Army Historical Foundation’s Genealogy Seminar

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On 11 May 2024 I attended The Army Historical Foundation’s Genealogy Seminar, hosted at the National Museum of the United States Army. The seminar was entitled “Unlock your military legacy.” There were attendees both in person and online, and I was able to attend in person.

The speaker lineup was impressive: Richard G. Sayre, COL (USA-Ret.), Pamela Boyer Sayre, and Rebecca Whitman Koford, CG, CGL. Many of you know Rick and Pam from their outstanding presentations. Among her many accomplishments and extensive service to the genealogical community, Rebecca currently works as Executive Director of the Board for Certification of Genealogists® and is the Director of the Genealogical Institute on Federal Records (Gen-Fed) which is held annually at the National Archives in Washington, D.C.

Rebecca began the seminar with an excellent presentation about “Records of the U.S. Army held by the National Archives and Records Administration.” Sharing her hands-on experience, she demonstrated the types of records and how and where to locate them. Demonstrations of how to use the NARA Catalog are always beneficial. She also shared examples with us of records she had found about her ancestors.

“Map Repositories in the Washington D.C. Area” was next, and in that presentation Rick discussed more than the repositories; he explained the history of mapping in the US. It is significant to know about the maps, including who created them and their purpose. He showed what was on the maps and their usefulness for using them in the context of an ancestor’s war experience. He shared so many great examples!

After a delightful lunch, and having been inspired by the two previous presentations, I was ready for the next presentation. Pam presented “Tracking an Eighteenth or Nineteenth Century Soldier.” She showed us how to time travel using Google Earth Pro. First she demonstrating what could be done, then she explained the steps in detail for how to use those features to document your military ancestor’s life in a visual and engaging format. Not only is this a great way to share information with non-genealogists, but this is also a great technique for immersion into the context of an ancestor’s service. This is something I had been considering, and using her approach will make the task straightforward and manageable.

The last presentation was by Rick and Pam, “Learning About a Twentieth Century Soldier.” This session presented resources and brief case studies about researching the service of twentieth-century soldiers at NARA facilities. Rick and Pam decided to focus on WWI, and a follow-up presentation for learning about WWII soldiers will be recorded and distributed to attendees at a later date. After the resources were discussed, a clear methodology was presented. Of course that methodology included the use of one of my favorite tools, timelines. Rick clearly described the homework that a researcher needs to do before contacting and visiting a NARA facility.

The presentations were very practical in nature. While it is great to find out about resources and how to use them in your research, it is also important to know where and how to find them. Being able to use them and share them is also incredibly valuable. The NARA Catalog can be awkward to navigate, so insights that the speakers shared were appreciated. There are always things to learn from such distinguished genealogists.  

The final presentation held a couple of surprises for me. Two of my books were listed in the bibliography for the final presentation. Of course I was delighted to be included. The real surprise is that Rick and Pam showed a slide that contained the cover of my recent book, “Researching U.S. WWI Military Members, Military Organizations and Overseas Noncombatants: A Research Guide for Historians and Genealogists” I was happy for my book to receive a shout out. (They had no idea I would be in the audience!) I was even happier to see that the Pioneer Infantry Regiments were also mentioned in the presentation. If that was not enough, I was delighted when Rick asked me unexpectedly to say a few words about the Pioneer Infantry Regiments. What a privilege, and how great to see the Pioneers’ stories being told.

This all-star line-up held an informative seminar and disseminated actionable information! Thank you!

In the next blog post I share more about my visit to the Museum after the seminars concluded.

You can find out more about these two books, and others, on this website. They are available on Amazon.

“Researching U.S. WWI Military Members, Military Organizations and Overseas Noncombatants: A Research Guide for Historians and Genealogists”

“A Guide to the U.S. Pioneer infantry Regiments in WWI”

11 covers

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.

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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cameron, John Stanley. Ten Months in A German Raider: A Prisoner of War Aboard the Wolf. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1918, https://books.google.com/books?id=zjjHAAAAMAA.

Donaldson, A.  “The Amazing Cruise Of The German Raider ‘Wolf’.” Sydney: New Century Press, 1918, https://archive.org/details/amazingcruiseofg00dona.

Trayes, F. G. A Captive on a German Raider. New York: Robert M. McBride & Company, October 1918, https://books.google.com/books?id=JJ8MAAAAYAAJ.

Using WWI Morning Reports on Fold3

Using WWI Morning Reports on Fold3

Those who have seen my lectures, read my books or visited my WWI Facebook pages know that Morning Reports have proven to be one of my favorite resources for researching an individual who served in the Army in WWI. The 1,748 reels of 35mm microfilm containing the Morning Reports for 1912-19 have been digitized and are now available on Fold3.

There reports are created by a company or detachment and contain the important details of the daily status of in the life of an Army company: where and how they traveled; names of those who joined or left the company; who was transferred to a hospital or sick in quarters;  names of those wounded or casualties; disciplinary actions; and promotions. Additionally you can the statistical information about the company for each day, including how many horses and mules attached to the company, both serviceable and unserviceable. This data was used to build other summary reports like the company histories that appear regimental histories. The rosters include the individual’s presence in a company. Individuals’ data would appear in their personnel file, but for those whose research soldiers whose files were burned, these are reports can assist in reconstructing those files.

Having these records online is a huge advantage for researchers. A trip to STL to view the reels in person was wonderful, but had to be planned in advance to be sure that the records and the equipment used to view them would be available. Most of our time had been spent in photographing and photocopying the records. Because of the viewing equipment, the photographs were not good representations of the cards, and the cost of photocopies was significant. Because of time limits, we had focused on Company B’s Morning Reports and other companies in the regiment only for September 1918 when members of the regiment participated in the Saint-Mihiel Offensive. Still, the records and the trip had been amazing. Now, from home or a local library, these records can be viewed and images of them can be downloaded without prior planning.

As I examined these records it was clear that a researcher might want to go beyond looking at the records of one company. The records of other companies of a regiment might fill in gaps left by other companies’ records. One example is how the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment ended the war. They traveled home on two different ships, and while the Morning Reports of Company B for July 1919 were not available at NPRC (and so cannot be found on Fold3), Company C’s Morning Reports  described how the other companies of the regiment that sailed on the USS Wilhelmina finished their service:

3 July Debarked from U.S.S. Wilhelmina at Pier 8 Hoboken N.J. About 11 AM. Boarded Ferry at Pier 3 arrived L.I. entrained at L.I. for Camp Mills, N.Y. Arrived Camp Mills about 3 PM.

4 – 5 July Camp Mills, N.Y.

6. July Marched from Camp Mills, N.Y. to Clinton Road Station about 5 A.M. entrained at station for Camp Upton, N.Y. arrived Camp Upton about 10.30 AM Turned in Equipment

Although you can search US World War I records for the term “morning reports” it is easier to access The U.S. Morning Reports Publication Page directly.

U.S, Morning Reports search page

Knowledge of using the index to find the reel numbers would be import if your plan is to browse the records. I did know the reel number for the 51st Pioneer Infantry, so I could browsed Category: Morning Reports, 1912-1939 then selecting Roll 0402. (Other detachments appear on other reels.)

Browse the records

This was cumbersome. Since this Fold3 Publication is 99% Complete at the time this blog post was written, I recommend using the search.

Search Results for 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment

With over 2 thousand results this would be tedious to search. As you can see, each page of the Morning Reports is returned as a result. There will be several pages per month.

51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment Company B Search

There were only 634 Results, but many were not from the 51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment. They may have referenced the 51st Pioneer Infantry. (Putting the term “Company B” within quotation marks was ignored in the search box.)

51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment Company B Search

Whether searching for the Regiment or Company, click on a record for the organization you want to search to open it.

51st Pioneer Infantry Regiment Company B Results Image

Then click in the box with the navigation bread crumb trail (or just click on the down arrow at the end of the path). This opens the image in an image browser.

Image Viewer Breadcrumb Trail Window

This opens a pane to navigate to any of the Morning Reports for Company A.

Browse the collections

I was interested in Company B’s Morning Reports, so I select Company B, 51st Pioneer Infantry.

Browse to Company B, 51st Pioneer Infantry

This took me to where I could navigate to all the available Company B Morning Reports.

navigate to all the available Company B Morning Reports

I clicked on “Feb 1918” and can now see the images for this month’s Morning Report. There is usually a card inserted at the beginning of the Morning Reports for each Company’s that was used as a visual divider. (See Page 1 below.)

Navigate to Feb 1918 Morning Report

At the beginning of each month is a cover sheet. Pay attention to this, as it lists the company, regiment, month and year of the report. The information on this page tells us that prior to this month, the organization was 10th NY Inf NG (Infantry, National Guard).

Cover sheet for Company's Morning Reports

Some issues I encountered:

Some months were missing (They might be missing from the original reels.)

Some months that were missing were filed with a different year’s records. For example, one company’s Morning Reports for Jan 1918 also contained the Morning Reports for Jan 1919

Suggested strategy:

Navigate to the company of the individual you are researching using the search feature.

Find an image for the regiment, or best for the company and click on it

Use the bread crumb to open the navigation pane to select the company and month of the first Morning Report you want to view

Download the Morning Reports for each month the individual was with the company (I used a separate folder for each month)

Transcribe the entries relating to the individual you are researching, as well as the significant movements and events for the company to put together their story

Searching can be awkward, but by using a combination of searching, using the bread trails and the arrows in the image viewer, you can relive the events of a company (or other organization) during WWI.

For help with Fold3 features, such as downloading records, see the Fold3 Training Center.

RootsTech 2022 lives on

Another RootsTech has come and gone, but RootsTech 2022 is really is not over! The classes that were recorded for RootsTech 2022 are still available. In fact, RootsTech made a decision to keep classes online for 3 years (unless the content creator asks for them to be removed). That means you have access to content from 2021 and 2022. Be sure to have a free FamilySearch account so that you can create a playlist as you search for classes.

The web address is https://rootstech.org. Use the menu on the upper right corner and select the option “Sessions” to search for sessions, or “Speakers” to search for a particular speaker.

RootsTech Home Page

When you search for Sessions, there will be a search box on the top and a list of filters on the left side of the Session page. I find using the filters more cumbersome than searching, but viewing the topics available can be helpful. To use the filters, click on the down arrow next to a filter to see the options available. After selecting an option, the available classes will show up on the right side of the screen.

Search for Sessions page

An example search for the term: military will have our military classes.

Search results for: military

Most of the classes have a downloadable syllabus or handout, and you should be able to find contact information for the instructors if you have questions.

RootsTech Connect was an overwhelming success, with 700,000 people officially registered. More viewed sessions without registering. Expect that there might be a virtual component in any upcoming RootsTech, which is great news for anyone who cannot travel.

Thanks to those who stopped by virtually to visit my classes at RootsTech, and left a greeting or a question.

You can find my sessions at:

or find them all by clicking on: Dr. McMahon’s RootsTech classes.

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.