NOW AVAILABLE: Our New Research WWI Guide

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Researching U.S. WWI Military Members, Military Organizations and Overseas Noncombatants:

A Research Guide for Historians and Genealogists

Have you been wanting to do research about the military and supporting organizations in World War I? With these 30 chapters, this book shows how you can learn about the service of a U.S. World War I military member, WWI military organizations and about noncombatants who went overseas.

Based on feedback for the popular “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors” and questions asked during popular lectures, this book reaches beyond researching ancestors in the Army to include information about researching service members in the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine, along with the civilian noncombatants who went overseas to support the troops. The strategies presented can also be used in larger projects to research a military organization.

Among the topics covered are how to research the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Coast Guard. Also included are some starting places for civilian organizations who supported the troops overseas. Information about the Merchant Marine is also included, and prisoners of war. Other chapters cover specific record sets. There is a chapter about researching fallen service members who died overseas. A variety of sources are presented to dig deeper for information gathering through types of sources and where to find them. There are ideas about using social media and what to do with what you learned.

This book will lead you to use a timeline so that you can capture what you will learn during your WWI research. Learn to use a variety of resources including online records, social networking, archives and how to expand your search to other places where material from WWI can be found. It contains ideas to turn your research into works that can be shared with others.

Based on feedback for the popular “Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors” and questions asked during popular lectures, this book reaches beyond researching ancestors in the Army to include information about researching service members in the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Coast Guard and the Merchant Marine, along with the civilian noncombatants who went overseas to support the troops. The strategies presented can also be used in larger projects to research a military organization.

“Researching U.S. WWI Military Members, Military Organizations and Overseas Noncombatants” can be found on Amazon.

Book Review: “United States Army Depot Brigades in World War I”

Blog Post - Book Review of "United States Army Depot Brigades in World War I"
United States Army Depot Brigades in WWI Book Cover

There are two groups of readers who should investigate this book: those with an interest in soldiers who stayed stateside during the Great War and those interested in soldiers who served overseas. All Army soldiers had been part of the system of Depot Brigades in the United States at some time in their military careers. Some soldiers might also have gained experience in the other stateside military organizations discussed in this book.

The authors begin with a discussion about the National Army and the National Guard training sites, and specifics of the roles that Depot Brigades would perform. There were immense challenges for the United States Army to reach a strength of 4 million soldiers. The authors share these challenges at each step, from changes to the conscription process, to the issues with how local draft boards supplied men, to how the soldiers were and were not equipped and trained. Forming military organizations and replacement strategies are also discussed. The stories of individuals, sometimes told in their own words, highlight how chaotic the system could appear. In some cases, a Camp might grow to be as large as one of the largest cities in a state. The Depot Brigades grew from preparing draftees for war, to managing replacement centers, war prisoners, conscientious objectors and the education of illiterate soldiers. After the Armistice, their role switched into demobilizing millions, while the Army kept some military organizations active in case the Germans violated the Armistice. There is information about each Depot Brigade, including its history as well as details about its purposes and challenges.

The book is about much more than the Army Depot Brigades. It covers all of the activities that occurred in the United States, including the Development Battalions, the Stateside Divisions and other stateside organizations. There is a chapter included about those who served but are usually in the shadows of history. Understanding their roles provides readers with a more full and inclusive narrative. It was good to see that my area of research, the Pioneer Infantry Regiments, were among organizations included in the narrative.

There is also a chapter containing brief biographies of those whose service was primarily done in the United States. The subjects were chosen from a variety of backgrounds and fields, and are interesting to read.

I found this book very helpful to support my own research about my Grandfather’s brother, Patrick. Patrick had served in the 154th Depot Brigade in Camp Meade, MD. By combining the information and insights presented in this book with records of his individual service, I gained more understanding about his experiences while stationed at Camp Meade. From his service abstract, I knew the dates of his service with the 154th Depot Brigade, but I learned that at the time he arrived the Camp was the second largest city in Maryland, second only to Baltimore. I knew that he had been transferred from the 154th Depot Brigade in August 1918 to the 33rd Field Artillery (FA) Regiment. The 33rd FA was planned to be part of the 11th Division. His transfer to the 33rd FA occurred just before Camp Meade became one of the camps that suffered the most from the Spanish flu during September and October. His training would have been impacted while the flu raged through the Camp. Patrick’s service summary included information that he had never served overseas, so when I learned about the advance detachment that arrived in England just prior to the Armistice, I knew he had not been part of it. He was discharged in December 1918 and that it was prior to the demobilization of the 11th Division, which occurred in February 1919. In contrast, Patrick’s brother (my Grandfather) had served overseas and seen combat in the Pioneer Infantry. After Patrick’s discharge, my Grandfather would serve several more months in the post-war Army of Occupation, returning in July of 1919.

Some of the underlying themes that emerged were the challenges that the United States faced to create and outfit an Army, the constant movement of personnel within the borders of the United States, and above all, the difficult work of the Depot Battalions to respond. Anyone who wants to learn more about the life of soldiers and the Army in World War I would benefit from reading this book.

The authors have illustrated the book with photos, cartoons and official forms throughout. They present personal stories, drawn from numerous sources. These stories combined with the visual elements bring the people to life in the way a textbook cannot. The numerous photos are great, but the extra dimension that comes with excerpts from diaries and letters make the stories very accessible and relatable. The variety of materials used in the book could inspire your own future research.

Both Mr. Barnes and Mr. Belmonte are known for their research skills and their attention to detail. As veterans, both have inherited the legacy of service in United States military, directly linking them to those who served in WWI. Their insights provide depth as they share the stories of stateside Army activities during the Great War.

The book is published by McFarland Books and more information about it can be found at: https://mcfarlandbooks.com/product/united-states-army-depot-brigades-in-world-war-i

U.S. Merchant Marine in WWI and SMS Wolf

During my lectures about WWI research, there is usually some with a question about researching members of the Merchant Marine. While I revised and expanded my book about researching WWI ancestors, I definitely wanted to include information about the U.S. Merchant Marine. It can be difficult to research the Merchant Marine in WWI, so I spent some time looking for both obvious and less obvious sources to learn about and understand their experiences.

In this post, I will demonstrate the use of a less obvious source: contemporary accounts. It is very helpful to have contemporary accounts from the time so readily available for the Great War (World War I). Many of the contemporary books are out of copyright and accessible to us over the internet. These accounts are useful in our research and for understanding that range of experiences that people had during the war. 

Newspapers remain a solid resource to use for this research, but some stories were not reported at the time, and some details might have been suppressed. Personal accounts, published close to the time of WWI, can provide facts and fill in the details of experiences that we might have learned from conversation with participants.

I read three books about prisoners of war, held on the German surface raider SMS Wolf that provided insights into the experiences of captured mariners and passengers. All the books were all page-turners. The level of personal insight was as candid as a diary, but with the benefit of being better edited. The authors had similarities in their narratives about the events and the food, but sometimes offered different perspectives based on their roles and even about different crew members.

Captain Cameron and Nita
Captain Cameron and Nita

“Ten Months in A German Raider: A Prisoner of War Aboard the Wolf,” was written by Captain John Stanley Cameron, the Master of the American Bark Beluga. This book was illustrated with several photographs. Captain Cameron, his wife and child were captured 15,000 miles away from the fighting, in the South Pacific. His commentary included the fact that some of the prize crew were actually American seaman, who had worked on American ships but went “home” to Germany to enlist when war began. He expressed his sadness about the deliberate destruction of good ships. He reported that the number of people grew a total of 800 people onboard Wolf. Cameron also included the stories of the fourteen captured vessels in an appendix to the book.

“A Captive on a German Raider” was written by F. G. Trayes in 1918. The author was a British Professor who had left Siam after a long posting to sail home with his wife on the Japanese Mail Steam Ship Hitachi Maru. In the book he shares details of life in captivity, including the “Rules and Regulations for Onboard the German Auxiliary Ship ‘Hitachi Maru’ Detained Enemy Subjects.” He shared that only three of the officers on Wolf were from Imperial Navy, with the other officers being from the German mercantile marine. He also reported the dire conditions of over 400 prisoners kept onboard Wolf. The ten thousand cases of canned crab that Hitachi Maru had been transporting were mentioned as becoming a reviled food.

Captain Donaldson and the SS Matunga
Captain Donaldson and the SS Matunga

In “The Amazing Cruise Of The German Raider ‘Wolf’,” Captain Donaldson of SS Matunga offered a perspective different than the other two authors. As a crew member from a combatant country, he and his crew were kept prisoners below decks and always kept on Wolf. SS Matunga also had officers returning from leave take at home in Australia. His civilian passengers were treated better. His book was well illustrated with personal pictures and maps of the events during Wolf‘s cruise.

Captain Donaldson’s begins the story of Wolf before he was taken captive, using the German Fregattenkapitän (Commander) Karl August Nerger’s words to tell the story. With an inauspicious beginning to its cruise, Wolf had only succeeded getting underway on its third attempt. It was disguised as a merchant ship to elude casual visual inspection of ships that passed near, and kept its weapons hidden. It had also been involved in laying mines at various locations that had caused interruptions on the sea that were attributed to U-boats.

Wolf found ships to prey upon by eavesdropping on open wireless conversations. Wolf carried a seaplane hidden between decks, called Wolfchen. Wolfchen would act as a scout to investigate targeted ships and spot enemy ships. When not in use, it was kept out of sight of other ships. 2.5 hours were required to put her together when she was brought up to the deck to use. Once the prey was within reach, Wolf would threaten to fire upon the ship if any transmission was attempted. In fact, Wolf had a transmitter powerful enough to jam any signals sent by another ship.

There were prisoners from twenty nations kept on Wolf, but the only fighting that that Captain Donaldson had witnessed was between British sailors who were having personal disagreements. The crew from the Japanese “Hitachi Maru” were also belligerents, and were kept separate from other prisoners. Her officers were prisoners, but some of their members elected to work for the Germans. Her Captain eventually committed suicide.

It was interesting to compare the experiences of the authors who were taken captive by Germany’s Wolf. A common thread was that the combatants and laborers were kept below decks, and some agreed to work for and be paid by the Germans. The passengers and non-combatant officers were treated better, staying in officers’ quarters. They were shuttled between captured ships and Wolf.

Donaldson’s book shared insights about the Germans, and included more about the story of Captain Cameron’s daughter, Anita, and her mischief onboard Wolf.

While on Wolf, the passengers feared that they would be sunk on an enemy vessel, but Captain Nerger assured them they were safe. He could receiver all the wireless messages from the ships cruising in the vicinity, he could avoid those posing a danger. Wolf also picked up news from the wireless and circulated it to the passengers.

Wolf used captured ships to replenish her stores and coal supply. The first captured ship was used  to lay mines. The other captured ships would detach from the marauding Wolf, then join up after another conquest. The prize crews capturing the ships were small, but very well armed. When the coal ran out of a captured ship, they would strip it, then destroy it.

The Captain and German officers often said that they would let the passengers off at a neutral port, but this never happened. For all the months imprisoned on Wolf, there was no word of the prisoners; stopping at port to file a report about prisoners or disembark non-combatants would alert the enemy of the raider’s activities and position.

Donaldson brought up several discrepancies in Nerger’s story. In one case, he asserted that the Ford cars sunk on the captured John H. Kirby were not armored for battlefield use, but rather intended for regular motorists.

Captain Nerger wanted to bring the Hitachi Maru back to Germany, but when she ran low on coal, the Captain elected to sink her. The Spanish steam ship Igotz Mendi was subsequently captured and used as a collier (coaling ship), with Wolf‘s crew working to repair her, and painting her.

After sailing through the tropics of the South Pacific for months, Trayes, Captain Cameron and the other passengers had been transferred to Igotz Mendi to rendezvous with Wolf after a cold trip back to Germany. Once in Germany, they would be placed in a prisoner camp for civilians. Under cover of a fog, the German crew tried to pass through the waters of the Skagerrak on their way to Kiel, but Igotz Mendi ran aground hours outside of Germany. In spite of the prize crew’s attempts to get a Danish tugboat to set them free. The Danish tugboat captain had grown suspicious about the nature of the ship, and brought in Danish naval authorities to intervene. After investigating, the Danish authorities freed the passengers and interned the prize crew.

Donaldson and the other prisoners on Wolf were not saved before arriving at the port of Kiel. He and his Australian mercantile marine were imprisoned. He traveled to various prison camps during his time as a prisoner of war, and he described the camps, activities and meals. After the Armistice, he made his way out of Germany to London, and managed to sail on a ship home on Christmas Eve, 1918. He sailed home on a former German ship.

After leaving Kiel with a crew of 375 men, Wolf had claimed fourteen boats, seven steamers and seven sailing ships in its 15 months of raiding.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cameron, John Stanley. Ten Months in A German Raider: A Prisoner of War Aboard the Wolf. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918, https://books.google.com/books?id=zjjHAAAAMAA.

Donaldson, A.  “The Amazing Cruise Of The German Raider ‘Wolf’.” Sydney: New Century Press, 1918, https://archive.org/details/amazingcruiseofg00dona.

Trayes, F. G. A Captive on a German Raider. New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, October 1918, https://books.google.com/books?id=JJ8MAAAAYAAJ.

Using WWI Morning Reports on Fold3

Using WWI Morning Reports on Fold3

Those who have seen my lectures, read my books or visited my WWI Facebook pages know that Morning Reports have proven to be one of my favorite resources for researching an individual who served in the Army in WWI. The 1,748 reels of 35mm microfilm containing the Morning Reports for 1912-19 have been digitized and are now available on Fold3.

There reports are created by a company or detachment and contain the important details of the daily status of in the life of an Army company: where and how they traveled; names of those who joined or left the company; who was transferred to a hospital or sick in quarters;  names of those wounded or casualties; disciplinary actions; and promotions. Additionally you can the statistical information about the company for each day, including how many horses and mules attached to the company, both serviceable and unserviceable. This data was used to build other summary reports like the company histories that appear regimental histories. The rosters include the individual’s presence in a company. Individuals’ data would appear in their personnel file, but for those whose research soldiers whose files were burned, these are reports can assist in reconstructing those files.

Having these records online is a huge advantage for researchers. A trip to STL to view the reels in person was wonderful, but had to be planned in advance to be sure that the records and the equipment used to view them would be available. Most of our time had been spent in photographing and photocopying the records. Because of the viewing equipment, the photographs were not good representations of the cards, and the cost of photocopies was significant. Because of time limits, we had focused on Company B’s Morning Reports and other companies in the regiment only for September 1918 when members of the regiment participated in the Saint-Mihiel Offensive. Still, the records and the trip had been amazing. Now, from home or a local library, these records can be viewed and images of them can be downloaded without prior planning.

As I examined these records it was clear that a researcher might want to go beyond looking at the records of one company. The records of other companies of a regiment might fill in gaps left by other companies’ records. One example is how the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment ended the war. They traveled home on two different ships, and while the Morning Reports of Company B for July 1919 were not available at NPRC (and so cannot be found on Fold3), Company C’s Morning Reports  described how the other companies of the regiment that sailed on the USS Wilhelmina finished their service:

3 July Debarked from U.S.S. Wilhelmina at Pier 8 Hoboken N.J. About 11 AM. Boarded Ferry at Pier 3 arrived L.I. entrained at L.I. for Camp Mills, N.Y. Arrived Camp Mills about 3 PM.

4 – 5 July Camp Mills, N.Y.

6. July Marched from Camp Mills, N.Y. to Clinton Road Station about 5 A.M. entrained at station for Camp Upton, N.Y. arrived Camp Upton about 10.30 AM Turned in Equipment

Although you can search US World War I records for the term “morning reports” it is easier to access The U.S. Morning Reports Publication Page directly.

U.S, Morning Reports search page

Knowledge of using the index to find the reel numbers would be import if your plan is to browse the records. I did know the reel number for the 51st Pioneer Infantry, so I could browsed Category: Morning Reports, 1912-1939 then selecting Roll 0402. (Other detachments appear on other reels.)

Browse the records

This was cumbersome. Since this Fold3 Publication is 99% Complete at the time this blog post was written, I recommend using the search.

Search Results for 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment

With over 2 thousand results this would be tedious to search. As you can see, each page of the Morning Reports is returned as a result. There will be several pages per month.

51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment Company B Search

There were only 634 Results, but many were not from the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment. They may have referenced the 51st Pioneer Infantry. (Putting the term “Company B” within quotation marks was ignored in the search box.)

51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment Company B Search

Whether searching for the Regiment or Company, click on a record for the organization you want to search to open it.

51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment Company B Results Image

Then click in the box with the navigation bread crumb trail (or just click on the down arrow at the end of the path). This opens the image in an image browser.

Image Viewer Breadcrumb Trail Window

This opens a pane to navigate to any of the Morning Reports for Company A.

Browse the collections

I was interested in Company B’s Morning Reports, so I select Company B, 51st Pioneer Infantry.

Browse to Company B, 51st Pioneer Infantry

This took me to where I could navigate to all the available Company B Morning Reports.

navigate to all the available Company B Morning Reports

I clicked on “Feb 1918” and can now see the images for this month’s Morning Report. There is usually a card inserted at the beginning of the Morning Reports for each Company’s that was used as a visual divider. (See Page 1 below.)

Navigate to Feb 1918 Morning Report

At the beginning of each month is a cover sheet. Pay attention to this, as it lists the company, regiment, month and year of the report. The information on this page tells us that prior to this month, the organization was 10th NY Inf NG (Infantry, National Guard).

Cover sheet for Company's Morning Reports

Some issues I encountered:

Some months were missing (They might be missing from the original reels.)

Some months that were missing were filed with a different year’s records. For example, one company’s Morning Reports for Jan 1918 also contained the Morning Reports for Jan 1919

Suggested strategy:

Navigate to the company of the individual you are researching using the search feature.

Find an image for the regiment, or best for the company and click on it

Use the bread crumb to open the navigation pane to select the company and month of the first Morning Report you want to view

Download the Morning Reports for each month the individual was with the company (I used a separate folder for each month)

Transcribe the entries relating to the individual you are researching, as well as the significant movements and events for the company to put together their story

Searching can be awkward, but by using a combination of searching, using the bread trails and the arrows in the image viewer, you can relive the events of a company (or other organization) during WWI.

For help with Fold3 features, such as downloading records, see the Fold3 Training Center.

Book Review: “History for Genealogists”

Book Review "History for Genealogists"
"History for Genealogists" book cover

When I envision a commercial for this book, it would have to be a full infomercial rather than a short spot between segments of a favorite program. Timelines are well known tools for genealogy, and are my go-to tool for unraveling mysteries. This book contains historical timelines and so much more. Ms. Jacobson gives context to the timelines, which in turn add context to the genealogical research of individuals and families.

Using history in our genealogy is that extra step to bring our research to a higher level by understanding our ancestors’ lives in the context of the world around them. It is common to hear others suggest going out on the web to find events to add to our timelines. How do you choose what to add? What timeline do you look at? Our ancestors made changes for a reason, and this book provides us with matter and timelines about the reasons motivating those changes.

Among the many things discussed in the book was the role of Europeans coming to the US to farm. Since my ancestors lived in cities, I had not previously investigated this topic in depth. Railroads received large grants of land from the federal government, and so set up a system for Europeans to purchase land and then travel to occupy it. More than transporting people, they had actually streamlined the process of coming to the United States.

The chapter about oral histories impressed me. It was a succinct but rich outline of how to conduct them. The author’s motivating words say it best: “Oral history can put the soul and flesh on the skeleton of a pedigree chart.” This quote applies to the intent of the whole book.

This book is a good starting place with historical timelines relevant to genealogical research. This book contains a timeline for the history of each state and the District of Columbia, from its first beginnings to the 1940s for most locations. The book expands to discuss other geographical regions around the world.

The chapters “Why Did They Leave,” “How Did They Go” and “Coming To America” were thought provoking. Brief case studies show the role of timelines in interpreting an ancestor’s life when viewing it in the context of a bigger history, or if too many events have been attributed to one individual. At all times we are reminded of the interconnection between different counties, and the fluid borders between countries, states and counties.

The 2016 Addendum by Denise Larsen is a separate part of the book, positioned after the original book’s timeline, bibliography and index. The Addendum covers the context and events of the early 20th century in the US up to post-WWII, followed by a timeline about fashion and entertainment.

I read this book cover-to-cover, and can recommend that approach to open a reader’s horizons. However, this book is structured so that it can be used by the chapter applicable to your current research question.

My recommendation is to have maps nearby when reading or using this book. Online maps would be a perfect accompaniment to use when comprehending the interactions between locations and their populations.

“History for Genealogists” provides key historical context and usable information for your research. It also lives up to its subtitle of “Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors.” As well as being a resource to support your research, it is a solid foundation to jump off from to dig deeper into the more detailed history of a place and time that you are researching. I can see this book being used to complement locality research, by introducing time and events to your research.

The book is available at Genealogical.com and other booksellers.

Note: A review copy was provided by the publisher

This blog post is copyright ©2022 by Margaret M. McMahon, Teaching & Training Co., LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations in articles and reviews. All copyrights and trademarks mentioned herein are the possession of their respective owners and the author makes no claims of ownership by mention of the products that contain these marks.