS Forms 2030 and 8020, Report of Installation (Postmaster or Officer-In-Charge), completed by field personnel; postmaster appointment lists compiled by Human Resources; and the Post Office Changes sections in issues of the Postal Bulletin.

      “Further sources of information are discussed in Publication 119 (go to first link above), Sources of Historical Information on Post Offices, Postal Employees, Mail Routes and Mail Contractors.”

  2. Pearl Ruth Pierce, wife of Wilson Taft "WT" Pierce was a postmaster. Carol, my grandmother and Tommy Pierce's first wife, told me that. And then I looked it up on that Postmaster website and there she was!

    Mrs. Pearl R. Pierce Postmaster 05/07/1943