Review of “They Shall Not Grow Old”

This week I went to see the limited showing of Peter Jackson’s “They Shall Not Grow Old”. By now, you probably know that the film has been colorized, and dubbed, all with great technical care. But the movie is so much more than that. It is an experience. Mr. Jackson is an engaging story teller who has done phenomenal work in bringing this Great War footage to us differently than has ever been attempted. For him, it was a labor of love, dedicated especially to his Grandfather.

The story followed British soldiers from home to training, then the trenches and combat, and back home. The movie was a composite experience, using movie footage from the Imperial War Museum and audio from many BBC and IWM interviews of British soldiers. It captured the Western Front experience, including the sights and sounds of being in the trenches and a trench raid. The actual scenes of combat were depicted through the use of artwork from contemporary publication “The War Illustrated”. Although the movie was about British soldiers, the heart of the story was applicable to soldiers from all countries.

The movie was unflinching in showing the horror and devastation of the war. It equally showed the human side with the soldier’s everyday life and their interactions with German prisoners of war. There were horses and tanks, showing old and new ways of waging war meeting on the battlefield.

After the movie ended, most of the audience remained to spend some promised time with Mr. Jackson. His story telling ability also shined in his short feature after the movie’s credits where he shared how the story began and how it was made. The technology and techniques involved were fascinating. The people who worked on the project were professionals, and the parts that went into creating this experience were interesting.  

Mr. Jackson’s dedication to the project and its content were unquestionable. He showed us his assortment of authentic uniforms. The archival research was terrific, highlighted by his finding the orders that were being read in a film clip. He even went to great lengths to get authentic sounds to accompany the footage. In this day of digital sounds, it was great to see a Foley artist at work. He also shared how many other stories were in the Imperial War Museum Archives, from different missions in the British Expeditionary Force to women working on the home front.

My fondest hope is that more WWI footage is restored using his approach and brought to the public. That would be a great way to keep this from being a “forgotten” war.

For me, his thoughts at the end were as compelling as his project itself. As a non-historian, he had made a movie for non-historians to motivate them to find out about their WWI ancestors. He encouraged people to find out these stories, because those stories are important to us. Through my books, lectures and participating in WWI Centennial events, this is what I have also tried to do in my own way.

This review ends with homework: “Do you have any WWI ancestors?”

Camp Doughboy 2018: After Action Report

The 3rd annual Camp Doughboy WWI History Weekend at Governors Island National Monument was held on 15-16 September 2018. This was the biggest free public WWI exhibition in the U.S. this year, and was attended by 10.000 visitors.

The weather was sunny and warm both days.

My mission was to man a table where people could ask how they could learn about their WWI ancestors. On that table I displayed an informative poster, the WWI scrapbook of my Grandfather that I created (rather than inherited) and WWI Victory medals. I was also assigned to give lectures about how to find out about WWI ancestors.

Corporal Kevin Fitzpatrick led us all through the events of the weekend.

There were almost a hundred reeanactors present. Each and every reeanactor was impeccably outfitted, and had a story (or more) to tell about the Great War. Being able to see the authentic details of their wardrobe and equipment and to watch them perform their duties brought us back a century in time. Just to mention only a few of all those in attendance: the Harlem Hellfighters, a female contract surgeon, a WW1 Salvation Army Lassie, Imperial Germans and authentic Army cooks. Some visitors arrived in vintage clothing, and posed with the reenactors.

The audiences at my lectures learned about a methodology for researching their own WWI ancestors, the records and archives available, as well as the story of where fallen soldiers might be buried. They were quick with great questions.

Some visitors brought treasures with them. A gentleman brought his ancestor’s dogtags. His ancestor was from the South, but assigned to the Coastal Artillery in New Jersey. Another family brought the “History of Company C of the 320 Machine Gun Battalion.” Others brought pictures of their dashing soldiers in uniform. Many brought stories of ancestors who served in WWI for the U.S. and other counties.

Two descendants of soldiers from the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment held a mini-reunion.

Dr. Libby O’Connell of the WWI Centennial Committee for New York City addressed the gathering. She reminded us about the upcoming centennial and significance of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

The period music was lively and added to the ambiance.

The vintage trucks were a special highlight. When they were not driving, they were on static display. It seemed everyone who came took a picture of them.

A major shout out goes to the authentic cooks of the Army Rolling Field Kitchen who created delicious authentic Army dishes using WWI Army recipes. The fresh doughnuts created by the WW1 Salvation Army Lassie in France were fabulous.

Thanks to everyone who stopped by to ask questions, learn and chat. More blog posts providing follow-up information will follow.

Camp Doughboy will return to Governors Island in 2019.

Family History Outing: WWI at the Holland Land Office Museum

In addition to the displays of Holland Land Office material, discussed in the Family History Outing: The Holland Land Office Museum blog post, there was another exhibit of interest to me. The HLOM has an exhibit “Over There to Over Here: 100 Years Later, Genesee County in the Great War,” which is featured on their website.

The Museum is home to artifacts from the Great War. Soldiers’ equipment, uniforms and other WWI memorabilia are on display. There are artistically decorated helmets, and sheet music. Every item is clearly labeled, and the exhibit has been put together with great care and thought. In the displays, WWI history moves beyond the descriptions and illustrations in books to real objects. For me, seeing a soldier’s pick, that had been over than back over here, brought to mind equipment used by the Pioneer Infantry Regiment.

The exhibit includes a book where the names of Genessee County residents who served in WWI have been collected. Some were residents before the war, while other veterans settled in Genessee County after the Great War.

 

It is always important to check the holdings of all the museums and archives in your ancestor’s local area. For example, Executive Director Duffy told a story about one visitor who was surprised to find several items, including a dogtag and discharge papers, for a relative he did not even know was a soldier in WWI.

The Museum also display items from the military service of Genesee County residents in other wars. Even though we did not have Genesse County ancestors, we enjoyed this part of our visit to the Holland Land Office Museum. So, if you find yourself near Batavia, NY, think about stopping in.

To learn more, visit the Holland Land Office Museum website.

 

Family History Outing: Holland Land Office Museum

Although online research lets us visit places virtually whenever, wherever, and wearing our pajamas, there are definite benefits to traveling to visit museums, chat with experts and historians, and meet with local researchers. This Spring I had a chance to do all that (and more).

Beginning in 1801, the Holland Land Company sold the land from the Holland Purchase, from its office in Batavia, NY. Agents opened offices in other areas of the purchased land. By 1840, all their land was sold. Much can be learned about the Holland Land Company in online databases, and maps.

Our visit started with a phone call to check on the Holland Land Office Museum’s hours for the day of our trip. We asked if someone would be able to help us locate the purchases on the map. The answer was that they were open and would certainly try. Finding expert about the Holland Land Office land purchase was reason enough to drive over to Batavia.

The Museum is housed in the original Land Office building in Batavia, Genesse County, NY. A transaction could be done at this building for any of the purchases, for any of the counties. In addition to the history of Holland Land Office, there were information and exhibits about the local area and its history. The items in the exhibits are informative and help place ancestors in their context. Another blog post covers the WWI Exhibit.

The Museum has Livsey’s volumes of “Western New York, Land Transactions” which are extracted from the archives of the Holland Land Company. The extractions are indexed and thoroughly document the names and dates of the transactions. (These are also available online.) But the lists of transactions do not indicate whether the transaction was a payment or a reversion back to the company. You need to check the county land records for the nature of the transactions. If you had ancestors in this area, at this time, it is worth checking these books in case your ancestors tried to buy a property in the area but did not complete the sale. One of the big surprises was that an ancestor had purchased land in Erie County, which would later revert to the Holland Land Company

We learned that the Museum also holds the Land Records for Erie County, from about 1809-1840. Executive Director Duffy retrieved these books from storage, put on his gloves and handled them himself.

Just as outlined in our Land Tutorial, the way to use these books is to look for the name in an index then find the page for the transaction. This book also contained map details for the sales.

The recording of his sale was on Page 27

Lumis Lillie’s lot was in Township No.11 Range No. 5.
His property on the map was labeled with 27.

Lumis Lillie’s lot was in Section 6 shown marked 27 for the page number.

In the pages of these original Land Books we found the names of prominent members of the community for whom streets were named. Unfortunately, these books were too early to contain records for other ancestors in Erie County.

When you visit, be sure to check out their store for their selection of books and pick up a very reasonably priced map of the Purchase area.

A local researcher also advised immersing myself and my research team in local culture near the Museum, at Oliver’s Candies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Resources:

The Holland Land Office Museum

The Reed Library in the State University of New York at Fredonia has Archives of the Holland Land Company on microfilm

Click on the image of Ellicot’s Map of the Holland Land Company Purchase in New York to view and right clock to download.

The New York Heritage Digital Collections contains Holland Land Company Maps. You can search for the County name, Township and Range to get a specific map.

Search Livsey’s books on Ancestry.com: Western New York Land Transactions, 1804-1824 and Western New York Land Transactions, 1825-1835.

For those with access to Hathitrust, you can search Western New York land transactions, 1825-1835, and view other books about the Holland Land Company.

On Google Books, you can search Western New York Land Transactions, 1804-1824

Many other resources and references can be found online by searching on Google.