Researching Washington WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization to unlock learning about his military service. An online way to find out about your Washington WWI Ancestors is to search the Washington State Archives – Digital Archives website.

If you have Washington ancestors, check out all the online collections. In the Search by Name box, look at the dropdown menu for Collections dropdown menu on the left.

You can certainly search from the homepage, but I wanted to narrow down my search to military records. To narrow in on military records, I clicked on Search in the menubar across the top of the webpage.

From the dropdown menus on the left side of the webpage:
Record Series: select Military Records
County: To search all counties in the whole state leave set to “–Select a County—”
Title: Select “Veterans Affairs, Department of World War I”

In the search box, enter your ancestor’s name. Note that the first box is for last name (surname). You can certainly enter the whole name of your ancestor, but you might consider entering just a last name in the search boxes to find all the family members. One of the neat features is that you can select a checkbox for Soundex so that the search will return names that sound like the name you entered in the search box. This helps you locate records if the last name has been misspelled or misindexed.

The good news is that an image exists for this record, so we click the result and inspect it and see if it is for the correct person.

You are given the option to download a pdf of the record. Although it is doubtful you would ever need a certified copy of this record, you can order one for $6.

The pdf file contains the Service Statement (Summary) Card.

A list of the Authorized Abbreviations for these cards is found here.

I decided to do another search, this time I made a broader search. The only thing I selected from the dropdown menus on the left was Military Records.

From the dropdown menus on the left side of the webpage:
Record Series: select Military Records
County: To search all counties in the whole state leave set to “–Select a County—”
Title: To search all military records, select “—Select a Title—”

The search returned additional records, but they were not for this soldier.

Another idea for researching your Washington ancestors is through the keywords. From the homepage, take a look at the dropdown menu for collections in the Search by Keyword box.

Good luck searching for your Washington WWI ancestors!

Researching Tennessee WWI Ancestors

More than 130,000 Tennesseans served in WWI. If you are researching one of them, then check out the extensive collection of online WWI resources from the Tennessee State Archives. This archive contains items ranging from the compiled service records that are such an important starting place for WWI research, to a very special and personal collection of digitized items shared by descendants. They are hosted by the Online Computer Library Center (OCLC), which is a global library cooperative.

The compiled service records of the WWI soldiers and sailors from Tennessee can be found in the Record of Ex-Soldiers in World War I. You can search for a specific service member from this webpage. Since the records are stored by county, you also have the option to browse them.

On this webpage you will also find links to Gold Star records from Tennessee, the “Over Here, Over There” collection and Alvin York’s record. The Gold Star records should definitely be checked if you are researching someone a Tennessean who died in service. To check the comprehensive list of all Tennesseans who died in WWI, you can email TLSA and they will perform a lookup in the complete listing of the dead in the Court of Honor in the War Memorial Building in Nashville.

To search the records, enter the search term in the search box. Sometimes, I start by searching using just a surname. That way I can avoid missing entries because of spelling errors, or find other family members.

The results will have a list of the counties that have the results. Clicking on one will bring to the results for the whole county.

Use the arrows in the upper right corner of the pdf page that is displayed so that you can expand the view. In the expanded view, you will see the search term highlighted and you can download the page. From this view, you can use the arrows to move forward to the next result.

The Tennessee State Library & Archives launched an exciting project for the WWI Centennial Project called “Over Here, Over There: Tennesseans in the First World War”. Archivists digitally copied and advised individuals on how to preserve their World War I era manuscripts, artifacts, and photographs. The digitized copies of the items then become part of a virtual exhibit commemorating the centenary of the war and its impact on Tennessee.

You can learn more about the collection here.

You can browse the items or search this outstanding collection here.

While you are researching your Tennessee service member, consider checking Tennessee World War I Veterans’ Questionnaires. Although these Questionnaires are not digitized, they are indexed by the service member’s name. The county may or may not be listed. Although the 4,453 questionnaires that were collected represent less than 5% of the approximately 100,000 Tennesseans who served in World War I, the service member you are researching might be one of them!

If you find a survey from your ancestor, follow the directions here to order a copy of it.

Tennessee TVSL

Civil War Pensions

(This is Part 1 of the blog post. Part 2 appears on the Twisted Twigs for Genealogy Blog.)

So many people ask us in person, or post in Facebook groups: “Where do I go to find more about my ancestor’s military service?”. The short answer is that the records you need are at branches of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but how you get access to them can make a difference.

In this blog post, we outline the process of requesting a Civil War Pension, and what to do if NARA replies that the Pension file is not available at NARA Archives 1 in Washington, D.C.

Perhaps you have found some evidence of your ancestor’s service in the Civil War on in family history, Fold3, Ancestry or FamilySearch. If that ancestor filed for a pension, or his widow or minor children did, you may find some useful and important genealogical data in that pension application.

(Note: The approved pension applications of widows and other dependents of Civil War veterans who served between 1861 and 1910 are available on Fold3 but are only 21% complete. Digitization has been halted due to concerns about handling these fragile files.

Pensions may contain a wealth of genealogical information. The veteran (or dependent) had to provide the story of the veteran’s service, and describe the wounds or ailments that had caused the veteran to be unable to support himself. Relationships had to be documented, so you might find marriage, birth and death dates of family members. There are often written statements from fellow veterans who served with him and witnessed his injuries. There could be doctor’s evaluations.

It is important to find the Pension Index Card (shown below) before ordering a pension. Be sure to save the image of the whole card when you find it. Pension Indexes can be found at Ancestry, Fold3 or on FamilySearch. FamilySearch is a free site for family historians, and the images for the pension can be found by searching the database: United States General Index to Pension Files, 1861-1934.

In the card below, the multiple military organizations in which the veteran served are listed. The Certificate Number indicates that a pension was awarded.

If you cannot find a Pension Index Card, it is most likely because that the veteran did not apply a pension. In those days, the pensions were not automatically given to veterans. A veteran, or widow or minor, had to demonstrate that they could not work and did not have income to survive.

1. When you have obtained the Pension Index Card, you can submit a request to NARA online using:

SF 180, Request Pertaining to Military Records

Or NARA Form 85

Please head over to the Twisted Twigs Blog for the second part of this post. It contains information about your options to get a Civil War Pension File and some of the challenges you might face.

7th Generation Detroit Family Historian and NARA Records Retrieval Expert, Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs Genealogy and Margaret McMahon, author of “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors, have teamed up for a series of blog posts to show you the path to researching the military records for WWI, WWII the Korean War and more at NARA. Because of your connection to your ancestor, you are the best teller of his story, and with these records you can write and share a very personal military history.

Where Do I Find Out About My Ancestor’s Military Service? The OMPF!

(This is Part 1 of the blog post. Part 2 appears on the Twisted Twigs for Genealogy Blog.)

So many people ask me in person, or post in Facebook groups: “Where do I go to find more about my ancestor’s military service?”. The short answer is that the records you need are at branches of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), but how you get access to them can make a difference.

Undoubtedly you have seen the military records offered on Ancestry or Fold3. These may be rosters, muster rolls or ship’s manifests that show where and when an ancestor was associated with a military organization. You might find summaries of a ancestor’s service, which reveal a few more details, like the various ranks he held and when he served overseas. In a few cases, you might find other reports if your ancestor was a downed airmen or was one of the engineers in WWI who wrote an officer experience reports.

As much as we treasure these bits of information, these records are little more than tick marks to put on a timeline of your ancestor’s military life; they really are only the tip of the iceberg. Rather than being a destination, any record we find in online databases we should consider merely our ticket to learning  so much more.

For each WWI, WWII or Korean War service member, there is an Official Military Records File (OMPF). The OMPF contains not just the context but the details of all aspects of an ancestor’s time in the service. It includes the schools, commendations, hospitalization, transfers, transportation and all the details of a military life. Every part of an active duty military life is copied over and incorporated into one file.

The OMPF contains an actual book summarizing your ancestor’s time in the military, a Service Record. The Service Record contains 24 to 28 pages full of information such as immunizations he received, what schools he attended, awards and commendations he received, enlistment information, beneficiary information, records of courts martial (if applicable) , comments about his character and efficiency rating.

In the OMPF, there is also a Report of Separation which is a summary of the whole time an ancestor was in service. There are reports of physical exams prior to discharge (or retirement), medical and dental records including when he visited the dispensary (doctor’s office). The Report of Medical History includes health history about his family. Other highlights of the OMPF are Commissioning documents (for officers), special orders for transfers or promotions, and records of leave that was taken, and the address where he went. If the service member had been a military cadet, there would be an application, birth certificate, school transcripts, letters of recommendation.

There may be a complication in finding these files, but the records that were used to build them still exist!

Were all the OMPFs burned in the 1973 fire in St. Louis?

NO!

No Navy or Marine Corps OMPFs were burned.

Of the 80% of the Army and Air Force OMPFs that were burned, some files are being restored. It is always worth checking with NARA in case your ancestor’s file is one of those.

If the OMPF is truly unavailable, then a researcher has to consult the original records that were used to build the OMPF. These are the records that are held in a variety of NARA record groups that include information about all the service members of an organization. The researcher then needs to pull out information that either names the ancestor or applies to the ancestor’s service.  In future posts, we will cover the record sets at NARA locations that are most useful to researchers learning about their ancestor’s military service history.

Researcher gather the material

Please head over to the Twisted Twigs Blog for the second part of this post. It contains information about your options to get an OMPF, or a reconstructed OMPF.

7th Generation Detroit Family Historian and NARA Records Retrieval Expert, Deidre Erin Denton of Twisted Twigs Genealogy and Margaret McMahon, author of “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors, have teamed up for a series of blog posts to show you the path to researching the military records for WWI, WWII and the Korean War at NARA. Because of your connection to your ancestor, you are the best teller of his story, and with these records you can write and share a very personal military history.

Family History Outing: U.S. Army Transportation Museum, Fort Eustis, VA

The U.S. Army Transportation Museum tells the story of the Army’s Transportation Corps, whose unofficial motto is “Nothing Happens Until Something Moves”. The Museum focuses on fielded and experimental equipment in: Aircraft, Rail, Vehicle, Watercraft Equipment.

Camp Eustis was established in 1918 as a training center for railway coast artillery. It became a Fort in 1923.

The Museum has a main building, a railroad pavilion, a vehicle pavilion, a marine park and an aviation pavilion.

Although the U.S. Transportation began in 1942 during WWII, the Army has needed to move troops, weapons and supplies since its beginning in the Revolutionary War. In the main building of the Museum, there is an exhibit gallery for every phase of the Army’s history. The exhibits have been put together carefully, paying attention to providing the details of an accurate representation.

Of course, I spent a lot of time in the WWI gallery. The Mexican Expeditions are also included in this gallery. There were vehicles from WWI, a mule with a pack and a model showing how the U.S. Army Transport Service berthed soldiers and transported supplies.















Army Transport Service (Sea)

In the 1950s, fueled by the Cold War, the Army saw a time of incredibly creativity in the invention of novel technology. So much about these novel technologies inspired science fiction movies. The Army’s Aerocycle single person helicopter is a novel alternative to a jet pack; the soldier stands above the rotor blades. Among the prototypes in the Aviation Pavilion are a Vertical Take Off and Landing (VTOL) aircraft that was tested in 1958; the Cybernetic Walking Machine; the Air Car; and the Airgeep. The Airgeep could travel at speeds up to 70 m.p.h. and fly up to several thousands of feet in the air. The Air Car flew 10-12” off the ground, and was capable of speeds up to 38 m.p.h. It looks like the inspiration for Lady Penelope’s car in the “Thunderbirds” Supermarionation series. The Cybernetic Walker was an ancestor of the ATATs in “Star Wars”.

The Air Car

The full-sized artifacts in the pavilions show you so much more than the pictures in the museum ever could.

Although I found no mention of the Pioneer Infantry Regiments in the Museum, I did find one at the Mariner’s Museum.

This would be an interesting place to get children interested in their ancestors who served in the U.S. Army. They would be able to walk through a gallery filled with the vehicles, uniforms and other sights that their ancestors would have seen during their time in service. It could foster an interest in technology of the different eras and supplement what students learn in U.S. history classes. While the Museum is certainly filled with terrific life-sized artifacts, but it is not as interactive as the U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.

I always recommend checking out a museum on a military installation. No matter how small, the artifacts give an insight into the history of the installation and the community around it.

The Museum asks for a $4 donation from each adult visiting.

Information about the Museum can be found here.