Cultural Anthropology and Genealogy

Blog Header Cultural Anthropology and Genealogy

Cultural Anthropology

Last semester I took a third course in anthropology. After taking courses in Archaeology and Biological Anthropology, the next for me to tackle was Cultural Anthropology. (Our local community college does not offer a course in the fourth area of anthropology, linguistic anthropology.) Due to the nature of the subject material, this class was the least rooted in hard science. Cultural Anthropology studies how a society organizes itself. This is done through its beliefs, and how people live, think, create and find meaning. It introduces the concept that cultures have an intrinsic logic in their practices.

A big part of this branch of anthropology is fieldwork. Anthropologists in the field study societies, collecting data to build ethnographies. This data is often qualitative. Originally fieldworkers studied societies as impartial and distant observers; later they shifted to coming off the veranda to be participant observers.

When we go beyond our ancestors’ birth and death dates to fill in the dashes with what they did between those two dates, we are doing something similar to the fieldwork done by anthropologists. We often wish that we could go back in time to come off the veranda to be participant observers but lacking that option we can use the older anthropologists’ method of building their work on others’ first-hand source material. In our pursuit, we can use published sources that were contemporary to their times to learn about their culture at their time. When we research and write about our ancestors, we are building an ethnography. We can interact with the artifacts that they and their contemporaries left behind, which is like the activities of archaeologists.

Even though we cannot be participant observers in our ancestor’s society during their time, sometimes we can participate with a society that is close to theirs. This can be done through participating in ethnic crafts, cooking, dancing, clothing, reading the books they read, learning stories they told and heard, and learning about or practicing their beliefs.

Interview with Mark Hildebrand about the Annapolis Past Port Wiki

Blog Post - Annapolis Past Port

Recently we had a chance to speak with Mark Hildebrand, the Executive Director of Make Your Mark Media, Inc., in Annapolis, MD, to discuss a remarkable collaborative project that captures the memories and history of community members. In this interview you can learn about a creative and engaging approach to capturing history and how you can participate in this project.

What is the Annapolis Past Port Wiki?

Basically, Annapolis Past Port is a history wiki for stories and history in and around Annapolis, Maryland. It is free and open to the public, and it uses the same software and structure as Wikipedia. It was created in 2017 as part of a summer internship program by Make Your Mark Media – an Annapolis-based nonprofit. The interns were Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) students enrolled in Anne Arundel County Public Schools. We wanted to capture stories about people, places, things and events as they are remembered by the community that experienced or heard about them. The focus of Annapolis Past Port is not the hard facts and statistics that are on Wikipedia already, but the memories, stories and even tall tales that should be preserved for future generations.

What motivated you to begin the Annapolis Past Port Wiki?

Several years ago, one of my board members asked me if there was a way to develop a public database of historic sites and people in the Annapolis area. She had attended a conference in New England where they showcased one developed by a local historic society. Because it was a series of web pages, it seemed a bit restrictive and reliant upon a web developer to create the content. I found that a wiki could be a great format that would make it easy for the public to upload content and share it. And unlike Facebook or Blogs, that content would not get buried under subsequent entries.

What challenges have you faced with the wiki and what surprises have you had?

One of the biggest challenges has been to get others to add content to the wiki. I have created most of the current pages, and although I have reached out to local historians and even done a few public workshops, few have taken the next step to upload their research or stories. So I was very pleasantly surprised when one of our interns from this past supper created wiki pages for a Nike missile site I had never heard of, just outside of Annapolis. And then one on Lee Airport in Edgewater. As with all of the wiki pages, they need more information and contributions from other sources, but they are a great beginning.

Where can people find out more about Past Port?

You can find the Annapolis Past Port history wiki at You can browse and search the wiki. The Main Page has a list of some of the recently added pages. There are images as well as audio and video. 

How can people participate in the Annapolis Past Port?

Anyone is welcome to create an account and add or edit content. We have provided links to guidelines on creating and formatting content. Through links to Make Your Mark Media ( you can contact me at for direct assistance.

NOW AVAILABLE: Our New Research WWI Guide

Our newest book is NOW AVAILABLE!

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:

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.


Cameron, John Stanley. Ten Months in A German Raider: A Prisoner of War Aboard the Wolf. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918,

Donaldson, A.  “The Amazing Cruise Of The German Raider ‘Wolf’.” Sydney: New Century Press, 1918,

Trayes, F. G. A Captive on a German Raider. New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, October 1918,