What WWII Military Ancestors Were Reading

The average American soldier in WWII had an 11th grade education. With a lack of recreation, and a lot of waiting, soldiers needed books. There was an effort by the Victory Book Campaign to furnish soldiers with donated books. These books ended up being heavy and the 18 million books raised were not sufficient.

So, the Council of Books in Wartime went to work to print Armed Services Editions (ASEs). They were light-weight, miniature books designed to fit in uniform pockets. The titles ranged from literature, classics, history, contemporary fiction, humor to career guides. Book contents were reformatted, and printed on lighter magazine pages. For efficiency, the books were printed two titles at a time on the same magazine paper, one on top of the other (“two-up”), and then cut into separate books.



Soldiers read these books constantly, and credited them for putting them in touch with their own humanity among the horrors of war. Others read history to understand the conflict in which they found themselves. Some books entertained, some books educated. Books were read in transit, while waiting, and recuperating in hospitals. While the First Division waited for a break in the bad weather before D-Day, the soldiers read. It is said that seriously wounded soldiers on Omaha Beach on D-Day were seen propped against the cliffs, reading ASEs as they waited for rescue.

The printing of ASEs continued after the war’s end, for those soldiers serving in the post-war occupation. The final ASEs were printed in September 1947.

An estimated 100 million books in Europe had been destroyed by burning and bombing. The ASEs numbered over 123 million copies of 1,322 titles were printed.

The Library of Congress has a complete set of the 1322 ASE books. There are other large, but incomplete collections.

For a short story of the ASEs, with a list of the ASEs by author listed by author, BOOKS IN ACTION THE ARMED SERVICES EDITIONS.

You can learn more about the subject at Molly Guptill Manning’s website and book, “When Books Went to War.”

One of  the interesting books printed in the format of an ASE was “Returning to Civilian Life”. The interior pages were printed differently than the other ASEs.



One topic struck me as valuable to us, as genealogists: Record Your Certificate.



Some of these books are still around. One place you can look for them is ebay. It would be remarkable if, in addition to the stories within their pages, they could tell the stories of where they had been and who had been reading them.






5 TV Shows That Teach Us About Genealogy

We’ve all watched and enjoyed specific television shows dedicated to genealogical audiences, such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” and “Genealogy Roadshow”. But are you learning about genealogy from other TV shows?



The investigation phase of each episode is filled with techniques to search the internet and social media for a person’s real identity and location. You may have had an ancestor who used aliases or whose images might be clues.


“The Curse of Oak Island”

Family stories can turn into treasure hunts.

There is always a grain of truth in the stories that are handed down. It may take a lot of digging to find the truth. As a metaphor for the search for ancestors, the number of pits promise riches but yield conflicting clues.


“The Big Bang Theory”

No ancestor was an island. Each person is surrounded by family, neighbors, and a community.

Neighbors like Penny remind us that sometimes our ancestors did not travel far to find spouses. Coworkers can become part of a family of choice. Those non-blood relatives may have pictures you have never seen and stories about your ancestors you have never heard.


“Myth Busters”

Make a hypothesis! Assemble all possible information you can. Then test it, to see if it is: busted, confirmed, or plausible. Modify your hypothesis as necessary.


“The Lone Ranger” and reruns of other favorite shows

Are any of the shows that you enjoyed as a child rerun on television? Watching them may be a pleasant enough experience on its own. When you watch them, they may trigger memories of times and places. Those memories are great to capture. But a deep memory may also be the key you that unlocks a clue to solve one a pesky family mystery.

Researching Soldiers who died during World War I

By all means, search the ABMC Burials and Memorials to see if the soldier rests in Europe. But, you may not find his name is in the database, and there may be more to the story.

Individual Combat units were responsible for burying the deceased soldiers and marking the grave. Then the Graves Registration Unit was responsible for moving the deceased to U.S. cemetery graves. The 51st Pioneer Infantry History tells of GRU work.

But, even if the deceased soldier was buried overseas, his remains may have been returned to the U.S. in 1920 or 1921. The decision whether to leave a soldier at an overseas cemetery or bring him home was made by the next of kin. In October of 1919, the War Department contacted the next-of-kin of every deceased soldiers, and each was given the option to bury them in American military cemeteries in Europe, or have them shipped home for burial in a military or private cemetery. 46,000 of the soldiers’ remains were returned to the United States. It took over $30 million and two years to return the remains of 46,000 soldiers. 30,000 soldiers were buried in the cemeteries in Europe. The government also paid the travel expenses pilgrimages for Gold Star mothers, and widows, to visit these graves.

The Burial Files and Graves Registration records are part of the Records of the Office of the Quartermaster General (Record Group 92). You can find the Individual Burial Files at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, MO. These are also called the “Cemeterial Files” or “293 Files” and contain: Correspondence, Reports, Telegrams, Applications, and Other Papers Relating to Burials of Service Personnel. Check out The Sick and the Dead, Veterans Administration Claim Files and World War I Burial Files by Archivist Daria Labinsky.

There were many similarities between the Americans and the Australian soldiers, who fought so far from their homeland. Australia would not pay for mothers to visit the graves of their sons, as it was a dangerous and expensive proposition.

Let’s see what we can do to locate the final resting place of these fallen soldiers:

Search the American Battle Monuments Commision (ABMC) for an overseas grave.

If the soldier is not in the ABMC database, then it is worth searching in the United States for the soldier’s grave.

Searching the U.S. Army Transport Service records on Ancestry.com would confirm that the soldier’s body was returned to the U.S. These records contain the soldier’s serial number and the soldier’s military organization. If you do not have a subscription to Ancestry.com, remember that you may be able to  access Ancestry.com in may be available in your local library, or at a nearby Family History Center.

Even if you do not have access to Ancestry.com, you can still try to locate the grave.

First, search in National Gravesite Locator to see if the soldier was buried in a military cemetery.

If the soldier cannot be found in a military cemetery, try Findagrave.

Many of the fallen soldiers are documented in the three volumes of the Soldiers of the Great War:

Vol 1 Alabama – Maryland

Vol 2 Massachusetts – Ohio

Vol 3 Oklahoma – Wyoming  Volume 3 also contains an index by volume, by state and by first letter of the last name. The index to Vol 1 Begins on page 499, and the index to Vol 2 Begins on page 501.

The photos in the book are not in alphabetic order, and not every soldier has a picture.

Making A Findagrave Virtual Cemetery

Lately, many of my posts have been about WWI. So, I thought it might be time for a different topic. Building a virtual cemetery can be useful for collect information from a variety of cemeteries into one page. This is a great way to share information you have found about a family line (or even a WWI military organization).

In FindAGrave, use the link in the upper right to go to your Profile Page.

Scroll down until you see “My Virtual Cemeteries”.

Click on add. Then you will be able to enter a name for your Virtual Cemetery, a description and determine whether you want your list to be visible to the public or private.

Then Save your Virtual Cemetery.

Now, when you view any grave, you can use the tools on the right.

Select “Save to” and one of the options will be to save to a Virtual Cemetery.

And you will be presented with a list of your Virtual Cemeteries. Check the one or ones that you want to select, and save.  (At this point you can also create a new virtual cemetery.)

If you add someone by mistake, you can go to your Virtual Cemetery and select Remove next to the entry.

Give this a try!

The Edward Jones Research Center

The Edward Jones Research Center is the archives of the WWI Museum and Memorial, located at the Museum’s lowest level.

This Research Center holds some resources that may help with your research.

For example, there are 23 volumes of “Official Roster of Ohio Soldiers, Sailors and Marines”. Their holdings include volumes from several other states and even counties that published books listing all the men who served in the Great War. In these books is an entry for each service member, listing an abstract of his service. The entries contain the same data that is in the NY Service Abstracts.

Since the most of the personnel files were burned in the National Personnel Records Center, these books would be invaluable for researchers who do not know their ancestors’ military organization.

You can perform an online search of the collections at the World War I Museum and Memorial website

Select “Begin Your Search” and enter your keyword. In this example, I entered: 51st Pioneer Infantry.

The search returned items relating to the Pioneer Infantry, with over three thousand results. While it is great to know that there are many items about the Pioneers, my search terms needed to be more specific.

I decided to use quotes to be more specific: “51st Pioneer Infantry”, and received no results.

Next, I searched for the term: 51st Infantry

The results included the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) 51st Brigade and Col. Moses N. Thisted’s book, “Pershing’s Pioneers”.

My best tip: Be sure to contact the archivists before your trip to see what else might be available, or what suggestions they might have.

You will probably find a copy of Researching Your U.S. WWI Army Ancestors on the shelves.


4 Steps to Begin WWI Research For A Country (Liberia)

This post will cover the four initial steps to research the participation of a country (non-U.S.) in WWI. At a recent talk about ancestors in the U.S. military, a very enthusiastic genealogist asked me a question: how could he research his Liberian WWI ancestor? Questions like this make me think, and make me want to learn more.

These first steps help you get oriented by learning more about the topic.


1. Google

Start with Google. Search for terms that combine your country name with “WWI” or “World War One”. You may get lucky and find your ancestor’s name, but more likely you will find context information.

Example results for Liberia were:

(Note: the date for Liberia’s declaration of war in on this page was incorrect)


2. Google Books

Use Google Books to learn about books that will be useful to your research. Some of the books may allow you to download them in entirety; others may provide snippets. For books that are available on Google Books, there are links to locate the book in WorldCat or to buy them. Remember that an unlikely book may contain material that will help you.

Look for information about relevant events. Uncovering dates and places is always helpful. Make a list of what you learned.

Example books for Liberia:


3. FamilySearch Wiki

Check out the materials on the FamilySearch Wiki for the country.

Use the FamilySearch Wiki entry for Liberia to learn as much as you can about Liberia and its records. This page also contains a link to go social. The link for Military Records is currently a space holder, and has no content.


4. Make a Timeline

Now that you have the basic facts, you can rearrange them in chronological order to create a timeline as the backdrop for what you find out about your own ancestor. If the date is unknown for a fact, then place the item where it makes sense, but do not record a date for it.

Some of the information from the Google search and Google Books:

  • In 1912 six black U.S. Army officers came to Liberia to train and command the Liberian Frontier Force
  • Daniel Edward Howard was the President of Liberia from 1912 to 1920
  • ¾ of Liberia’s trade was with Germany in early 1914
  • German trade ended with the war
  • German submarine blockade in WWI reduced to almost nothing all trade between Liberia and Britain, France and the United States
  • Prior to the declaration of war ,Liberia had broken off diplomatic relations with Germany
  • Liberia was pressured by the U.S. to declare war on Germany
  • Liberia declared war against Germany on 4 August 1917
  • Liberia was an Entente Belligerent
  • There were 400 in the active military including militia, volunteers, police
  • When Liberia joined the Allies, the property of German nationals was liquidated and the money used to compensate for the loss of revenue.
  • A German submarine shelled Monrovia in June 1918
  • Liberia sent troops to France during WWI (date unknown)
  • Liberian troops in WWI did not see combat
  • Liberia received war relief funds (Liberty Loan)The U.S. Government advanced funds to the Republic of Liberia during the peace negotiations after WWI.  The amount was $26,000 (in three payments) and $9,610.46 accrued interest ($35,610.46)

Liberia is going to be a tough country to research. It may be worth contacting regional archives, and schools in the area for other research ideas.