NARA’s History Hub

Have you used the History Hub at the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)?

Who better to ask about NARA Records than NARA itself!

The History Hub is a place on the web where you can visit and ask questions in different communities at NARA. Do you have a question about finding military records or want to learn more about a topic? Then one of the related communities might be a place to look for information that has been posted, or post a question of your own.

To view content and ask questions, you will need to register for a free account.

If you want to be able to post questions and make the most of the History Hub, you will need to register for an account. Select Register in the upper right corner of the webpage. The first step is to provide an email address.

After you enter your email address, and select Confirm address, you get a message in your browser.


If you do not see an email from the History Hub soon after the request, be sure to check your email spam folder. Sometimes emails can be automatically marked as spam.

Follow the directions to confirm your email address and fill in a short registration. You are led to pick a username and a strong password for your account. Be sure to read the hints about what characters need to be in the password.

There are different communities, each with its own manager. You can search for information about a topic, or ask a question. Inside the community, you can find Featured Content.

So, do you have questions about a topic you have been researching? Do you wonder if NARA has any records related to the topic? This is the place where you can ask. A NARA staff member will answer your questions. Other researchers may also share their insights about the topic, too.

For example, I was interested to know which records NARA had about Base Hospital 37 during WWI. I had an answer in a day, telling me what records were available and where they could be found. There were two records groups with information about this Base Hospital, 120 and 112, and the reply included information about which boxes to access. My next step would be to email the archivist and get further guidance about their availability.

When you make a post, it will be reviewed by the moderators. You will receive an email letting you know when your comment or question has been approved and is visible to the community. You will also receive an email when someone replies to your post.

From your profile, you can add a photo or select to view your content. Selecting Your Content shows the posts you have made.

Another great place to post a request for help is the “Researchers Help” Community.


When you view a post, you have options to follow, bookmark, share or like the post.

So, get onto the History Hub and see what answers and resources await you!

3 Ways to Find WWI Officer Experience Reports on Fold3

This week I have been working with an interesting record set, the WWI Officer Experience Reports-AEF on Fold3. These records are reports from officers about engineering activities in the AEF. Although there are names in these records, their usefulness goes beyond individual names because they hold information about the military organizations. The names are those of the officers filing the reports to the Chief Engineer of their Army, but the activities are those of the whole military organization to which they were attached.

If you had a WWI Ancestor who served with engineers in the U.S. Army, you might want to check out these records.

The reports are individual accounts of the activities of the engineering officers. It is interesting to read the approach each officer took to telling his story. Some accounts are written in first person, some in third person and there are even poems. Comparing the different accounts of the same event is also interesting. One example is the 816th Pioneer Infantry experience on the trip to France. The Regiment traveled on three ships; one of which had engine trouble and fell out of the convoy. The reports differ on which day the engine trouble began, and how it was remedied. One report gave an officer’s impressions of sub-watching duty in a crow’s nest with a group of sea-sick men.

Most accounts discuss the work done by the engineers, and the officers give examples of the contributions of their men and how proud they were. A few officers express disappointment at arriving in France just before the cessation of hostilities. Then, there are personal accounts like the Lieutenants who hitched a ride to the front with some performers and ended up at a village between the lines. The WWI – Officer Experience Reports can be found here.

 

1) Search by name and/or keyword

When we try a new database it is natural to search for a name or a keyword. For best results, enter your engineering soldier’s name with his military organization.

2. Browse the records.

After you have searched for names, you may find that a better way to go through the records is to browse them. Next to the search box is a “Browse” button. You can also browse the records here.

When browsing these records:
Category = WWI
Publication = WWI Officer Experience Reports – AEF
Unit, select your ancestor’s unit from the list
Name, select names from the list within the unit

When you select a name, you will find that officer’s experience report. The reports may be typed or handwritten. You may find that there the officer made duplicates of the reports.

3. Combine browsing and searching

Browse to the military unit and search the subset of records by entering keywords and selecting the keyword option from the drop down menu. In the example below, with the 806th Pioneer Infantry Regiment records selected, I entered the keywords: 806 pioneer headquarters and selected keyword search from the dropdown menu.

The results of the example search are shown below.

No matter how you get to the records, click on the thumbnail of a page to see a larger image of the page and interact with it. You can read the page online, download it, bookmark it on Fold3 (when signed into an account) and save it to an individual on a family tree at Ancestry.com (when signed in). You can also use the arrows on that appear at the bottom of the page to move forward or backward through the pages of the record set.

For those who share my interest in the Pioneer Infantry, you will find that there are reports from the 59th, 806th, and 813th Pioneer Infantry Regiments.

The value of personal accounts cannot be overstated. By committing these stories to writing, the officers are able to share what they did and saw and felt. These reports bridge the century between both of you, so you can spend time to hear the stories they tell.

 

 

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.

 

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.

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Researching Missouri WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization. An online way to find out about your Missouri WWI Ancestors is to search the Missouri Digital Heritage website.

 

When you are ready to search, Click on “Search the Soldier’s Records Database”, Scroll down to the search boxes or click here.

There are records from many conflicts, from the War of 1812 to WWI. You can leave the selection at All.

Be sure to enter the name as: Last Name, First Name

PVT Acie Sparkman was from Missouri, he was with Ambulance Company 40 at Camp Wadsworth, SC, then served with the 51st Pioneer Infantry Co. L. He died overseas. I entered:

Sparkman, Acie

And selected “All Service Records”

There was only one record returned.

Click on “View Details”.

Researching Indiana WWI Ancestors

As you may know from my lectures and book, it is important to find your WWI ancestor’s military organization. An online way to find out about your Indiana WWI Ancestors is to check the Indiana United States Veterans of the Great War I.

It is worth reading the home page about Indiana in the Great War. (Beware of the links on the right side of the page; they take you to other websites.) The links on the left are to WWI topics, which include information gathered from oral interviews conducted with Indiana WWI veterans.

In addition to searching for the veteran’s service summary as described below, remember to search the website for your ancestor. There is a search box on the left menu, but I had better luck using Google. I searched for the ancestor name and used the site specifier, for example:

“Ernest Franklin Hess” site:www.wwvets.com

When you are ready to search for your Indiana WWI veteran, click on the search button on the home page, or go here.

You will need to use both a Last Name and a First Name for a search. I was not able to use a wildcard for the first name.

Searching for John Smith returned surnames that are Smith and begin with Smith

Clicking on the first result gave me a service summary.

I searched for a different name in the database:  McMahon, James. All three of the detailed results showed: “Listed in the Indiana War Memorials records having served in WWI”, which does not provide much help to a researcher.

The sources used to compile the database can be found here.