7 Ways to Research WWI Veterans in Your Community

Seventy First Regiment Leaves for Camp of N.Y. Division.(NARA RG165-WW-288C-067)

Congratulations on taking the first step of wanting to learn more!

Ryan Hegg of the WWI Centennial Commission for New York City asked me if I believed that the WWI Generation was really the Greatest Generation. What a thought provoking question! Ryan makes a great case. WWI was a defining point in our Country’s history as a participant on the world stage. Theirs was a generation who decided to go overseas to fight the Great War for Civilization. They experienced the Great Depression.

Students have a number of resources to find WWI veterans who were  residents in their communities. The ideas below start with those that take least effort to those that require more advanced skills. (For those who do not know if they had ancestors who served in WWI, a future blog post will cover that topic.)

  1. Locate a WWI Memorial in your city or town. There may be a statue in a park or a plaque in a public building. You can contact your city or town office to ask if such a memorial exists. When you locate the memorial, you can take pictures of it and copy the names that you find. If you want to learn more about those individuals try some of the other steps.
  2. Ask at a local cemetery about WWI veterans’ graves. The tombstones for service members who died during the war or later should show the branch of the military, the war, and their military organization. The cemetery office should be able to help you locate the graves of WWI veterans.
  3. Go to your local library and ask to speak to the research librarian. The library may hold special books telling about local men and women who served in WWI. There many also be files of materials donated by local researchers, which may be called vertical files. They may have fold local newspapers or files of newspaper clippings.
  4. Contact the local chapter of the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW). Each Post is unique and has different polices pertaining to its community service efforts. You can visit VFW’s Find-A-Post feature here to locate a VFW Post and its contact information. Ask to speak with the Commander or Quartermaster.
  5. If there is a local historical society, genealogical society, or historical museum in your area, call or send an email. I have found WWI collections in unlikely locations, such as the Laws Railroad Museum and the Holland Land Office Museum
  6. Research local newspapers of the time. You can check the Library of Congress Chronicling America website to find out what newspapers existed at the time, and see if any of them have been digitized. Many community newspapers printed articles about the men and women who served. Search for WWI and your community name. 
  7. Head back to your library and find out what databases are available. Your local library may have access to Ancestry.com, Fold3.com and ProQuest and other Historical Newspapers. Librarians should be able to help you search for more about a specific WWI Veteran using his or her name.

Beyond these steps, much of the research involves looking for material about a military organization in which the veteran served. There are several posts on this blog about learning more about WWI Veterans.

Good luck!

Family History Outing: The National World War I Museum and Memorial (Part II)

In case you missed it, Part I can be found here.

When you walk into the Museum, you cross over a glass floor to enter the exhibits. Below your feet is a field of poppies; above you the tower through the glass ceiling. You then walk through the chronologically arranged galleries, experiencing trenches and a bomb crater.

The artifacts include weapons, vehicles, flags, personal effects and uniforms. The walls are filled with data that helps put the conflict in perspective.

There are activities for families, including a family visitor guide and interactive activities like creating your own propaganda poster using their images, words and colors.

There are rooms for audio reflection, where you can listen to voices, music, poetry and prose of the Great War.

Below the Museum is the Edward Jones Research Center. Through its windows, you can get another view of the poppy field. While you are there, you can chat with an Archivist. The Archives contain books that may help in your research. Some states, and even counties, have compiled books with abstracts of their WWI soldiers.

Undoubtedly you will be exploring the Museum for a while, so you will be glad to know that there is a place to eat. Among the traditional café fare at the Over There Café, you can enjoy Trench Stew, Army Goulash or Chipped Beef. You might consider a sampler platter. (GF stands for Gluten Free.)


There is also a Museum Store where you can shop tax free.






Family History Outing: The National World War I Museum and Memorial (Part I)

Dedicated in 1921 with five WWI leaders present, the Liberty Memorial Tower, Assyrian Sphinxes, Exhibit and Memorial Halls were completed in 1926.

The newer part of the Museum sits below, and was completed in 2006.

Read the Visitor Guide for the details of the Interior and Exterior. Symbolism is embedded in the architecture of the Museum.

The Liberty Memory tower is 217 feet tall. Courage, Honor, Patriotism, and Sacrifice are the 40-foot Guardian Spirits on the Memorial. Ride the small elevator, and take a few steps for a 360-degree view of Kansas City, MO. Given that this part of the Museum is already on a hill, the view is terrific.

Both Assyrian Sphinxes cover their eyes. The east-facing Sphinx, Memory, faces the battlefields of France, and its eyes are covered from the horror that is war. The west-facing Sphinx, Future, hides from the unknown in what is to come.

Be sure to walk around the Museum on the paths to see more parts of the memorial.

Best bet: Tickets are always issued for two days, and they are half-priced on Wednesday.
Another opportunity: Visit the close by Money Museum at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, which opens a half hour before the WWI Museum. If you take the survey at the end of the exhibits, one of the prizes if a ticket for half-priced tickets at the WWI Museum.
Museum Trivia: Museum personnel shared that the Sunday before the full eclipse was the second busiest day in the museum’s history. Only the opening day surpassed it.


3 Mother’s Day Things To Do

No matter how many mothers you study about in history, to you the most famous Mother will probably be your own. There is no time like the present to tap her repository of genealogical information. If that is not possible, tap into your and other’s store of genealogical memories about her.


1. Take this time to interview your Mother

Bring a recorder, or use your iPhone, to record a chat with your Mom this Mother’s Day. Alternately, if you live too far away for a visit, record your phone call. (Always make sure Mom agrees to this.)

Undoubtedly your Mother will be thinking of her Mother on this day, so this might be a good time to talk about the women in your family and extract the information that is at the forefront of your mind.

If this is not an option for you, consider interviewing your siblings or other family members about your Mom. Even if you grew up in the same home, with the same parents, family members may have quite different recollections about the family’s history.


2. Transcribe the interview with your Mother

Whether the interview is new or old, take the time to type out the words that passed between you.

When I began to pursue genealogy in earnest, my son was a toddler. Taking notes proved to be too difficult, so I recorded conversations with my Mom about her family as well as what she knew about my late Father’s people. My Mom passed away soon after that, so these recordings have been a treasure to me, both to remind me of the facts and to hear her voice.

At the time, I made sure that the electronic files were backed up. Although it was a long while before I was ready to listen to them, they contained a number of key facts to unlock some mysteries about her family history as well as my Father’s childhood.

Transcribing the conversations will take time, but having the words on a page is worth the effort. You can print out (or photocopy) the transcriptions. You can also annotate the transcriptions to include full names, places and corrections to the information generated in the conversation.


3. Do a Mother’s Day Worksheet about your Mother

Click this link to download the custom worksheet from a A Week Of Genealogy to capture information about your Mom. Call and ask her the answers. Or compare your recollections with hers. Better yet, wouldn’t it be great to get her to do a sheet about her Mother? Or ask your Grandmother to do one about her Mother? How about getting your children to do one about you (or their Mother)?

This form is in Word format, so you can print it out to write in it or type your answers. Feel free to attach more pages if you have more memories about the items on the sheet. If you are working on the form on your computer, just keep typing. If you use the paper copy, be sure to note that the answers are continued on additional pages.

This post is dedicated to Susan A., who is one of those great Moms.

Family History Outing: Laws Railroad Museum

The Laws Railroad Museum is located outside of Bishop, CA. Certainly, the museum is of great genealogical interest to researchers who had family in the railroads in the early 1900s, and for those who had family in the area. There is much to learn for those who had family in the gold industry.



But the displays in the Pioneer Building are unexpected in a railroad museum. One of the displays held a well preserved, well displayed, interesting set of military uniforms, equipment and memorabilia.



There was a selection of uniforms, equipment and memorabilia from multiple wars.



There was a display of memorabilia from the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).



The WWI artifacts were from the 7th Regiment Michigan Calvary.



The WWI Soldier’s equipment was also included in the display.



The exhibit included a bag annotated with battle information and a victory medal.



Remember when you visit any regional museum to look for exhibits about the military.




Family History Outing: U.S.S. Midway

If you have a U.S. Navy or U.S. Marine Corps ancestor, the chances are he or she may have spent some time on an aircraft carrier. They might have been stationed on, landed on, refueled, resupplied or protected a carrier.



Touring the U.S.S. Midway Museum in San Diego, CA, brought some of our family’s history to life.
Our family has some carrier history. In addition to having an uncle and cousin who served on carriers, my husband landed on one.



My husband was a Naval Aviator in the USMC, flying A-4s. His service included qualifying to land on carriers. My son had seen videos, pictures and models of the A-4. Seeing a real one on the deck of the Midway was much more real. It was a chance for my husband to show him around the plane and put context to the stories of getting into the airplane without a ladder.



The experience included standing on a flight deck and climbing up to stand on vulture’s row, and sitting in the chairs occupied by the air boss and commanding officer.



The launch officer signals when to fire the catapult to send an accelerating aircraft from the deck.



The hangar deck was full of airplanes; airplane cockpits and ejection seats to sit in; and exhibits to explore.

The carrier is a city at sea. In addition to the sleeping accommodations from the lowest ranked seaman to the captain, the walking tour takes you through the chapel, medical offices, laundry, galley, eating messes and gedunk (ship store).

My cousin died on July 29, 1967 in the fire on the U.S.S. Forrestal (CV-59). He was one of the fifty men who died in the berthing space immediately below the flight deck. They had participated in night operations and had been given permission to sleep in. He was assigned to VF-11. He died in the berthing spaces, while he slept. You can view a Virtual Wall: A Memorial to the men who died in the Forrestal fire .
As part of my systems engineer certificate training, the video of the fire on the carrier’s deck was required viewing.



This berthing can be contrasted with where the Captain sleeps.




Strategy to make the most of your trip:

  • Research your U.S. Navy ancestors
  • Know their ranks
  • Learn their jobs on the carrier
  • Visit all the locations, but be sure to identify and photograph typical berthing, where they ate and worked
  • Share what you learned with your family in pictures, a pdf document or web page