Sometimes things take longer than you wish they would. It pays to be patient. I ordered Union Civil War records for my 2nd great grandfather, the Compiled Military Service Record, from NARA. I placed the order on 2 June 2023. By November I still had not received the records. Their website stated it would take 60-90 days to fulfill my request. Hm…seems to be taking longer than expected.

They receive approximately 4,000 – 5,000 requests per day, according to their website. On 1 August 2023 they posted an update. The COVID pandemic created a backlog of unanswered requests, which stands at 259,000 as of 1 July 2023. Doing the math, this means a backlog of about two months or more in addition to the usual three months to fulfill a request. This may mean five months or longer for me to receive the records I ordered. I anticipate receiving them any time.

Sending emails to check on the status would not make a difference, and it would really only slow them down. It is, after all, National Archives, which is a government office. Let them do their thing. I’d like to get them now, but instant gratification does not apply to all aspects of life. The Feds will accomplish the task in their own sweet time, no pun intended and no insult levied. Patience.

On the other hand, sometimes a follow up, politely done, is in order for other offices. I have an ancestor that was orphaned as a child, she and her sisters were enumerated in a census as residing in a Catholic orphanage in the 1800s in Kentucky. The adoption papers were destroyed years ago. Who are the parents?

I found a local Catholic church in Kentucky that maybe had a baptism record. At least I had hints from unsourced online family trees, so had to do a reasonable search. I contacted the church and requested a copy of the records, I included names of children and possible parents, and any records such as baptism records that could shed light on the issue.

In fact, I did get the records, and the parents are indeed who I thought they were, named in the baptism records. It only took a little over two years to get them. I submitted the request and heard nothing for about a month. Did a polite follow up, and heard nothing for another month. Upon another follow up, the office clerk responded that she had been out of the office for weeks with a medical condition and surgery, and would get to it as soon as she could. A medical condition, unspecified, could mean anything. I sent an email wishing her good health and a speedy recovery. I let it be. I heard nothing for a year, and did another polite follow up. Heard nothing for a bit, I got busy and forgot about it, and so another six months went by. I sent another polite follow up, asking if an status update could be provided as it had been a year and a half. No word. At around twenty two months, I sent another polite email, got no response, then did some research. I located the church website again, sent an email to the same office clerk, the parish priest, another contact with the church, and the bishop’s office for the diocese. I was polite with all communication, as being rude will not help. I then got an email response that it will be handled, and about a month later got all the records I requested. I was patient and I was polite.

The Federal Government and the Catholic Church are different, but similar. They are both large old institutions that have their own way of doing things. With NARA, if at eight months or so I have no records, I will do a polite follow up. They do after all have a large staff. With a small rural country church and only one staff member with a medical condition recovering from surgery, I was more accommodating but after a year and a half sent more emails to more people, which may or may not have made a difference. Perhaps I should have sent the multiple emails earlier. I do after all have sympathy for a person with an unknown medical condition that required surgery.

Patience in both cases paid off. I urge you the same patience, as needed, for your records requests. Being polite is always a good idea, you don’t know if you will make another request at the same office again in the future. If you were rude, they will not be in a helpful mood ever. Things happen, including health conditions, surgery, and even COVID, that changes anticipated timelines. I try to remember that people need to allow me some flexibility and so I allow them some. And if a follow up is warranted, good manners take you a long way.

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