Travel to Where Your Ancestors Worshipped (Virtually)

The pandemic has affected every part of our lives, including how people are able to attend religious services. Many people are attending virtual religious services on the web. That means that many places of worship are uploading videos of religious services to the web.

This may be a way that you can attend a religious service where your ancestors worshipped! The services might be hosted on a variety of websites for video services. They might be found on YouTube, Vimeo, or Facebook.

Use Google, or your other favorite search engine, to locate the place of worship that your ancestors attended. You may know the place, or may find it on marriage or other records of events. If you are still unsure, a Google search around their residence may shed light on possibilities. When you visit the homepage for the place, there should be a link to services, or other information leading to how worship is being shared.

It is worth learning some of the history of this place of worship. You may find that it has been renovated since your ancestors worshipped there. It may also be that parts of building were preserved and have remained unchanged.

Last week, I attended Mass at St. Mary’s Church in Newport, RI. This is where my great-great-grandparents were married, where their children were baptized and where their funeral Masses and that of their oldest child were held. It is also where John F. Kennedy wed Jaqueline Bouvier. Being able to virtual attend a Mass there was a virtual trip to a place that is definitely a future destination. The homepage for St. Mary’s has a link to where you can view “Mass Online at St. Mary’s.”

Finding WWI U.S. Army Rosters

New Blog Post

Another great resource for researching soldiers in WWI that has come online are the Muster Rolls and Rosters at FamilySearch. Using these records, you can trace your a service member throughout his service in the U.S. Army in WWI.

US WWI Muster Roster Rolls on FamilySearch

These records are not indexed, so using them will take a little work. These are digital images of the filmstrips that you would be using at the National Archives and Records Administration in St. Louis, Missouri.

You will need a free account at FamilySearch to access these records, but if you are not using FamilySearch, you should be.

In order to use these records, you need to know the military organization(s) to which your ancestors belonged. A good start is using the VA Master Index to locating the first organization to which he was assigned. From there, following him in each roster, you might be able to trace his transfers between organizations.

This List of Authorized Abbreviations World War I Service Discharge Cards is a valuable reference for deciphering military abbreviations of the time.

Starting Place: The VA Master Index

I used the VA Master Index for Joseph F. McMahon, which showed his first military organization as Co B 51 Pion Inf. (In real words, this translates to Co B of the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment.) To help, there is a Blog post about using the VA Master Index.

VA Master index card

Next Step: Search for the soldier’s first military organization

Searched the Muster Rolls and Rosters at FamilySearch for the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment, I learned the description was “Pioneer Inf.” Be flexible when searching. I would not have located the regiment searching for “51st” and there were many “51” on the page. Searching for “Pion” was fairly efficient.

51st Pioneer Infantry roster entry

When you see the little camera icon on the right, that means there are digital images of the record to view on the website! Click on the camera to go to the filmstrip.

Viewing the filmstrip on the website can be intimidating, but it is a lot easier than using an actual filmstrip. More than one frame at a time can be seen.

Digital Filmstrip

I can click on the Image with “51st Pioneer Inf Regt” and see that Image 12 is where the muster rolls begin. (You may wish to record that number in case you want to revisit the records.)

The Images marked “SPACER” are between the separate documents for the same organization. The images marked “NEW ORGN BEGINS” will be key to finding where the first muster rolls for Company B are.

New Organization Begins marker

The first group of Muster Rolls are for the Headquarters Company.  You can double-click on an Image to go it. From there you can use the arrows to move forward and backward through the filmstrip images. If you want to go back to seeing the browse multiple images, click on the button in the navigation menu on the left with all the small boxes.

Viewing an image on the filmstrip

Since the records are not indexed, checking the Image where a new organization begins, then browsing the multiple images will help location where Company B begins. Image 249 is where Company B’s records begin. On the Image, we can see that to go backward in time, we would have to look at rolls for the 10th New York Infantry Regiment (which was the predecessor of the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment).

I need to know when Joseph F. McMahon Served with the 51st Pioneers to be able to locate him in a roster. He enlisted on 5/28/18, so I check for the new muster rolls after each SPACER to see the dates.

The first page of the organization's rosters

Image 265 is for 30 April to 30 June 1918.

The first roster for the organization

By using the arrows to scan the pages of the Muster Roll, I locate him. This record shows when he joined the organization.  

sample roster entry

At the end of the Muster Roll, soldiers lost are listed. This soldier was lost through transfer. If I were researching him, his date of transfer would be known so I could pick up the search for him in the next organization (Provisional Depot, shortened to Prov Dep).

sample roster lost by transfer entry

Through these records you should be able to track your soldier through the organizations in which he served. Of course, I recommend downloading the records you find, complete with citations. Another thing I recommend is building a timeline for his service, and add the organizations along with dates of his service in them.

The only time I have had a problem following a soldier through the rosters is when the military unit disbanded. In that case, some historical research would be in order to figure out if the soldiers were transferred en masse into another organization.

Did My Ancestor Serve in WWI?

New Blog Post

In the past, I answered that question by recommending searching for information at home, searching through the U.S. Army Transport Records that documented a veteran’s trip overseas, consulting state service abstracts or contacting the National Personnel Records Center.

Now, one of the most helpful sets of records to answer that question has come online. It is the U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index from NARA’s Records of the Veterans Administration [VA] (Record Group 15).

So, gather up the list of possible candidates. Having a residence and a birth date may help you narrow down the search for ancestors with common names.

You will need a free account on FamilySearch to access these records. If you do not already use FamilySearch, you will be glad to find out about what it has to offer. The link to search the collection is United States, Veterans Administration Master Index, 1917-1940.

Family Search search page for U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index

Enter your ancestor’s name.

Searching example

Look through the search results to look for your ancestor. (Pay attention to the residence; the military service location (St. Louis) is related to where the records were stored.)

result for example search

The small document icon is used to “view the record details.”

The small camera icon on the right means that you can view an image of the record.

Search result

Clicking on “view the original document takes you to the image viewer, you can view and download it.

The image viewer screen

From this image, I know the first military organization in which Joseph F. McMahon served. An important piece of information is his military service number, which is helpful when the veteran has a common name.- His birth and death dates, as well as his enlistment and discharge dates.

C is the Claim Number assigned when an application was made for a service connected disability, pension, and education and training.

An “A” number shows that this veteran was eligible for the Adjusted Compensation paid to veterans based on their WWI service.

T Indicates that the veteran had War Risk Insurance during WWI.

CT  Shows the certificate number assigned by service departments with the World War I Bonus.

Learn more about these records at Family Search search page for U.S. Veterans Administration Master Index.

Learn more about the letter codes at NARA’s Key to Codes & Prefixes.

When you find an ancestor who served in WWI, you can begin to research his service. Check out our other WWI blog posts by using the Search Box and entering WWI.

Learn more about our book on this website or at Amazon Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors.

The U.S. Military Records That Never Burned

No, NOT all the WWI and WWII military records for your ancestor were burned!

We often hear the misinformation and read many posts on Facebook claiming that all the military records burned. This post will help shed light on just a few of the records about your ancestor’s service that are still available.

We have already blogged about the Official Military Personnel Files OMPFs beginning here, and hope you had a chance to read about them. From that post you will have learned that Navy and Marine Corps personnel files from WWI and WWII were not burned in the NPRC fire.

It is important to know there were original records that were never in the OMPFs, and so, they were NEVER BURNED. These records were part of the paperwork generated by military organizations, and were kept separately from the individual personnel records. The individual personnel records were actually constructed by using these original records.

This blog post covers some great examples of records that could help you understand your ancestor’s military experience: Rosters/Musters and Morning Reports. For military ancestors who died while in service, there are WWI Death Files and WWII Individual Death Personnel Files (IDPF).

Muster Rolls and Rosters

These records contain information about service members who were in an organization, so you can place your ancestor with an organization at a specific time. These are lists of the members of an organization during a specific time period (or at a specified time such as the last day of the month). They shows who was sick in hospital, who was “lost” to the organization by transfer, and to where they were transferred, who was “gained” by the organization through transfer, and who was attached. By piecing these together, a service member can be tracked.

Browsable images of WWI muster rolls and rosters are available online at the FamilySearch website. You need to know the military organization for the service member because these are not searchable. United States, World War I, military muster rolls and rosters, 1916-1939 (The filmstrips are available at the National Personnel Record Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO.)

Morning Reports

These reports cover the day-by-day details of an Army organization, giving a brief summary of the status of the men and animals in the organization.

The front of the morning reports contain columns that record the counts of officers, enlisted men and animals. On the back, brief notations were made naming the soldiers who transferred in, transferred out, transferred to a hospital or were sick. Notes were made of soldiers who were loaned out to other organizations, who were promoted, where and how far they traveled, courts martial, and disciplinary actions.

Like any other diary, this will give context to your military ancestor’s service even when his name is not mentioned.

These records are available at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC). The U.S. Navy has Ship’s Logs, which rarely mention individuals. Learn more about Ship’s Logs here.

WWI Death Files / WWII Individual Death Personnel Files (IDPF)

For service members who died while in service, a death file will exist. In WWI, these are Death Files; in WWII they were called Individual Death Personnel Files (IDPF). These files are truly individual, as the contents will vary for each case. Each should contain the circumstances of the service member’s death. If the ancestor died in combat, there will generally be a description of how he died, compiled from available witnesses.

For an ancestor who went overseas, the file will contain correspondence with the next-of-kin to establish whether to ship the service member’s remains back to the United States, or bury him in an overseas military cemetery. In the file for a WWI service member who was buried overseas, there may be information about a Gold Star trip sponsored by the government to allow mothers and wives to visit the grave of their fallen soldier in Europe. If the service member was originally classified as missing in action, the file may contain information about how the remains were identified.

Although these files exist for those who died during service stateside, typically these files contain less information that for those who died in combat.

These records can be requested from the NPRC, however, NARA is prioritizing the digitization of WWI files and making them online. Record Group 92, Series: Correspondence, Reports, Telegrams, Applications, and Other Papers Relating to Burials of Service Personnel, 1/1/1915 – 12/31/1939 are searchable here.

Burial Cards

For service members who died while in service, a burial card will exist. The burial card contains information about where the service member was interred, and where the remains had been relocated. (To learn more, read the blog post Researching Soldiers Who Died During World War I.)

The family of the soldier below chose to have his remains stay in Europe, in the American Battle Monuments Commission Meuse-Argonne Cemetery. NARA Archivists have reported not yet finding where the photographs are stored that are referenced on the cards.

Record Group 92, Series: Card Register of Burials of Deceased American Soldiers, 1917 – 1922. The 104 sets of digitized cards can be browsed from here.

Know that only the personnel records for Army and Air Force service members were involved in the fire, and that even those ancestors still live in the unburned pages of the military records.

Genealogy and the 2020 U.S. Census

You have probably received, or are about to receive, your invitation to complete the 2020 U.S. Census online.

One thing I always recommend at census time is saving a paper (and electronic!) copy of the census after you fill it out. Since the censuses are closed for 72 years, how great would be researchers to have copies of our censuses for those years?

I’ve seen a lot of comments about how disappointing it is that you cannot print out all the responses when you are done completing the online forms.

With that in mind, here are two solutions:

1) Take screenshots as you fill out the forms on your computer. You can save them as images, or just cut-and-paste them into a word processing document.

– OR –

2) A better choice is probably to download and print a pdf file of the 2020 Census. Then you can fill it in and have all the answers together in one place. Of course, feel free to scan it and have it both on paper and electronically!

The 2020 Census Form can be downloaded here.

If you missed saving you previous census forms, you can find blank forms and instructions to enumerators here.

You can select the census year to locate links to blank forms. For 2000, you might want to reconstruct the long version of the form.  

The US Census Bureau website hosts a wealth of information and data, so explore it if have a chance. Educational material about the 2020 Census can be found here.